Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mothers -- Permission to Take Time to Read

Like other moms, I enjoyed Susan Wise Bauer's article for Memoria Press catalog titled "Stop cleaning the kitchen and read a book!" (or something like that). I wish I could link to it but it is not online, yet, at least. ETA: It is now, and Mystie gave me the link.

She quotes Eliza Ware Farrar who writes, in The Young Lady's Friend

"Self-education begins where education ends."
also, Isaac Watts, who wrote in The Improvement of the Mind:

Acquaint yourself with your own ignorance,...that you may be incited with labour and activity to pursue after greater measures.
The point is that stopping our formal education is no reason to stop learning. Being aware of lacks in one's education can actually give us the motivation we need to apply ourselves to working on the deficits in our education. I know that personally, for me, homeschooling has been an intense incentive to keep learning. And very often, continuing to learn and explore has paid off in ways I couldn't have predicted. There have been numerous conversations with my children that I would never have had. Life with my growing children and a mathematics-minded husband has expanded my interests and knowledge in ways I wouldn't have been able to predict as an English Lit major a quarter century ago.

Susan Wise Bauer gives practical advice on how to read (similar to Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Hard Book), how not to get discouraged by your difficulties, and how to make time in your day for study (she recommends setting aside some study time early in the morning before you get tired out by the doings of the day).

What if you don't think you have time to read? What if your chore list seems to always push back at you? She writes:

"Activities that produce an immediate result are always more satisfying than activities that don't. ... In many ways, it's more rewarding to get up in the morning and clean the kitchen than to get up and read.

..But remember that the ability to put off immediate satisfaction (clean kitchen) for the sake of future gain (meaningful conversation with growing child) demonstrates self-discipline and maturity. The project of self-education requires you to take a very long view. It requires you to sometimes ignore immediate rewards in favor of a much greater reward down the road. If you can't have that conversation with your child, then who is going to have it? You are going to have to outsource it to somebody else. Is that really what you want to do? As you try to carve out a small amount of time to educate yourself, think about your priorities -- both now, and for the future.

Haha, self-discipline and maturity to read? I like that. And it doesn't seem to be said very often. I think Charlotte Mason talks about "Mother Culture" and its important. To posit that study can be an important part of the mothering vocation is to posit that the intellectual side of a mother is important.

Not that SWB is recommending filthy kitchens or moms sprawled around reading all day and ignoring their children -- just that there are other things to think of as well. I thought this made sense in light of my understanding of parenthood. The essential duty with regard to our children is to consider their welfare and education. Certainly part of their well-being is a kitchen that isn't germ-infested, but a big part of their educational well being is a mom with an active mind. It helps both to set an example, and to help keep their minds and hearts growing within their families, instead of apart from their families. That deep intellectual conversation, if out-sourced, won't pay off the dividends it would if it took place between mother and young student.

I just happened to find in Plutarch when I was quoting him recently this testimony to the importance of maternal education to children:

And here we may take example from Eurydice of Hierapolis, who, although she was an Illyrian, and so thrice a barbarian, yet applied herself to learning when she was well advanced in years, that she might teach her children. Her love towards her children appears evidently in this Epigram of hers, which she dedicated to the Muses:

Eurydice to the Muses here doth raise
This monument, her honest love to praise;
Who her grown sons that she might scholars breed,
Then well in years, herself first learned to read.

I think that shows that a big part of the process is just trying. Not every mom has time to become a scholar, not everyone has been the beneficiary of a good education in their own young days, and it's not necessary to rival a professor in your knowledge, but just allowing yourself the slight margin to keep yourself growing in some areas that seem most important to you -- I tend to focus on philosophy and my Catholic faith since those are the areas where I didn't get much formation in my younger years -- can pay off in so many ways.


  1. Honestly, I don't think I need that much encouragement! I have to make myself do certain annoying tasks, usually of the financial/phone call/tech support variety. And sometimes I have to make myself clean house. But read? It's such a reflex action! The main competition is the computer, but I *know* that reading (or at least a combination) is more satisfying in the long run.

    Ideal well-rounded day: Some housekeeping and family conversation, a little going out (whether for errands, walk, or short visit) just to get beyond the four walls (since we don't have a yard), and about an hour's worth of reading in the late afternoon before cooking dinner. Then a bit more reading in bed.

    For some inexplicable reason, I often find I have to smooth my feathers after reading Bauer. I know it's a personal thing. My reaction to her is like being a child and being told to do something you were already going to do, like organize your room. You acknowledged the responsibility internally already, but once your mom says, "Go do it now!" you get insulted and stage a sit in in the hallway instead. Or maybe I'm just proud and warped ;-). Good heavens, I'm way older than she is, anyway!

  2. You know what? I just read the article, and I was wrong. It's a good article--sorry for the excess drama!

  3. The article is posted now:

    Your post was a good expansion on it; thank you!


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!