As part of the Catholic Company Reviewer Program, I was sent a copy of Grace Café: Serving Up Recipes for Faithful Mothering, by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle. As the title suggests, the book is aimed at Catholic women with children and seeks to affirm and encourage them in their familial vocation. Having just finished reading it, I have mixed reactions.
There are some very positive things about the book. First, for those mothers lacking a familiarity with the various papal encyclicals and other statements on the role of women, it provides useful education. The book is liberally sprinkled with quotes from a number of such documents. Second, it contains a good discussion of a number of important points, such as ways to find time for prayer in the midst of incredible busyness, the value of instilling a sense of the sacred and of prayer in children from an early age, the need to be in the present and to savor the time we have with our children, and importantly, the need to have some gentleness with ourselves when things don’t go according to plan. Third, many of the “recipe cards” that end the chapters contain practical and useful advice.
What bothered me most about the book is the implicit criticism I sense in it of women with children who choose to work. Although the author clearly accepts that not all women must be mothers and that some mothers will be forced by economic necessity to work, there seems to be an underlying suggestion that unless one is forced to do so, a mother should be at home with her children full time. While I respect the decision of women who make that choice, I don’t believe that either our faith as Catholics or the needs of our children demand that every mother do so.
Perhaps related to the last point, I found a curious lack of attention to the role of the father in the family. Fathers, too, are an important part of the moral and spiritual development of children and there are many parts of the book that (intentional or otherwise) seem to present the task as solely the province of the mother. This may be explained by the author’s own childhood experience: at one point she talks about the fact that her father worked long hours to support their large family, leaving her mother with the sole “responsibility of leading her children on the path of holiness and keeping us on the straight and narrow.” But it need not be the experience of everyone.
With those reservations, I think there are many mothers, particularly those who feel unappreciated, who will find the book very encouraging and helpful.
Update: Please be sure to read the comment to this post written by the author of Grace Cafe, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, which addresses my reservation about the role of the father. And thanks for Donna-Marie for commenting.