Perfect, Schmerfect and Mothering and Smothering: Chapters 4 & 5 {Momnipotent Book Club}


Welcome to the Momnipotent Book Club! We’re reading Danielle Bean’s new book, Momnipotent: The Not-So-Perfect Woman’s Guide to Catholic Motherhood.

Momnipotent Book Club

I admit it. I was kind of afraid to take the quiz in chapter 4 of Momnipotent. Because, well, I knew how that was going to turn out. I am a messy perfectionist, with plenty of high ideals but without all the follow-through. I am a wannabe perfectionist, looking longingly at those I think are perfect, with the right clothes, the fashionable haircut, the neat-as-a-pin home, the car that doesn’t come with half-empty water bottles that roll under the driver’s foot while we’re on the interstate.

While the quiz confirmed what I already suspected about my perfectionistic tendencies, I did not find myself discouraged. Instead, Danielle’s advice motivated me. Woven around the beginning of the Magnificat, the chapter urges readers to worry less about our points of pride, whether those involve homemade cookies or dust-free crown molding–and focus more on noticing the ways in which God loves us, so that we can reflect that love in our daily lives. The advice found after that incriminating quiz is a great comfort.

Chapter 5 deals in concrete ways with the ways our perfectionism can trip us up as we raise our children. There’s a photo of my two older kids, ages 6 and 2 at the time, all geared up for roller-skating. They were wearing their clunky plastic Fisher-Price skates, knee pads, elbow pads, and bike helmets. My daughter’s helmet was so huge on her that we could barely see her little face. No wonder they didn’t learn to skate that summer–they could barely move! 16 years later, that same daughter plays on a college rugby team, so it’s good to know that my bubble-wrapping of my young kids did not destroy their adventurous natures. (That said, I’m not sure I’ll be able to bear watching her play!)

It’s a constant balancing act to let your children learn to take risks without following them around with a safety net 24/7. But they can’t learn to do things on their own if we’re always there to rescue them. And I’ve been trying very hard, for more than 22 years now, to let my children learn to take those necessary steps toward independence. The kids will tell you I’m still too protective, but they don’t even know about the impulses to protect, shelter and smother that I do manage to squash!

This past year, my tendency to protect my children went into overdrive when my youngest was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a disease which requires constant monitoring. That’s the last thing a middle-schooler wants to deal with, and I’d love to be able to just let him run out the door without checking his blood sugar first. We’re learning, together, how to help him care for himself so he can have the independence a twelve-year-old needs. The prayer that concludes chapter 5 truly expresses what is in my heart as I navigate parenting all three of my children in their new worlds:  one working and living on his own, one in college, and one with a newly-diagnosed chronic illness.

What ties both of these chapters together? Trust. Giving up our perfectionism is an exercise in trusting that God, our families, and our friends will love us as we are. Stepping back from overprotecting our children requires us to trust them to make good decisions and to trust that we have given them a good foundation for independence.

As I read (and reread) Danielle Bean’s book, the most encouraging thing I’m learning is that I’m not the only one–even if there are many times that I sure do feel that way.

To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:

  1. Take the challenge in chapter 4 of praying the Morning Offering each day. Do you find it difficult to offer God your sufferings and imperfections?
  2. Do you find yourself preventing your children from doing age-appropriate things because you’re afraid of what might happen? This week, look for one way to allow them a little more independence.
  3. What episode in the life of the Blessed Mother speaks most to you at this point in your mothering journey? How can Mary’s example inspire you?

Feel free to comment on your own thoughts from this week’s reading, your impressions and reflections, and/or your answers to these questions.

Next week, we’ll cover Chapter 6: Giving Till It Hurts…Everyone. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Momnipotent Book Club page.

Copyright 2014 Barb Szyskiewicz


About Author

Barb Szyszkiewicz is a wife, mom, Secular Franciscan, managing editor for Today's Catholic Teacher magazine and editor at Her three children range in age from high school to young adult, and she enjoys writing, cooking, and reading. Barb is a music minister at her parish and an avid Notre Dame football and basketball fan. Find her blog at FranciscanMom and her family’s favorite recipes with nutrition information for diabetics at Cook and Count.


  1. Thanks for sharing this with us all, Barb!
    I definitely related to these chapters! It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others or even to who we’d like to be as mothers, wives, and women. And we can be so darn hard on ourselves when we don’t meet our own self-imposed expectations.

    I like your third reflection question about what episode in the life of the Blessed Mother we relate to. I think of when she went to present Jesus and was told that he would suffer greatly and that a sword would also pierce her own heart. As mothers, I think we all want the best for our children and we don’t want them to have to go through struggle or pain. And when they do, it pierces our heart. We know we have to let them go and experience life, like you said – even with all it’s pains and struggles – but it is hard to let them go at the same time.

  2. Carolyn Astfalk on

    I’ve found that once I’m in the habit of doing everything for my little one, I sometimes forget I need to hand over the reins at some point. That’s one reason I’ve really liked having my son in scouts. The requirements have often had him doing tasks I would otherwise not have assigned to him. And he does just fine.

  3. Barb, I resonate with the aspect of offering up suffering every day. It’s a constant struggle for me. I think that question was an excellent one, and I really like the one about offering our children the opportunity to do something age-appropriate. Another fail for me. Sometimes I just don’t want to clean up the mess afterwards, you know? I am a perfectionist through and through, in every sense of the word, and yet I know that I have to allow our children to experience life, to mess up, to get messy. Thanks for the reminder! 🙂

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