More than the Title
Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe is a book jointly authored by Sarah Mae Hoover and Sally Clarkson, two mothers with seven children between them. If social media and blog post topics tell us anything about the life of a mother of young children (from the perspective of American Evangelicals and/or mainstream American parenting, at least), it reflects this season as a time of great desperation and weariness. In this sense, the title is perfect, particularly in addressing the popular sentiment connected with today’s mothering. However, I think I’d definitely recommend this for both younger and older moms, even those who definitely feel the tug and pull of the demands of motherhood, yet wouldn’t quite say they’re left breathless in their role. But titling the book, Conversations Between an Older and Younger Mother probably wouldn’t fit quite so well.
Nonetheless, a great portion of the book is comprised of “letters” written back and forth between the mother of young children, Sarah Mae and her mentor, Sally Clarkson. To me, this is what makes the book most valuable. I have read other parenting books authored by Sally Clarkson, but the back-and-forth dialogue between Sally and Sarah Mae brings out Sally’s older-mother, mentor wisdom in a very helpful manner. From the vantage point of a younger mother still in the little years, Sarah Mae asks Sally for help and advice; that aspect makes the book much more relavent to mothers in similar points of motherhood (as opposed to just one older mother giving wisdom, but seeming disconnected). At times, I have heard from young mothers that Sally’s writing seems too idealist and happy for mothers in the little years, and I think Sarah Mae’s questions serve to balance that out; on the opposite side, I am sure that without Sally’s balancing, seasoned words, Sarah Mae’s questions and concerns might sound overly desperate.
Wise Advice from an Older Woman about Learning from Older Women
As a young mom with young children (currently three, age five and under, which I guess according some counts for something on the difficulty scale :)), this book was refreshing.
During my teen years, some of my dear friends were in the Senior Saints circles at church, but in my present location and life situation, I have very few older women in my life. I recognize and believe that God designed families to grow as part of a larger community and with age integration. I also see the overlapping generations among families as a way to strengthen the arms of younger moms. But while ideal, that is not my reality–my mother lives nearly 500 miles away and still works full-time and my mother-in-law (and sister) both live in Asian countries on nearly opposite time zones.
As I have come to see the importance of community and as our family has grown, this can be an area in which I tend to feel sorry for myself. For a while, friends and I would step in with meals and care when another had a need, but as our families have grown and as this season of life has become more time-consuming, that has grown increasingly more difficult to do (especially while we have vehicle and time constraints). I have longed for an older woman to come alongside me and to help me practically and offer friendship and the wisdom of experience. And I often feel like, as the younger woman, I need to allow an older woman to initiate this. But Sally’s counsel was to both be patient and not fear being the initiator. Even with keeping up with family, I have often felt the pressure of having to be the initiator; yet, as this year has progressed, I’ve realized that a flourishing and growing a relationship is far more important that who is the initiator. To this end, I found Sally’s advice particularly comforting. I’ve also realized that even when older women are not geographically close to me, I can still maintain long-distance and online relationships with older women. And, like Sarah Mae and Sally frequently mention, when I am the older mom, I will have plenty of ideas of how to help younger moms, rather than have the idea “It was hard for me, so you need to tough it out, too.”
Grace and Practical Advice
One main aspect I’ve come to appreciate from Sally’s writings is her graciousness. This is present throughout the book, but particularly at the end of the book in the “Q & A with Sally Clarkson” section.
As an older mother whose four children are now adults with a good relationship with the parents and with God, it could be easy for Sally to boast in her “success.” Yet, it stood out to me that she remarked on having friends who raised children similarly, and yet their children are not where they had prayed or expected. (At the same time, Sally does stress the importance of teaching and training children, and seems to do a good job balancing the concepts of sowing and reaping with the concept of resting in God’s sovereignty.) Sally does not discount that she poured herself into her family and children, but she does so with full recognition that God could have allowed the hearts of her children to turn another direction.
Sally is also often quick to point out that there is no “formula” for raising children, and that moms of little ones need to be especially careful of falling into that trap, for the promise of success is quite tempting when in the thick of it.
In certain portions, I felt that liberties were taken with Biblical allusions and metaphors that went beyond what the text was actually saying. (But really, have I read any book on parenting that doesn’t?) In other areas, I sometimes got annoyed by the talk of lighting vanilla scented candles and sipping tea. But in reality, it made me want to go light a candle (I did :)), and I happen to like sipping tea, though I’d like to do so while cracking open a volume of Calvin’s Institutes. (And who knows? I might start putting flowers on my table more often, too.) But anyway, those minor frustations with the book don’t diminish my appreciation for the book or my willingness to recommend it to fellow Christian moms.
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