Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mother Culture: What it Is and What it Is Not

“If we would do our best for our children, grow we must; and on our power of growth surely depends, not only our future happiness, but our future usefulness.” 
I’ve seen the phrase ‘Mother Culture’ used quite often in CM circles. I’ve read that Charlotte Mason used this term as a means of encouraging mothers to refill themselves by enjoying life more. “Do something for yourself.” “Get a pedicure.” “Go shopping with your girlfriends.” I’ve also read that Karen Andreola, author of A Charlotte Mason Companion, invented the phrase. When I began to notice conflicting accounts of the origin of this phrase, I decided to research it further. 

I found out that ‘mother culture’ is not mentioned in Charlotte Mason’s works, but was first used in a PNEU article in 1892. The author’s name is not mentioned except for the letter ‘A.’ Interestingly enough, I also discovered that the author was specifically speaking about the habit of reading in mothers. Although I agree that a mother needs to refresh and refill herself in various ways, this is not primarily what the author was referring to. I am pointing this out because, (1) I like accuracy and (2) I believe the author shared something very important that we should take to heart--namely, that we mothers need to continue filling our minds with ideas that challenge and inspire us and this should be done primarily through the habit of reading. Otherwise, when our children grow older and take in more complex ideas and grapple with life’s challenging issues, we will not be able to offer them our valuable wisdom and insight. 
“Each mother must settle this for herself. She must weigh things in the balance. She must see which is the most important--the time spent in luxuriously gloating over the charms of her fascinating baby, or what she may do with that time to keep herself ‘growing’ for the sake of that baby ‘some day,’ when it will want her even more than it does now.” 
One of the primary reasons my adult children and I have such warm, close relationships is because I invested in myself by stimulating my mind so that I would have something of value to say to them when they came to me with difficult questions. Often, I came to them and asked what they were reading or thinking. This is where real discipleship takes place in the parent-child relationship. The Bible is my primary teacher and my ‘moral compass.’ From there I read and listen to other minds that are wiser than me and I share what I have learned with my teens as they share what they are learning with me. We compare it to our compass and have wonderful, stimulating discussions that may be about any variety of ideas-- male/female relationships, movies, Matisse’s world view or Homer’s Odyssey.  It makes for a beautiful, life-long relationship and it prevents me from homeschool burnout.

I realize that we have become an entertainment-driven society and this has affected even mothers like us who are trying to educate our children. We busy ourselves with moving from one activity to the next for the brief thrill it brings to us. We may even make the mistake of thinking this is ‘mother culture.’ We are like children, never satisfied. Some of us may not have developed the habit of reading for pleasure because of our own pitiful education. We may be so used to sitting at a computer reading bits of information that when we do try to sit down with a good book, our attention wanders to our iphone or favorite social network. We find we can’t focus for long.  I know it is difficult to break old habits, but the experts tell us that if we can follow a new habit for just one month on a daily basis, there is a very good chance of that habit being established.  
“The only way to do it is to be so strongly impressed with the necessity for growing herself that she herself makes it a real object in life. She can only rarely be helped from the outside…
You may be thinking, "Lindafay is the 'bookish' type of person, so of course, she wants us to read books. But I'm just not that way. It's not my personality." Charlotte Mason thought otherwise and so did the author of 'Mother Culture'.
The wisest woman I ever knew--the best wife, the best mother, the best mistress, the best friend--told me once, when I asked her how, with her weak health and many calls upon her time, she managed to read so much, ‘I always keep three books going--a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!’ That is the secret; always have something ‘going’ to grow by. If we mothers were all ‘growing’ there would be less going astray among our boys, less separation in mind from our girls.”   
(All quotes taken from Miss Mason’s PNEU article titled MOTHER CULTURE)
I have added a new category called 'Mother Culture'. It will primarily be about what has been stimulating my heart and mind through books. But there are other ways to take in fresh ideas and grow and I will be sharing those as well. I invite you to share with us in the comments section what has challenged and encouraged you. Feel free to leave a link to a blog post if it is too long to post here. 

one step at a time...


  1. I *love* this post!

    I really think continuing to read and think and listen and learn and grow--spiritually and intellectually--is the only way to avoid burnout over the long haul. Every time I start to get that "dry" feeling, I download some lectures or crack open a book...something to get me going again.

  2. So true!!! In the past year, I've really branched out in my reading and have been SO blessed by it...I can definitely see the benefits not only for my children but for myself. I have found myself sharing or answering questions using things I learned with my children. The best thing of all though is the ASSOCIATIONS!!! WOW. My mind & eyes have been open to so much more and I will see how thing are connected or are like other things etc...I really am being educated WITH my children on this journey! :-) Can't wait to read you other thoughts also on Mother Culture! :)

  3. Brandy and Amy,
    Your comments are so helpful. They really add to the post and I couldn't agree more. My experiences have been the same.

  4. Did you add some new photos to your scrolling photo montage? I love 'em! :)

  5. Thank you for this challenge. It is easy to get caught up in online reading sometimes. As encouraging as that can be, it is not enough nor is it the same. I just today downloaded Charlotte Mason's book to my Kindle and I'm very excited to start reading. I still want the paper version so I can highlight things, but for now, I can't beat $1.99!

  6. Thanks for the detective work. I always wanted to have a 'Mother Culture' category but thought the term was copyright. Very helpful thoughts; I've also been making a conscious effort to stretch out in my reading.

  7. Lindafay,
    Exactly. Reading, relationships, nature study - all the things I use in my children's education are also the things that nourish, refresh and challenge me.

    And why have I not found your blog before? I knew of your curriculum site, but not the blog. Following now!
    From joy to joy,


  8. Thank you for participating in the CM Carnival! That is how I found this post. Mother Culture has been on my mind a lot lately, and your post is definitely food for thought for me. We need to encourage each other, as you have done here, with the message to fill our minds with ideas all through our lives. It will keep us young! :)

  9. loved your post! Thank for doing the research on the term "mother culture." I too love accuracy and knowing what an author truly meant to say not just what I think it says. It is refreshing and wonderful to know what you found out. I have always read the books I will read to the children ahead of time, simply because they are interesting and I want to have it to myself before I share it. Also when planning a curriculum my dh always allows me to purchase books for my own learning as well as for the kids on the school budget because He sees the benefit of a happy wife also. SO if I find a book I know I would like but they are not yet ready for I buy it, so I am just as into that period of history or author myself as the kids are or mare if I like it better. I believe and practice that sharing my passion for learning by doing it with my kids is the best way of home education and why I love it so much.

  10. i can't add a thing to this post that hasn't already been said. in it or about it. :) only that in my experience it is EXACTLY true. and that i'm really glad you wrote it. ;)

    i have always done the same thing with my books as the lady quoted in the article suggested. it's just that sometimes it's a easy-read night, or sometimes i'm up for a challenge, or sometimes my soul needs a feed. you never can know for sure until the moment comes, so you've got to be ready for anything, and have the books within an arm's reach. perhaps that explains why i have SO many books next to my bed. :)

  11. Amy, I have two stacks by my bed right now that are on the verge of toppling over. The more I read, the more I realize I don't know very much. So, I have to buy more books to remedy that...but I can't seem to catch up on the knowledge bit. :)

    1. "The more I read, the more I realize I don't know very much. So, I have to buy more books to remedy that..." That's the beauty of Amazon used and Paperbackswap, right?!

      Selfishly, one of the things I love about homeschooling my children is the opportunity for me to learn so much. I can't help but wonder how I let my learning grind to a halt in the years after I graduated college, became a wife, and then a mother. Beginning to read CM's series a few years ago has inspired me to chase after the kind of education I want my kids to have. After all, I can't offer what I don't possess myself. So let the book stack grow and grow…