Mother Culture

Do you ever feel like your homeschool mamma brain is turning to mush? You need to find something you love, that develops your mind or develops new skills. That’s Mother Culture. It’s a chance to be a grown-up even if you spend all day with people under five feet tall. I joke that it helps me feel human.  If you find something to do each day that incorporates discipline, delight, and growth, you’ll be surprised by how satisfied and happy you are.

Karen Andreola’s Mother Culture

I first came across this idea of Mother Culture in Karen Andreola’s book A Charlotte Mason Companion.  When my kids were young I read this book each summer as I planned the next homeschool year. The book refreshed me and inspired me to bring my very best to home-making and homeschooling every fall. I read Karen Andreola’s words often enough and acted on them, that the ideas became my own. Long after I had given up the annual reading of A Charlotte Mason Companion, I was daily taking a little time for mother – for myself.

“Some may say, “I simply have no time for myself.” Others, “I don’t think it is right to think of myself.” Such mothers are stuck in a rut of self-sacrifice to the extent that they are starving themselves spiritually, mentally, and consequently, emotionally….But all this can be altered. Each mother must settle this for herself. The only way to do it is to be so deeply impressed herself with the necessity of growing that she makes it an aim in life.” (pg. 344)

Are you impressed with the necessity of growing? Muscles atrophy when they are not used. So does the mind. Keep your mind strong by pushing yourself to learn and grow every day.

Two criteria of Mother Culture

How do you determine which activities can be considered Mother Culture out of the thousands of things you do, and wish you could do, each day? Two criteria I consider are growth and pleasure. I think both should be present before I consider an activity Mother Culture.

For example, learning to keep a household budget and to live by it has been a growth process for me. I have invested time studying and learning. I created systems and spreadsheets. There has been a lot of growth. But I do not find budgeting pleasurable. Sure, the results are great. But the process is hard work and stress. Plus, numbers and I do not get along well. I spend a lot of time adding and re-adding, hoping the numbers will cooperate. As far as I am concerned, budgeting is not Mother Culture.

On the other hand, curling up on the couch with tea and ice cream to watch a movie is very pleasurable. But most of the time – arguably all of the time – watching a movie doesn’t fuel growth. I don’t count the movies I have watched as time invested in Mother Culture.

Activities I pursue with that combination of discipline and delight, that result in growth, are the ones I consider Mother Culture.

What if I don’t like art?

Often when we hear the word “culture” we think of art, music, and literature. This is consistent with the meaning of the word. What does that mean for you if you hate art and British literature?

I think we can expand our definition, in this instance, to include other fields of learning and achievement. I had one friend who loved math. She worked up through all the Saxon books then bought a college algebra text and was working through that. I noticed this morning our Saxon 8/7 math book is a hand-me-down from their family – a perfect memory of her. She wasn’t learning math to teach it to her kids, she was tackling it every day because she loved it. Notice the combination of intellectual growth and pleasure?

There are countless options open to you. Choose something you love and call it Mother Culture.

My Mother Culture choices

Here are the things I am pursuing right now with my time and energy:


1. I love to read books of all sorts, and I probably need to narrow the field and delve deeper into fewer areas.  But I don’t just read novels. I like to read history, theology, and literature.

In A Charlotte Mason Companion, Karen Andreola recommends reading three books at once – an easy book, a medium book, and a book that requires serious mental concentration.  I try to limit myself to three, but the stacks on my bedside table are usually out of control. So I combine my varied interests with a strict rule about finishing books. (I know other readers have the opposite rule. Either way.)

My yearly goal is 52 books. Obviously, I picked that number because there are 52 weeks in a year. Nifty. But I also picked that number because it was a challenge. I would have to sacrifice screen time to make that happen. I know when I am off track and need to limit my fun and settle in with a book.

2. When my kids were little an amazing friend taught me to knit.  I enjoy mindless projects like socks and dishcloths that I can work on while the family watches TV.

3. Approaching cooking as an art or science is my third Mother Culture pursuit. We rarely go out to eat so I cook every single day. Seven days a week. For twenty-three years. Cooking gets a little boring (this is an enormous understatement). I keep myself engaged by trying a steady supply of new recipes. I’ve tried sourdough bread, yogurt making, and homemade chicken broth. It’s always fun to break out Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and rise to the challenge. Right now we’re loving “Fondue De Poulet a la Crème” or Chicken Simmered with Cream and Onions – if you don’t speak French. On a day to day basis, I keep cooking pretty basic – we eat lots of beans and rice or eggs – but I regularly push myself to learn something new.

4. Finally, the past couple of years I have been trying to memorize  Bible verses. I want to know a few more than we accomplish during our family Bible time. My daughter who competes in the Bible Bee has clearly shown me that we are capable of a lot more than we think we are. I created a little system I am keeping in my purse and practicing in the spare moments I spend waiting in the car for my kids.

I could have done much better over the years and pushed myself harder. Hard work and I aren’t exactly familiar friends. But I have done a bit – and I am glad for it. Looking back those hours were far more satisfying than the hours in front of the TV. Even knowing that satisfaction I struggle to push myself today. It’s hard to keep making the best choices over and over, isn’t it?

I shared those just for fun. Remember, that’s my list, not yours. Find your own passions to pursue then put in the hard work.

Personal benefits of Mother Culture

Making time for Mother Culture will richly repay you. Here are just a few benefits to consider:

  • Mother Culture will keep your mind sharp. Don’t let your mind atrophy while you’re scrubbing toilets and reading off spelling lists. Add grown-up mental challenges.
  • Investing time in Mother Culture may develop some new skills. Crafting, gardening, and computer coding are all great skills to have. You can develop many skills without leaving the house. When the day finally comes that your kids leave home, you might have useful skills for ministry or employment.
  • Housework is boring. Homeschooling can be boring. Raising little ones can be tediously boring – that’s why every day feels like an eternity. I feel bad saying this out loud, and maybe some of you disagree, but I bet it’s true for most of us. Do all those things, and do a good job, then add something to each day that fascinates you. Keep life interesting.
  • Your personal pursuits give you time to relax. Take your mind of the daily stresses and troubles. Enjoy yourself, even if it’s just for half an hour.
  • Time set aside for Mother Culture can also double as a time for spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is of inestimable value.

Mother Culture benefits your family

While Mother Culture keeps you sane and happy, the benefits will spill over and bless everyone in your family. Your husband will find you interesting and loveable. Sure, ninety percent of your conversations will still be about potty training and phonics, but every once in a while you might say something interesting. You’ll have knowledge or skills to pass on to your kids. Even better, you’ll be setting an example of a lifelong learner. I want my kids to keep learning long after formal schooling ends, so I am modeling that for them. Time set aside for Mother Culture isn’t selfish time as long as you keep it in proportion.

When to squeeze in Mother Culture

Your days are full and you’re wondering how to squeeze anything else into them.

First, I expect that a homeschooling mother with a house full of kids will have very little time. Please don’t attempt to take up a hobby that requires twenty hours a week in the name of Mother Culture. That will only result in frustration. Choose activities you can tackle in small increments.

Second, you will probably have to give something up to make time for Mother Culture.  For me, that has meant giving up time watching TV and on the computer in the evenings after the kids go to bed. I know you feel like you don’t have a second to yourself, but in reality, most of us have a little free time every day. How are you using yours?

Third, you can find a few minutes for Mother Culture by training your kids to keep themselves busy for a few minutes each day. You can aim for fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, or an hour. We do this during Nap Time or Rest Time. Our one hour break each day gives me a long stretch of time to accomplish something, and my kids have all benefitted as well. Realize that for years and years you will not have an uninterrupted hour. You will be busy training and have just a few minutes of that hour to yourself. Hang in there. One day the training will pay off and you’ll have time for yourself.

Finally, be realistic about your energy. Raising a houseful of kids is plain old hard work. It’s good to be tired at the end of the day; it means you worked hard. If you’re like me, by the time all the kids are tucked in bed you barely have the energy to walk to the couch. If your choice for a Mother Culture activity is woodworking in the garage, you’ll still end up on the couch. Only now you’ll be weighted down with guilt. Skip the guilt by making realistic choices.

Don’t let this time run over its bounds and compromise your other responsibilities. Running your home well, blessing your husband, and educating your kids are your responsibilities. Mother Culture is a privilege that you’ll have to sacrifice if you cannot meet your responsibilities.

Be patient

Although there will be many days when it seems the single chapter you managed to read is not enough to foster growth, remember that growth is slow and incremental. Growth is often invisible. But when you look back after a decade of pursuing mental growth, I know you will be amazed by how far you have come.

Think of a bean seedling in the garden that begins with two bright green leaves and by August towers over your head and covers the trellis. If you stood beside it for an entire day in June, would you see the growth? If you stand beside yourself today you won’t see growth, but in the autumn of your life, when you look back over years, growth will be unmistakable.

Mother Culture’s unexpected mixture

Last Fall I read Elizabeth Prentiss by Sharon James. Elizabeth Prentiss was a pastor’s wife, mother of four surviving children, and an author in the mid-1800’s. Her most famous book is Stepping Heavenward. Incidentally, if you want a great book to read try Stepping Heavenward. I have read it at four different stages of motherhood and loved it every time. In one letter Elizabeth Prentiss wrote:

I enclose an extract that I made for you from a work on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This was all the paper I had on hand at the moment. The recipe for curry I have copied into my recipe book…A queer mixture of the spiritual and the practical, but no stranger than life’s mixtures always are. (pg. 140)

I love that. Friendship, intelligence, spirituality, and domesticity recorded on a curry recipe. An unexpected mixture!

That’s my goal: combine all my loves – family, home, and hobbies – in a God-honoring manner. The mixture may seem strange, but life is always a little unexpected.


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