In some ways, this might be a strange book to read – I am neither an academic nor a woman, and so the only obvious link for me to read this book is the faith aspect. Yet, I work in a space (Christian publishing, some academic) that means I’m interested in a lot of the challenges facing women who could write for us at IVP/Apollos, and so when I saw that IVP-USA was publishing this book, I was keen to pick up a copy. As a masters student at an Anglican seminary/college (almost ten years ago!) some of the themes in this book were apparent – as I’ve gone on, and spoken to women (And men) in the academy and church, seeking to juggle multiple callings and vocations, I’m glad that this book exists. Whilst it isn’t perfect, in my limited view, it is one that I would recommend to women (who, in fairness, would probably not ask me!) exploring a vocation to academia or ministry, whilst also seeking to fulfil the vocation of marriage and motherhood. The book is divided into three parts, bracketed by a volume introduction and epilogue – ‘Navigating Academia’, ‘Navigating Motherhood’, ‘Navigating Multiple Callings’, and ‘Navigating Support’. The volume also includes two appendices, on institutional support for academic mothers, and some scenarios to provoke further discussion on what it means to be a ‘good mother’ – a theme that runs throughout the book.
As is common to my reviewing of multi-contributor books, I’ll offer a couple of sentences on each chapter, the occasional quote, and a brief conclusion. The volume editors offer an exciting and engaging introduction – with a note on the real life origins of the book, as well as some serious stats that illustrate the issues facing women in the academy (p. 1-2). This is a book that is relatively easy to read – and I would imagine even more so for the women it is aimed at! Wang’s chapter ‘Divvying up love’ was helpful. Challenging reminder not to love, teach, write [or parent] in a hurry p. 23-4. Chan’s chapter – excellently titled ‘The Synergy of Lullaby and Syllabi’ – explores some (occasionally surprising!) ways in which academia and motherhood are deeply compatible. Obstacles to and reasons for efficiency are not necessarily what you’d expect (p. 41). Interesting section on intersection with faith p. 46-50. Clemons’ chapter ‘(Mis)perceptions of Maternity Leave’ is helpful – definitely a very practical piece of writing for younger female academics pondering motherhood. Also some pretty grim reading comparing American parental leave with the rest of the world! For institutional leaders, this chapter should perhaps challenge Christian colleges/seminaries/universities to lead the way in this space – if we claim to be pro-life and pro-family. Thompson’s chapter ‘A Principled Discussion for Adjunct-Professor Mothers’ engages particularly with the additional challenges facing adjunct/contingent faculty – both the precarious nature of that mode, and the tensions inherent within it. Some good practical advice.
Part 2 – ‘Navigating Motherhood’ opens with Kim’s chapter ‘The “Good” Mother’. A careful examination of ideal mother images, intersecting with other things, particularly a racial dynamic. “To be yoked to Jesus is restful because it means first, that we surrender our burdens to him” (p. 97). Son’s ‘Recategorization: A Grace for Working Moms’ is possibly the most challenging chapter in terms of bucking norms, but she writes in a gentle and clear way that I ended up resonating with, to a certain extent – The provocative idea of recategorising as a ‘female dad’ jars somewhat but makes a powerful point: “Being a working mom entails doing more less credit both at home and at work” (p. 99). Neely’s chapter ‘Imposter Blues and Finding Rest in God’ is interesting. In some ways it is really helpful, but it includes an in my view very unhelpful reflection on ‘praying to God as mother’ (p. 117). God is not our Mother, God is our Father.
Part 3, ‘Navigating Multiple Callings’ opens with Pak’s ‘juggling multiple roles’, a piece of writing that I found both deeply personal and impressive universal. “Over the years, God has helped me see that the conflicted, divided self is not unique to bicultural individuals but is a shared human condition needing to be reconciled and in union with him” (p. 124). In my view, one of the most helpful chapters in the book. McNutt’s ‘Answering a Threefold Calling’ is a well written narrative, fleshing out the core idea that “in truth, anyone pursuing both academics and the pastoral office faces a complex landscape today” p. 144. This was a robustly theological chapter and left me wanting more. Hernandez’ chapter was particularly interesting to me as it is about ‘Balancing Teaching and Homeschooling’ a title and topic pregnant with complexity. It made me more open to the idea of homeschooling, but also even more keenly aware of the logistical challenges.
Part 5, ‘Navigating Support’ picks up some themes that have run through the book to this point. Collier-Goubel and Yuen’s chapter ‘It Takes a Village’ helpfully and practically lays out a common theme. The reflection on losing a husband is also moving, to put it mildly. One of the more explicitly faith-filled chapters, too, though I wanted to hear more about church as part of the village. Qualls’s chapter on ‘Navigating Marriage as the Breadwinner’ is fascinating and has implications far beyond academics. “We have learned that our family will not succeed or fail based on prescribed notions of roles.” P. 187. A chapter that calls us to obedience first. O’Quinn’s chapter “Empowerment of Professor Moms through Mentorship” is practical and helpful. It mentioned self-care at the beginning, but didn’t expand much on that, to my slight disappointment.
As I said at the beginning of this review, overall this is a helpful and practical book for the readership it is intended for: women exploring academic (and possibly adjacent ministry) calling alongside motherhood and marriage. Yet the focus on women meant that the regular though not consistent usage of ‘spouse’ instead of ‘husband’ jarred somewhat – perhaps I am over-sensitive, but it felt like a strange choice to use the gender-neutral term in what is (in a good way!) a very gendered/sexed book. As a white man, I found the reflections on racial dynamics in relation to being a woman very illuminating – a strong example of the value of books in opening up one’s world and perspectives. One criticism could be that this book was very America-centric – though McNutt, among others, alluded to studying elsewhere – but this is from an American publisher, and likely aimed at that particular market. The immigrant experience in America is a key thread in some chapters too. I really appreciated this book, and with the above caveats and questions, would recommend it to women thinking about the kind of thing this book is about. Certainly, if I were still doing ‘Theology Network’ type ministry with theology undergrads, this would be one to recommend to female students thinking about how various futures might intersect. As I say, not a book for me, but I’m glad to have read it, and it has given me some useful tools and awareness for my own work.