"As Christian women, have we set the bar too high for ourselves? Are we striving to achieve our own version of the American dream, some sort of Focus on the Family all-star clan where the kids all love each other, while also reading above grade level and excelling in at least two extracurricular activities?"

So asks Amy Spiegel in her new book, Letting Go of Perfect: Women, Expectations, and Authenticity (B&H Books), in which the Tennessee native aims to expose the "manmade construction of expectations and stereotypes that steal our joy and make us crazy." Wife of 14 years to Jim, who teaches philosophy at Taylor University, and mother of four, Amy and I recently curled up in adjacent wicker chairs to discuss ways that we can resist bowing to the image of the "perfect Christian woman," instead caring for ourselves and showing grace to each other.

What led you to write this book at this point in your life?

I tell a story in the book about going to a prayer meeting with six other women and feeling really inadequate, and then at the end of the meeting realizing that all the women, who appeared to be spiritual superwomen, struggled with the same feelings of inadequacy. The pressures we put on ourselves to be perfect are not from God. I realized that if even these super-spiritual women felt those pressures, then the message of freedom needed to be shared.

You write about the importance of maintaining your own sense of self in the midst of a life largely dedicated to caring for others. How do you practice self-care?

Probably the most important thing has been understanding myself and embracing who I am. Just because you take on a new role like "mom" or "wife," or move to a new town, doesn't mean you stop being who you are. And who you are is unique; you may recharge in different ways than the women around you.

It's important to realize that we live in a society that tells us to feed ourselves for ourselves' sake. Moms especially can fall prey to the temptation to be self-indulgent because we are working so hard caring for others all day. We have to remember that we need to take time for self-care, not because we've "earned" a break, but because we need to care for ourselves in order to serve others better.

Some say that nothing kills friendships like having kids. How do you maintain friendships with people who have a different parenting philosophy?

Because we live in this tight Christian community around Taylor University, we are blessed to be around a lot of families who share basic principles of faith. But we apply those principles so differently. We have to learn to trust our friends, to trust that God has given them the wisdom they need in their specific situations, with their specific children, and to trust that they will extend that same kind of trust to me when I make different decisions.

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Such parenting differences feed the "mommy wars" we have heard much about in recent weeks. Why do you think we're often quick to judge each other's parenting decisions?

Because we are so quick to judge our own decisions. We are making very personal, very emotional decisions in the way we choose to live and to raise our children, and the stakes are high. We're desperate to believe we have made the right choices, that when someone makes a different choice, we may either immediately change our minds to realign with them, or we may feel threatened by the difference and immediately go on the defensive. Their decision calls yours into question, and that's what's frightening.

If the conflict in the "mommy wars" is more internal than external, how do we end them? How do I wave the flag of surrender in the mommy war with myself?

Trusting the providence of God is the only way. He knows you, he knows your children, and his grace will cover your missteps just as it covers your right steps.

My parents are wonderful, loving, amazing people. But in me they had a daughter who was a wild child, running around in high school and college drinking, making choices they disagreed with, not living a spiritual or moral life at all. They may have done all the right things, but that doesn't mean they got a perfect daughter. And they also made some mistakes in the way they dealt with me during those years. Yet some of the things they did wrong actually affected me in positive ways. That's humbling to realize - that God can use the parenting mistakes that I make just as well as he can use the things I think I'm doing "right" to impact the lives of my children.

How do you respond when your friends disagree on subjects that you believe go beyond preference into theological truth? This may be staying at home with the kids, choosing to "cry it out" vs. cosleeping with an infant, the complementarian vs. egalitarian debate, and so on. How do you interact when you disagree about those kinds of topics?

Being humble is the most important. You have to choose carefully what hill you would die on. Hold your hands open, and hold lightly to your opinions.

Unless you are in an intimate relationship with another woman, to call her out on something you disagree on is rarely appropriate. It's true that we have a biblical precedent for holding people accountable, but unless you are close to someone and feel she is doing something that you know is going to be harmful to her or her family, or is in disagreement with values she has previously expressed to you, you don't need to confront her about it. When you do, it should be only out of investment in who she is and a sincere desire to see her prosper.

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Amy Spiegel blogs with her husband Jim at Wisdom and Folly and at Ah, Crabapples.
Amy Lepine Peterson teaches writing and American pop culture at Taylor University. You can find her in the cornfields of Indiana with her husband and two children, or on Twitter @amylpeterson.