Beliefnet
Carla Barnhill, editor of Christian Parenting Today magazine, isn't afraid to speak her mind on the realities of parenting and the pressures that are unduly placed on mothers. The mother of two recently spoke to Beliefnet about the unrealistic ideal of Christian motherhood, submission in relationships, and whether feminism is a dirty word, issues she explores in her new book "The Myth of the Perfect Mother."

What makes motherhood different for Christian women?

I think there's a whole other layer of expectation for Christian women because there's so much pressure in evangelical culture in particular for women to stay at home and for children to turn out a certain way. All of those expectations tend to fall to the mother. What makes it especially difficult for a Christian woman is that it's all couched in biblical terms. I just think there's this whole layer of "God wants you to live a certain way, God wants you to parent a certain way, God wants you to feel a certain way about motherhood." So whenever a failure or difficulty comes up in parenting, it doesn't just feel like you're failing as a mother, it feels like you're failing as a Christian.

Do you think that Christian culture lets fathers off the hook?

I think it has for a long time. I look at Promise Keepers and even the Wild at Heart movement of the last few years as almost course corrections for the way that churches let fathers slide off the hook. Even though there are conservative evangelical churches that would say that the father is the spiritual head of the household, there hasn't been the same kind of pressure on a father in terms of the involvement he's supposed to have in a child's life. If you see a teenager who's gone off the deep end or has started to rebel, it's the mother who gets blamed in the minds of other people, not the father.

What message do you think the TV series "Desperate Housewives" has for Christian women?

I hope it will tell Christian women that women are ready for the veil to be lifted. Hopefully as it gets talked about, Christian women too will say, "I'm glad someone's talking about this, because my life isn't the way that they make it sound either." And maybe they won't ever watch the show, or admit to watching the show, but hopefully just the buzz about it will let them know that it's OK to talk about this now. It's OK to tell people that you don't always like being home, or that it's hard to be home.

I was reading an article about the show, and they were comparing it to "Sex and the City," and the guy who developed the show said it's different because these women aren't really friends, they have all sorts of secrets that they keep from each other. And that really struck me. I thought, isn't that just how we live as Christian women? We keep a lot of secrets from each other, because we're really afraid of the shame and the guilt that we assume will come from our fellow Christians if we're honest about how we feel, about our struggles. More than anything, it opens the conversation and says, let's talk about this. Let's put that June Cleaver to rest for good.

You wrote in your introduction that on one level every mother understands Andrea Yates, the mother who drowned her five children. What do you mean by that?

I think there's a part of every woman that, when she's honest with herself, knows how close we get sometimes to doing things to our children that we don't want to do. In the middle of the night when you haven't had a good night's sleep for eight months, your brain doesn't necessarily kick in and tell you the right thing to do. At the same time, Andrea Yates wasn't an abusive mother. She didn't kill her children out of abuse, she killed her children because she felt that she had failed them drastically as a mother. She just had this overwhelming sense of failing as a mother and feeling like they would be better off somewhere else, they would be better off without me. She slipped into a deep psychosis, but I think that that sense of "I have no idea what I'm doing and I can't handle this anymore," that's something that a mother can relate to. Thankfully, we deal with it in a better way than she did.

Part of your message is that Christian mothers should get real about the true burdens of motherhood. Are you asking mothers to let go of their ideals and high hopes for parenting?

Not at all. What I'm suggesting is that we replace what's false with what's real, because that's where we're going to find the beauty and the joy of motherhood. When we replace the idea that my kids have to turn out a certain way, that I have to live a particular kind of life, with something better-- like God is involved in my parenting, and there are things that I can learn through this--then all of the sudden we have a different kind of peace and joy and contentment in what we're doing because it's not about these end results. It's recognizing that there's beauty and mystery and blessing in the process of parenting. To me it's replacing a flawed joy with something that's much more pure and much more God-ordained, if you will. To me that's a much more refreshing and peaceful and joyful way to live as a mother than to try and do all these things because I think I'm supposed to.

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