Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Book Review: MOMumental by Jennifer Grant

Despite reading this whole book from cover to cover, I can honestly say that Jennifer Grant has not made me want to be a mother.
Of course, I'm hardly the targeted demographic for this kind of a book. I'm not a parent, not a suburbanite, and not even a chick. Frankly, I'm really the last person you'd expect to read and review MOMumental. But, it was free (on the condition that I write a review- not necessarily a good one), and I'm a sucker for free books. So here goes...

Summary: This book is not so much a coherent narrative as it is a series of vignettes on being a mother. There's a loose theme in that Grant relates her transformation from a neurotic new mother with a desire to be the perfect mom (a desire that borders on some kind of disorder) into a much more laid-back mother who loves her kids but sets general patterns of good parenting, rather than striving to be perfect all the time. But again, that's only a loose theme. By and large the book is just a series of stories from Grant's life as a mother.

Strengths: Grant is a clear and engaging writer. Which makes sense, given that she does it professionally (for her local paper, for the Chicago Tribune, and for Christianity Today). Her stories are well written and enjoyable to read- I think I knocked to book out in about three hours without too much effort. In terms  of content, her dedication to her family and her concern for the art (or skill, or adventure, or whatever) of being a mother come through on every page. In a sense, this book reminds me a lot of the James Herriot novels (not that she's quite that caliber a writer) in that she takes what is clearly a trying, messy, and grey-hair-inducing job and talks about it in a way that is simply delightful. Moreover, most of the points she makes seem to be good ones, at least as far as I know: the closest I've ever come to being a "mother" was caring for animals in 4H and FFA growing up- all of which we ate after less than a year. So take my endorsement of the practical wisdom contained in this book with a grain of salt (and a pinch of oregano).

Weaknesses: There seem to be three big weaknesses in the book, all of which may be the result of the kind of book this is, rather than any sort of personal weaknesses in the author.

Theology: There's not much theology in this book, but what there is, is not encouraging. The few references to religious belief are either elevations of common grace to where it is central (see the last point below for more on that) or the kind of ecumenism that goes beyond agreement on non-essentials between Christians and becomes accepting doctrines that embrace false gospels. I won't give examples because, again, that's not really the point of the book and it should not be held to the standard of a theological text. It does, however, make me want to know what kind of spiritual education she's giving her kids. It is just the vague "there's a God/Jesus loves you" she mentions? Or does it carry some kind of actual and substantial faith and the doctrine of atonement that saves? The answer to that question (not found in the book) is the difference between a book on mothering that gives good tips and a book on mothering that is useful in a broader sense to Christians...

Fathering: One character noticeable primarily by his absence is the father. Again, just as this is not a book about theology, so it is also not a book about fathering. So this is not a strong criticism. But, writing a 250 page book about being a mother and only rarely even mentioning the father (with nothing at all said about how he helps/contributes/leads in the family) does raise questions. These questions are not so much about him as a father as they are about her as a writer. It's like writing a book about being a wife but never talking about the husband. The good news is, I'm making the (rare) suggestion that this book be made longer to correct this problem...

Potential Family Idolatry: The biggest concern I've got -and again, this is likely just because of the nature of the book- is that Grant has elevated her family into an object of worship. She uses language that makes this explicit throughout, but this is especially clear in her comparisons of family dinner to Jewish Seder meals or Christian communion. Of course there are parallels, but only parallels, not direct connections. The family is a good thing. But it's 1) a temporary thing; 2) not promised to everyone- even if we work hard at it; and 3) is at the end of the day a common grace institution, and as such of secondary importance.
Again, this isn't to say that I think Grant is guilty of sinning or anything like that, I think it's more that the nature of her book necessarily elevates the family and that her choice of language pushes that elevation a little farther than appropriate. Speaking about the family as a good thing need not (and should not) become speaking about the family as a holy thing. Such language, for Christians, should be reserved for Christ and the church...

Overall, this was an interesting and worthwhile read, though only to those interested in the nuts and bolts of motherhood.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not in any way induced to write a favorable review.

Things the Publisher/Publicist asked me to include to make this review searchable (again, I'm not being paid and not required to say anything- including the following):

•How to be a great mom
• How to be a good mother
• How to be a mom
• Being a mom
• What is a good parent
• How to be good parents
• Parenthood
• Raising a child
• MOMumental Book
• Jennifer Grant Book
• Worthy Publishing

No comments:

Post a Comment