The Personalist Project

Moms' Night Out is the story of three women in search of a few hours away from the world of soggy toddlers and unglamourous housework. They leave their children in their husbands' care for a few hours, and somehow those hours end up filled with motorcycle chases, tattoo parlors, jail time, and a missing infant. All ends well: the baby is found,  the prisoners are set free, and "Bones," the seven-foot tattooed biker, turns out to be the mouthpiece for the (personalist) insight that changes everything.

I watched the movie in my basement with a carefully selected group of fellow mothers who were all but guaranteed to find it hilarious. Sure enough, we did. Alone at a movie theater, I might well have liked it less.

It wasn't flawless. For one thing, its target audience--women like me--doesn't require even a run-of-the-mill car chase, much less a motorcylcle-and-police-and-car chase, to feel that a film is complete. That part seemed like tacked-on, token bit of rock-'em-sock-'em action to appeal to a crowd that wasn't going to be watching anyway.

For another thing, it's a faith-based, "inspirational" movie, vulnerable to all the usual criticisms of the genre. One Rotten Tomatoes reviewer sniffs: "Bland faith-based comedy supports traditional gender roles."

And it's a story of happy people with happy problems. Protagonist Allyson lives in a comfortable, pleasant home with three pretty children and a conventionally good-looking husband whose only apparent flaw is his inability to read his wife's mind.  He can't make her nagging discontent with her life vanish instantly, but he would if he could. He's almost uncannily supportive and willing to help. People who are up against more harrowing life-circumstances may have trouble working up sympathy for Allyson.

In fact, Allyson herself doesn't think she's worthy of sympathy. She recognizes that her life is full of blessings that she ought to be grateful for. She can't figure out why she's not.

Of course, part of the trouble is just the everyday overwhelmingness of having young--and only young--children. I remember the stage: you work yourself into exhaustion, but your efforts leave no visible trace. And child-rearing, by its nature, requires years, even decades, to yield visible results. (And even then, sometimes your child's pesky free will undoes what you imagined you'd accomplished.)

But there's something more substantial at the movie's climax. Allyson is  trying to articulate what's wrong: "I can’t get in front of it no matter how much I give, how much I do… I just--I’m not enough."

Bones, her improbable Harley-riding confidante, inquires: "For who?"

Allyson replies: "I don’t know.  ...[My husband], the kids, my mother, … for God…"

Bones corrects her: "For you.  You’re not enough for you."

This point hits home and allows Allyson to carry on without a continual sense of futility and failure at her vocation.

So the moral of the story is--what? Don't be too hard on yourself? Feel good about yourself no matter what? Lower your standards? No, it's not that. It's more like: Go ahead, throw yourself, body and soul, into becoming who you are--embrace the adventure of doing what you're meant to do.

But don't get misled by your own little false, manufactured idea of what that is. Chances are good that your husband and children are not judging you according to your standards of what a constitutes a good wife and mother. What they want and need from you may be very different in emphasis and direction. And chances are even better that God's ideas about what would make you a better specimen, or more worthy of love, are as far from your own as the east is from the west.

In other words: become who you are. But keep in mind that who you are is both more exalted and simpler to attain than the caricature of the perfect version of yourself that you may be unwittingly carrying in your head.

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