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The Myth Of The Perfect Mother

Carla Barnhill, like most American women, balances many roles in life. She is a professional writer, detailed editor, loving wife, loyal friend, devoted daughter, child of God and mother of two children. Many days, the balancing act feels more like a sloppy juggling routine-with expectations weighing heavily on the juggler. As a result, Barnhill has spent time pondering the church's messages about female spirituality, listening to women's stories, and researching our cultural views of motherhood. She is amazed by the expectations Christian women try to meet, how silently they grieve their perceived failures, and she is personally alarmed by the toll it is taking on female hearts and souls. Barnhill's latest book, The Myth of the Perfect Mother, first began to form after she heard about Andrea Yates, the mentally ill mother in Houston who drowned her five children one by one. "The more I read about her life, the more I felt the more I felt like that tragedy could have been prevented if the people around her had been paying attention," says Barnhill. "What would have happened if she had felt like it was okay for her to be honest with her struggles as a mom?" Barnhill also notice the deluge of books and magazine articles - both general market and Christian - that promote an idyllic picture of motherhood. Says Barnhill, "Even when the authors acknowledge that motherhood is hard, it's still a pandering 'Gosh! Am I tired!' attitude. I felt like no one was talking about the impact these expectations have on the hearts and souls of women." Barnhill has been closely observing the lives of women since childhood; she grew up in Minnesota with strong female role models. Her mother is one of seven sisters, and each gave her a tangible sense of how to live. "I have seen them handle everything from divorce to death of a child," says Barnhill. "My aunts have very different personalities, and yet they share the ability to weather life with grace." She earned a degree in English and Philosophy at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, then headed to University of Edinburgh in Scotland to earn her Masters in English Literature. Her career path led her eventually to Christianity Today, Inc., where she first worked as an editor for Campus Life, a magazine for teens. She acted as co-editor for The Teen Devotional Bible (Zondervan) and edited the book How to Parent Your Teen Without Losing Your Mind (Broadman & Holman). When her daughter Emily was 18 months old, Barnhill moved from editing Campus Life to Christian Parenting Today. "I started to feel like I had something to offer parents like me who wanted real help in shaping the faith of their children," says Barnhill. Eventually she and husband Jim added a son, Isaac, to the Barnhill family and moved back to Minnesota. Barnhill has been able to continue editing Christian Parenting Today from her home office, while balancing the demands of parenting two small children, considering it her own form of "work in practice." Writing and editing continue to be both fascinating and frustrating. Says Barnhill, "I really don't think of myself as a writer, but I have always loved works and books, reading and writing. I love how words have nuances that speak to us so deeply." She earned a Gold Medallion Award for a daily devotional for young children, Blessings Every Day (Tyndale Kids) in 2001. Besides watching the amusing antics of her children, Barnhill says she prefers to fill her time sitting on her parents' dock with a cooler of Diet Coke and a stack of reading material. "I would park myself there until I am the color of a cocoa bean," she says. "I know I should have more exotic wishes, but honestly, these days nothing sounds better than a day of silence and sleep."