top of page

Living Free from the Terror of Your ‘Phantom’

We all form a mental image of the ‘perfect’ spouse and parent, and then feel like failures when we use that as our measuring stick.

By Dennis and Barbara Rainey

By definition, a phantom is an illusion—an apparition, or a resemblance of reality. Normally we associate phantoms with Halloween.

But did you know that each of us carries a “phantom” within us?

Within your mind you have a picture of how you should act as a husband or wife, father or mother. And, chances are, this image is so perfect, so idyllic, that it is completely unattainable. Yet, every day you judge your performance by this phantom! And since you cannot match those standards, your self-image suffers.

The perfect wife and mother

Years ago, when we still had six children at home, Barbara sat down one day and described her phantom in writing. Here are the characteristics of this perfect wife and mother:

  • She is always loving, patient, and understanding.

  • She is well-organized, maintaining a perfect balance between discipline and flexibility.

  • Her house is always neat and well-decorated, so she is never embarrassed if friends drop by unexpectedly.

  • Her children drop whatever they are doing and obey her every command.

  • She never gets angry with her children, even when they forget to do their chores.

  • She is serious yet lighthearted, submissive but not passive.

  • She is energetic and never tired, even after getting up five times during the night to tend to her children.

  • She reaches out to her neighbors and takes meals to the sick and needy.

  • She looks fresh and attractive at all times, whether in jeans and a sweater, while digging in the garden, or in a silk dress going out to dinner.

  • Her hair always does what she wants it to do, and it’s never flat.

  • Her fingernails are never broken.

  • She always plans healthy, balanced meals for her family and bakes everything from scratch.

  • She would never dream of feeding her family prepared foods such as canned ravioli, frozen pizza, or cheap hot dogs.

  • She never gets sick, lonely, or discouraged.

  • She walks faithfully with God every day, and studies and memorizes Scripture.

  • She prays “without ceasing.”

  • She prays over flat tires, lost keys, lost teddy bears, and lost blankets.

  • She gives thanks for a husband who is late for dinner and for her son’s tennis shoes which the neighbor’s dog just chewed up.

  • She is never fearful or inhibited about telling others about Christ and speaking the truth to someone who may be in error.

Quite an impressive list, isn’t it? With a phantom like that, is it any wonder that it’s easy for Barbara to feel like a failure as a wife and mom?

The perfect husband and father

Now look at the list Dennis compiled of the phantom husband and father:

  • He rises early, reads the Bible and prays, then jogs several miles.

  • After breakfast, he presents a flawless 15-minute devotional to his attentive, adoring wife and children.

  • Never forgetting to hug and kiss his wife good-bye, he arrives at work 10 minutes early.

  • He is consistently patient with his co-workers, always content with his job, and devises creative solutions to problems.

  • He works hard, and never wastes time.

  • His desk is never cluttered, and he is confidently in control at all times.

  • He is well-read in world events, politics, and important social issues.

  • He is a handyman around the house and loves to build things for his family.

  • He arrives home from work on time every day and never turns down a request to play catch with his boys.

  • He obeys all traffic laws and never speeds, even if he’s late for a meeting.

  • He is popular with everyone he meets and never tires of people or of helping them in time of need.

  • He can quote large sections of Scripture in a single bound, has faith more powerful than a locomotive, and is faster than a speeding bullet when sol