Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book Review: The Happiest Mom

Meagan Francis has been blogging at The Happiest Mom since 2009, but I only discovered her a few months ago. I'm not quick to add to my already-overflowing feed reader, but the first post I read intrigued me enough to keep poking around. A quick trip through her “Favorite Posts” had me hitting not only “subscribe” but “print.”

Her writing is honest, relatable, funny, give-it-to-you straight. And the blog fills a needed niche: it's not the “motherhood is so hard, let's all commiserate together” mommy blog, and not the “motherhood is the greatest delight of my life, let's go do a 47-step craft with our angelic, gifted children in our meticulously organized house” mommy blog. Instead it's this delightfully challenging yet empowering middle ground: a mommy blog that says, “yes, it's hard sometimes, but you have choices about how you feel and what you do, so do what it takes to be a happy mom!”

So when I saw that Meagan Francis had a book coming out, I wanted to read it. Obviously, I was hoping for a book-length version of her blog.

Instead, I got a book-length version of Parenting magazine.

I don't like Parenting magazine.

First the positives. The book is gorgeous. Colorful, well-designed—just really nice to look at. When I requested a copy, I suggested that I'd be happy with an e-version for my Kindle, but the author said I'd want a print copy because of how beautiful it is, and she was right. If you have any kind of appreciation for print design, you'll be impressed with The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets to Enjoying Motherhood. And there were a couple of places I marked that Francis offered some helpful insights, like “questions to ask yourself to regain perspective,” that sort of thing.

But I'm afraid it speaks volumes when the first and most positive thing I want to say about a book refers to its design. I don't read books for design; I read them for content. And the content here is disappointing. The book is stuffed full of trendy pop-culture references that make it feel dated, rather than full of timeless wisdom. It reads like a collection of magazine articles—complete with obnoxious quizzes (“Are you 'Tidy Tracy' or 'Hot Mess Heather'?” I mean, seriously?) and largely pointless sidebar quotes from “real-life moms!” It's trying too hard to be your best pal, all hip and funny and full of common sense advice. In other words, it seems like something Parenting dreamed up and contracted Francis to write in a magazine-article-writer voice. Which she's really good at...but it just isn't what I was expecting or hoping for. Frankly, all I could think as I read was, “Meagan Francis is better than this.”

So...yeah. I really, really hate to give a negative review of a book when the author so graciously sent me a complimentary copy. But there you have it.

Of course, to go a little deeper, I think part of the problem is that a book like this isn't going to be ultimately satisfying because the realest secrets to happiness aren't going to be found in ten steps for organizing life and taking care of myself. If I am seeking fulfillment and happiness in motherhood, in "finding my tribe" (tip #5), in "having a plan" (#8) or in my marriage (#10), I'm going to come up short every time. These are great things: marriage and motherhood are beautiful gifts from the Lord; planning and seeking like-minded friends are wise and helpful advice. But friends and a plan cannot solve all my problems, and a husband and children cannot satisfy my soul.

I don't know what Meagan Francis believes about God and the big questions of life. But with the first awesome blog posts I read at The Happiest Mom, although they did not refer to spiritual matters at all, I could easily apply a gospel perspective as I read, and they took on even deeper meaning. The book version, however, has some advice that is completely contradictory to the gospel (most obviously chapter 9, “Look Out for Number One,” in which readers are told, “Being selfish is a very, very good thing”). In other words, this is definitely not the place to go for advice on how to be the happiest mom in a biblical sense. (To be clear: I do think it's completely fine, even important, to continue pursuing your pre-mom interests and hang on to some of the things that make you “you”--but I wouldn't take that to the conclusion of “it's necessary to put yourself first; you are number one.” At the very least, I wouldn't word it that way.)

All that to say: If you want to read winsome, funny, practical advice about enjoying motherhood, save your money and subscribe to And if you want a more ultimate-truth kind of answer to finding joy in motherhood and life, meditate on Psalm 16 and immerse yourself in the gospel. You might also check out Rachel Jankovic's recent writing on motherhood, especially Motherhood is a Calling (And Where Your Children Rank) and Motherhood as a Mission Field.


Danielle said...

I've not read The Happiest Mom blog, although I've seen it around. I try to keep my "corporate" blogs at a minimum in favor of the blogs where I know the people behind them. I make exceptions for "A Holy Experience" and "Simple Mom" but like I said, try to keep them at a minimum.

I really liked that article by Jankovic. I read it a week or so ago. Haven't read the mission field one by her, though. Did you know she's written a mothering book too? It gets high praise.

Sandra Leigh said...

Good job, Amy, on your book review. As I was reading your post I wondered if you woud get any slack from people who may leave negative comments. I just wanted to encourage you and let you know that I love the way you said what you wanted to say. Your straight-forwardness and honesty are refreshing and your aim at pointing to Christ is clear. Good job.

Zoanna said...

I second what Sandra said.

My hunch is that the author may have been pressured by the publisher to conform to their expectations of what would sell. After all, they're in the business of selling books, not necessarily keeping authors authentic. I'm sorry the book was a disappointment. But the cover is adorable. Too bad you can't judge the book by it!