“(Some mothers have children who) will grow up with that, “Oh, it’s only mother,” tone in their voice. Some children will eventually carry the attitude that they know more than Mother on all points.”
This line stopped me in my tracks the first time I read it in Karen Andreola’s excellent book, The Charlotte Mason Companion. It stopped me because I knew that it was true. I had seen it to be true. I had known those kids and those moms. I had cringed at the dismissive attitudes directed towards the very person who had given them birth. I had a high view of motherhood and was dumbfounded that a position worthy of so much respect wasn’t given it. When Charlotte Mason came across my path via Karen’s book- I was just hitting my stride. My girls were 4th grade and under and still thought I hung the moon. Her words awoke memories- would I become one of those moms? Would I someday be disregarded and irrelevant to my girls? Was that the natural flow of things? I felt a stab of dread.
Needless to say- I read that chapter on Mother Culture carefully. Looking back now I can see that that was a pivotal point in my life. It was one of the ideas that became a Captain Idea. When Karen advised keeping three books going at a time- I, a non-reader, ordered 3 books at random that seemed to fit the qualifications set forth and dove in. Thus began the transition from education being something I did to my kids, to education being something I did with my kids. I took to heart the fact that I could not lead where I wasn’t going. I literally chose to become what I wanted my kids to be. Classical music, picture study, reading, poetry, commonplace, all of it. None of it existed before that moment- and then it did. I was inspired by the idea that I didn’t ever want to become irrelevant; the fact that I needed to be at least a couple of steps ahead if I expected to guide my little women through to adulthood.
Mother Culture has become a catchy phrase in the Charlotte Mason community. I believe it is even trademarked! There are blog posts about it and discussion groups to share ideas on what and how. This is obviously an idea that has resonated with more than just me. Mother Culture has become synonymous with down-time for mom. It gives us permission to carve out space for ourselves without guilt. Mother Culture might be a quiet 30 minutes without kids, or working on a piece of art; it might be a handcraft or a walk. It is about keeping mom healthy so that she has something to give. While all of this is true, that is only one aspect of true Mother Culture and lately I have noticed that the idea that truly captivated me back then might be under-represented.
The quote from Karen’s book is still true. I still see it. I see good moms who become, “just mom” to their kids. The fact is- this can happen to us- even when making time for ourselves if we are not also investing in ourselves. What I felt all those years ago was an urgency to be more than what I knew I was. I don’t say this to add additional weight or guilt to an already overwhelmed mother. What I hope to do is offer encouragement from the perspective of having raised high schoolers. I want to give you the heads-up, so that you don’t become “just mom” someday. So, here it is:
When we consistently spread the feast of ideas as Ms. Mason describes, there is the very real possibility that our kids will outpace us, pass us up. There is a high likelihood that they will attain better understanding, more context and better reasoning skills than we do if we are not challenging ourselves academically and intellectually. On one hand this is good. I think every true parent’s goal is to raise a child who builds beyond what they have achieved. But there is also an element of irrelevance you could acquire.
If their levels rise as yours stay stagnant their conversations will begin to be directed towards someone who can hold their own. Their questions will be saved for the person they perceive to be with-it enough to at least be a sounding board. They will not only pass you- but leave you, intellectually. You will always be their mother- but could become, just mom. This is not what I wanted for my relationship with my children. I wanted to welcome them into the world of ideas where I was an active participant. Thanks to Karen’s warning- this turned out to be a reality for us. I count each of my girls a friend and they are my favorite conversation partners. There is a respect that is due position- but there is also a respect that can only be earned. I wanted to be eligible for both.
What does this neglected aspect of Mother Culture look like in real life? For me it started by making time to read Church History in Plain Language while my kids were studying the middle ages. I was able to have context for their narrations. I was primed to add in bits and pieces of the over arcing narrative off the cuff. It looked like reading a biology book the summer before my eldest did high school biology and being able to toss around the phrase -turgor pressure- as if I had always known what it meant. (I can still see the amazement on her face!) It looked like wrestling through upper level math with them- rather than hiring it out or sitting them in front of a video alone. Now when they have questions, I can at least dialogue with them about math rules and we can arrive at the answer together. In fact- this happened just yesterday! A younger had a question she wanted to save to ask an older (the sweet perk of having a graduate). I offered to look at it with her- and before we knew it, we had it figured out! There was some respect there on her part and some satisfaction on mine- mom was relevant.
Basically, it looks like allowing your children’s studies provide a framework for your own only at a higher level- and making it a priority. Church History in Plain Language, The Story of Britain, half a dozen American History books and an endless list of biographies, all books I would have never picked up except for the fact that my kids were there in their studies. This is what I mean when I say: Homeschooling made me a better person.
That last statement isn’t true for everyone- homeschooling makes some moms irritable and crazy, I hear it from them. I can hear it in their kids. But properly applied Mother Culture, all sides of it, can make you beautiful, can make you more than you were when you started.
Yes, Mother Culture is mom down-time. But it is also mom growth-time. Like any growing thing- it doesn’t happen in leaps and bounds, but slowly and consistently over time. Start small. If you are still in the throes of nursing babes and ransacking toddlers, set this aside for now and survive. But keep it as a goal. Because I am here to tell you- those years pass quickly. Whether you can see it right now or not- those are little people, little adults who will someday love to have deep and meaningful conversations with you. They will have questions for you that you don’t have the answers for now- but will if you grow with them.
The other day my eldest, who is grown and married, remarked that she could remember the day I turned into “super mom” as she coined it. She clarified that I had always been a good mom- but there was this specific space of time she remembered when she was about 9 or 10 that something changed. She had noticed! Unprompted she had noticed. I smiled and pulled down The Charlotte Mason Companion to show her the Captain Idea that had motivated.
Be inspired to action. They will notice. Right now it might seem frivolous- like time is better spent elsewhere, but the friendships with your own personal adults on the other side are worth it.
May your kids never have “that tone” when talking about you.
May you never become “just mom”.
May you ever present a challenge to them.
And may you both become like iron sharpening iron, equals in the quest for ideas and truth.
Some of my Mother Culture Books from over the years incase you would like a starting spot!
Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcy
Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley
The Story of Britain by Rebecca Fraser
Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxes
The Soul of Science by Nancy Pearcy
Never Before in History by Amos & Gardiner
Just to name a few…