The School of the Family

In the domestic church, children learn a variety of things. Sharing a bathroom with siblings can be frustrating but essential to the give-and-take necessary to communal living. Finding the box of a favourite cereal emptied and trashed is familiar terrain, providing an opportunity to make sacrifices and forgive. Living with the disappointment of a busy father missing a stellar game offers the means for a child to grow in understanding in this fallen world. In each case, a strong family should remind its members to apologise, make reparation, and retool its priorities when necessary. Sometimes families are schools of hard knocks while still managing to be a haven for unconditional love.
old fashioned mom and kids
Children encounter a host of trials in the modern world that throw them off balance — challenging their abilities to receive love and love in return. Some, like divorce and abandonment, are so overwhelming that a variety of outside resources are needed to help them cope. Stacks of new books are aimed at holding their young hands and offering sage advice and a mental framework that will help them process these shocks. The divorce manuals, explanations about death, and sweet introductions to the “new families” are now supplemented by a new title, My Beautiful Mommy, by Dr. Michael Salzhauer.

This plastic surgeon has performed hundreds of “mommy makeovers” and knows how confusing the procedure can be for children. Kids normally associate doctors with illness and bandages with trauma-so seeing their mother hospitalized and incapacitated is frightening. No so! With this helpful illustrated tool, children will know that all is well.

Or will they?

Obviously, all is not well, or the time, money, and suffering wouldn’t have been undertaken in the first place. Something had to be wrong — or mother wouldn’t have gone to such lengths. What exactly led to this decision?

Last year, the New York Times looked into a recent phenomenon in the United States called “the mommy job.” Dr. David A. Stoker explained it succinctly: “Aimed at mothers, it usually involves a trifecta: a breast lift with or without breast implants, a tummy tuck and some liposuction. The procedures are intended to hoist slackened skin as well as reduce stretch marks and pregnancy fat… The severe physical trauma of pregnancy, childbirth and breast-feeding can have profound negative effects that cause women to lose their hourglass figures.”

Let’s parse that. The negative effect he outlines is not impacting health but beauty. When women lose that “hourglass” figure, we have a problem. When even the New York Times‘ fashion section questions the mindset that “pathologize[s] the postpartum body,” then you know a trend has hit a sociological wall.

The Sexism Police

The arguments against the mommy job come from two angles, which — remarkably — can overlap on occasion. Feminists have long decried the form of sexism that delineates preferences in women’s appearances. Hillary Clinton’s ardent supporters seethed over camera angles that highlighted the wear and tear that age and a strenuous political battle accrued on their candidate. Surely, these very same visuals sank Richard Nixon in a televised debate, in which extremely unflattering lighting made him appear tired and even ghoulish. Likewise, Dove soap’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” is making the rounds on the internet, beseeching girls not to fall for the unrealistic air-brushed standards of women’ beauty that are ubiquitous in the media.

Interestingly, despite this rejection of the view of women as “eye candy,” even many feminists seem to have faltered over the question of how to be taken seriously in a visual world — whether presenting a case before the bar or at a bar. Both those who want women appreciated for their minds and those who want women to enjoy all that the sexual revolution has to offer seem to have caved in to the pressure of competing with air-brushed ads (and porn stars) and highly pampered starlets. With Hollywood setting the standard, it’s a given that most women feel very inadequate. For all the ridicule heaped on the polished wives of 1950’s and early 60’s television, some “liberated” women have outdone them in scrambling for the perfect family snapshot.

The Bible Crowd

The other argument against such superficiality comes from Biblical standards which stress the importance of character and moral rectitude over outward appearances. While Christian modesty is no justification for frumpiness or rejecting fashion out of hand, many rightly eschew the demands of marketers that they promote this year’s fashion as a bellwether of one’s suitability for the public square. Catholic culture has long valued beauty as a gift of God to be used for His greater glory — in proportion with other factors. While “widow’s mites” have been solicited for decorating altars, we’d be hard-pressed to justify shorting our alms-giving for designer wear — no matter how it would dress up the pews we occupy.

So what is a child to make of his mother disappearing for her mommy job, reappearing as a sleek new version of herself? What is he taught to value with her sacrifice of time and treasure? As this book will teach him, the woman who returns, post-surgery, is still mommy — “only better!” Henceforth, he will know the value of the visible world. Her enhancement is not spiritual, nor has she extended her gift of self further for his benefit, nor has any vice been overcome by systematic application of prayer, grace, and virtue. “Better” will be taught to mean “prettier,” which has little to do with the beauty tied to truth and goodness. God’s trifecta has been replaced with that of a scalpel, deftly-wielded and amply-paid.

The Wisdom of Children

A Belgian doctor was making the rounds late one night in a pediatric ward and heard sobbing coming from one cot. She tried to console the little fellow and discover the reason for his tears. That day, she discovered, his mother had visited this son, debilitated by a congenital disease, and told him of her new pregnancy. Along with this news, she explained that she was going to a different floor of the hospital to have tests done, to make sure that his little brother or sister didn’t share his diagnosis. There was enough of a hint of the necessary corollaries that even this child grasped the possible outcome.

“What if I don’t get better?” he moaned helplessly. “What would they do to me?” In his child-like simplicity, he connected the dots: the healthy live, the unhealthy are eliminated. Such is the mind of a child.

Thus, it is entirely possible that children will learn heart-rending truisms from My Beautiful Mommy. They will learn that beauty may be skin-deep — and that’s okay. They will learn that sacrifices are necessary, but not necessarily for character or pursuit of discipline. This book teaches that the consequences of love — such as exhaustion, wrinkles, prioritizing persons over things, and visible decay — are to be fought as “problems.” It also highlights the passing world as a shrine, and its standards as idols, contradicting the Word of God, which implores us to focus on the everlasting Kingdom as our true home.

This swirl of ideas can reflect the chaos in children’s heads as they confront our distorted expressions of perfection. It falls to parents to interpret the world and make clear the path to God. My Perfect Mommy makes some things perfectly clear; unfortunately the essence of motherhood isn’t one of them.

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