Mother Culture: Creativity

“If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, pg. 34

The idea of Mother Culture extends beyond reading.  We are created to be not only minds hungry for knowledge, but bodies needing fresh air, movement, and proper nutrition and we are souls craving God.  Something that encompasses body, mind, and soul is the fact that we are made in the image of the Creator – as such, we are creators ourselves. While our God is able to create ex nihilo, or out of nothing, we must use the materials he has given us. The command written on our bodies, minds, and souls is inescapable, we are made to create.

All too often, those who are not naturally “crafty” start to recoil a bit here and the excuses begin… “But I can’t sew a straight line!” or “I only draw stick figures!”  Hear me out.  Creativity extends far beyond what many of us term handicrafts.  While those skills are often outlets for creativity, they are also skills for everyday life.  We should expose our children to them as well as ourselves, but we don’t have to adopt any handicraft as our personal hobby.

Our ability to create expands far beyond handicrafts –  It is what makes us come alive.  It makes us more fully human.  Our creative talents and drive are as individual as each soul on earth, so it is imperative that you find that thing that stirs your imagination and creative drive.  I invite you to think about something that a) you have done in the past or currently do that you really enjoy or b) something you have a strong desire to learn to do.

Searching for ideas? Let me attempt to jog your thoughts.

First, the usual suspects… the Handicrafts. Sewing, knitting, embroidery, needle felting, basketry, spinning, weaving, etc.

What about the fine arts… Painting, drawing, charcoals, pastels, sculpting…

Domestic arts might be right up your alley – perhaps something others consider a chore is instead an enjoyable outlet for creativity for you… Cooking, home decorating, mixed drink making, entertaining guests, baking, home organization, etc.

He’s my baker.

Are the outdoors your cup of tea?  Perhaps a vegetable garden or flower garden is for you. Pressing flowers, collecting nature specimens, growing interesting plants, tending to a pond, bird watching…

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What about creativity with language – perhaps you are a writer, a poet, a blogger, or an avid journal keeper?

Are you the person friends go to when in need of fashion advice?  It could be that your ability to balance fashion trends and modesty is exactly the art that you not only love, but that could be a gift to those around you.  Accessorizing, hair styling, applying make-up beautifully, and other arts of beautifying a person’s outward appearance are so important and yet often overlooked.

The dramatic arts may be where you shine.  Not only acting on stage should come to mind – no stage is necessary for you to use your gift. If you take special delight in singing your babies to sleep to show tunes that stir your heart, that is beautiful.  Singing, playing an instrument, creating costumes, memorizing monologues and speeches of the great plays, or dancing may be the thing that brings you joy.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some category or so many ways to create.  It’s very possible and quite likely I’ve forgotten to mention yours.  That’s ok. What matters is that you’ve found that thing and next… that you DO IT.

Yes. DO IT.  Schedule time to create.  This is not selfish.  This is not what the popular culture would call “Me Time” wherein you retreat from responsibilities to do something fun and frivolous.  This is the time you need to be the person you are in the fullest way possible.  This is the time you will use to show your daughters and sons that parents aren’t just people who sign permission slips and cook meals and earn money and send them to their room.  Parents are human beings who have interests.  Mothers have interests beyond their children and beyond their spouses and those interests might have been around before either of the latter two came along.  Parenting can be grueling and difficult, but showing your children that it extends beyond cleaning up spills and scrubbing bathtubs is how you create an atmosphere in your home that will encourage your children to become parents someday rather than buying into the cultural idea that children should be put off until we have done all the fun stuff.  Show them that parents do fun stuff.


Lastly, do what you love simply because you love it.  If you are cooking because people need to eat, that isn’t necessarily using your creative gift.  If you make a meal simply because the recipe looked exciting and you remember that you can give it to the woman down the street who just had a baby because your dinner is already made… that’s using your gift.

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Mother Culture: Reading

“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.” Parents Review Volume 3, no. 2, 1892/93, pgs. 92-95

I love to read.  I always have.  Not everyone comes into adulthood with this attitude, but that is somewhat irrelevant to our discussion today.  Today we are going to chat about why we simply must read; why it is neither a luxury, nor a selfish act; why is neither dreadful, nor dry, nor dull.  Why reading is simple and delightful and entirely necessary to our flourishing as a human being. But first, we shall chat about food.

No one denies that we must eat each day.  Quite frankly, a cursory scroll down your facebook page or the health section of the paper or even a conversation with friends will likely lead you to the fact that many of us think a lot about what we eat.  Some people go paleo, others dairy-free, some have allergies, others have sensitivities, and still others abstain from groups of foods by choice and often with the claim of much scientific evidence in their corner.  Whether we eat enough, or too much, or the right things and how that affects our moods, weight, and energy levels is fodder for hours of discussion.  Like it or not, our bodies were made to survive by eating food and so we simply must make choices as to what foods we will take in and how to prepare them.  We cannot avoid food or our bodies would suffer and eventually die.

“Diet for the body is abundantly considered, but no one pauses to say, ‘I wonder does the mind need food, too, and regular meals, and what is its proper diet?'”  Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 24

Now, our bodies present a physical reality that cannot be ignored and so we deal with our hunger, thirst, elimination, warmth, and tiredness day to day.  As Charlotte points out above and I am bringing up now, how often do we consider the realities of our non-physical selves?  Our minds and spirits each have needs in order to grow and thrive.  How often do we see those around us in life who suffer greatly because they have not fed their spirit or their mind sufficiently and when even a small difficulty befalls them, they are overwhelmed?  So what is the proper diet of the mind?

“A child is a Person with the spiritual requirements and capabilities of a person.

Knowledge ‘nourishes’ the mind as food nourishes the body.

A child requires knowledge as much as he requires food.” Charlotte Mason, Vol.6, p 18

Do not take the word “children” above to mean only those under 18.  We are all children of God.  This is true for each one of us.  It is our responsibility as parents to provide our children with sources of knowledge, but as we become independent adults it is also our duty to provide ourselves with food for the mind.

Perhaps you are thinking I am about to tell you that you must have some very thick classic in the works at all times, or perhaps you do indeed read People magazine quite often and so you’ve got this covered.  I would love to lead you back to reread the first quote at the top of this post.  Scroll up, I’ll wait.  I’m encouraging you to read variety.  A peppy novel is easy to read when time is short in the carpool line.  A moderately easy book, maybe that you are reading with friends in a book club, is perfect for when the youngest of your crew is put to bed and you have fifteen minutes to spare.  Then keep a more challenging book around too.  When everyone is in bed may be your prime reading time – are you giving that time to Netflix instead?  On the contrary, maybe getting up 15 minutes earlier would give you the space you need to get to a good book?

I have also heard of many variations of the three book rule.  Perhaps one non-fiction, one fiction, and one book to grow a personal interest? One history, one science, and one thriller?  One for work, one that you should have enjoyed in high school, and one spiritual book?  This is your list, make it your own.  While you should seek books that will help you be a better human being in general, they should also help you to be the best version of whoever you uniquely are.  Your stack should not fill you with dread, it should feel like a tempting meal for a hungry traveler.  Maybe thinking of it as a meal would help – one appetizer, one meat and potatoes, and one dessert.

“Working men will have leisure in the future and how this leisure is to be employed is a question much discussed. Now, no one can employ leisure fitly whose mind is not brought into active play every day; the small affairs of a man’s own life supply no intellectual food and but small and monotonous intellectual exercise. Science, history, philosophy, literature, must no longer be the luxuries of the ‘educated’ classes; all classes must be educated and sit down to these things of the mind as they do to their daily bread. History must afford its pageants, science its wonders, literature its intimacies, philosophy its speculations, religion its assurances to every man, and his education must have prepared him for wanderings in these realms of gold.” Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, pg. 43 (Emphasis mine)

Let me also let you in on some of the ways that I sneak in a bit of reading throughout the day.  I used to be very much of the mind that reading should be leisurely, enjoyed in silence, and supplemented by things like tea and a couch.  As such, when I became a parent, I was convinced that I would never find time to read again.  It was impossible!  It was when I let go of the perfect, Pinteresty vision of what reading should look like that I realized I could sneak in reading instead of a lot of the other activities that were taking up my time, or at times that I could do more than one thing.

First and foremost, women with newborns – this is my favorite time for reading.  Newborns need lots of time to cuddle and nurse and moms need lots of rest in this phase of life.  Now is a great time to sneak in a few minutes here and there to read.  When I have a nursing baby, I get lots of reading done.  That is, if I put my phone down.  Ahem.

Secondly, consider an e-reader.  I don’t really love them, I prefer a beautifully bound book, but you know what… I’d rather read than not read and always having a Kindle full of books in my purse means that I can read when I am waiting in the parking lot to pick up a child, or in the waiting room at the dentist, or any other spot that I find myself with a few minutes to spare.  One caveat, I will say get the inexpensive black and white version of the e-readers.  The fancy, LED-screen, app-filled, mini-computers are both harder on the eyes and more likely to lead you into the world of email and social media than reading.  Simplicity is key.

Third, assess your time.  Where are your moments in the day that feel… sluggish? Easily wasted? A bit frantic or scattered?  Often, we have entire pockets of time in our day that go to waste because we aren’t even sure what we should do next or we allow ourselves to waste time on the same frustrating thing over and over rather than fix it and regain that time.  Identifying the problem and creating a system to deal with it could both free up a lot of mental energy and time.  For example, when I bought a home and had children who were 6, 4, and newly born I found that each time I walked into the house, if I wanted the coats put away, I had to hang them in our entryway closet.  In everyone’s rush to be home, I would often find myself with two coats on the floor at my feet and wet shoes tossed either on top or near those coats, while I also had a new baby and my own coat to put away.  It was frustrating for me and my children had a terrible habit.  One day, I put up a set of 6 hooks in that same closet at the height they could reach.  Within two weeks of practicing, everyone hung up their own coats and scarves, mittens stayed in pockets, and shoes had a home next to the hooks.  I was free to hang up only my own things and the baby’s.  It freed 5 minutes each time we arrived home, but it also left me with a happy feeling rather than a frustrated one and thus improved probably at least the next 15 minutes following each arrival home.  From a $20 set of hooks.

Lastly, do not feel like this list of books must be entirely your own.  Perhaps listening to an audio book with your husband in the evening might be something you do to wind down from the day, or even consider reading aloud to one another.  I like to read good fiction to my older children each night, one chapter each evening.  They are of the age now that if I read just slightly above their reading level, it could easily qualify as a “moderately easy” book for an adult.  Quite frankly, this is one of the most joyful parts of my day as I missed so many good stories in my youth and this gives me the ability to not only enjoy them, but to share them with my children.  Listening to audiobooks in the car is a great idea, as well as while you walk or exercise.  Put a speaker in your bathroom (I use this one attached to my phone and Audible app) and listen during the shower or listen as you clean your kitchen or do laundry.

Once you truly understand how your mind will come alive when given its proper nourishment, and you begin to see the fruits of a mind awakened to wonder and knowledge, you’ll come up with lots of ideas for finding a bit more reading time.

I’d love to hear other ideas – where do you find yourself sneaking in some reading time?

“Varied humane reading, as well as human thought expressed in the forms of art, is, not a luxury, a tit-bit, to be given to children now and then, but their very bread of life, which they must have in abundant portions and at regular periods.” Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 111

Need some book recommendations?  Here are some of my favorite places to go:

Modern Mrs. Darcy

Well Read Mom

Living Books Library

Mother Culture, An Introduction

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The term Mother Culture was coined in a Parents’ Review Article in 1893. The author of the article is not clearly listed, but Charlotte was still alive and editing the periodical, and so we can assume she would have seen it and known of its being published, though the term did not appear in any of her six volumes.

The term seems to refer to the idea that a mother must keep growing in mind and intellect alongside her children.  That she cannot hold still and do only the daily necessities of life – feeding, clothing, and supervising the children while maintaining the cleanliness of the home – but rather that she must prioritize the feeding of her own mind as well.  Why?  Because we must take the long view of life.  Our children will grow up and will need us to meet them where they are when the questions get difficult and life’s trials seem complicated.  They need to know that we have been learning and growing and are up to the challenge of giving sage advice and wise counsel when it is needed.  In the words of the Mother Culture article: “There is no sadder sight in life than a mother, who has so used herself up in her children’s childhood, that she has nothing to give them in their youth. When babyhood is over and school begins, how often children take to proving that their mother is wrong…Is there not some need for “mother culture”? But how is the state of things to be altered? So many mothers say, “I simply have no time for myself!” “I never read a book!” Or else, “I don’t think it is right to think of myself!” They not only starve their minds, but they do it deliberately, and with a sense of self-sacrifice which seems to supply ample justification.”

In a more modern article titled, “Stop Cleaning the Kitchen – Read a Book”, Susan Wise Bauer, wrote “Recognize that you may be reluctant to read because, on some deep level, it doesn’t seem worthwhile. Activities that produce an immediate result are always more satisfying than activities that don’t. We need to acknowledge to ourselves that we enjoy seeing visible results for what we do. In many ways, it’s more rewarding to get up in the morning and clean the kitchen than to get up and read. After all, if your husband or your mother walks in, you can say, ‘I am a useful human being. I am a useful member of society. Look at my kitchen.’ But if your house is filthy, the baby is screaming, and you have a book in your hand, you won’t feel at all rewarded.”

I will say, my trouble with both quotations above however, is the focus on the negative -that someday you may not be smart enough to do you job well and right now you must sacrifice your time to large tomes and the state of your home will likely suffer.  For so many of us, adding another thing to the day can feel like a burden – this is then made more difficult when what you are asked to add the schedule seems somehow selfish or unnecessary. What I am here to state however, is the positive. Throughout the bible, we are told to “Be Not Afraid”. I think it is much more fruitful to focus on the fact that we are children of God in the same way our children are.  God gave us the True, the Good, and the Beautiful in order to lead us closer to him – passing this on to our children IS our job, but partaking in it is too.  God gave us these gifts, let us not turn them away.

 

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” – Phillipians 4:8-9

What a lovely ending to that verse, “The God of peace will be with you.”  It made me think of one of those goals that Charlotte Mason calls us to. To be serene. To have the serenity of the Madonna.  That long and oft quoted part of the book wherein she gives us as parents the permission and direction to participate in leisure for the benefit of our whole selves as well as our families, “It is not for nothing that the old painters, however diverse their ideas in other matters, all fixed upon one quality as proper to the pattern Mother. The Madonna, no matter out of whose canvas she looks at you, is always serene. This is a great truth, and we should do well to hang our walls with the Madonnas of all the early Masters if the lesson, taught through the eye, would reach with calming influence to the heart. Is this a hard saying for mothers in these anxious and troubled days? It may be hard, but it is not unsympathetic. If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents.” Volume 3, p. 33

All of this – a focus on truth, beauty, and goodness; a serene mother; dwelling in the good honorable, right, pure, lovely and excellent things; drawing closer in relationship to our Lord… what does this do?  It creates the atmosphere of our home.  When Charlotte chalked up a full 1/3 of the tools that we have at our disposal for education to atmosphere, it is no small thing to take some time to contemplate what type of atmosphere we want in our home and how to achieve this.  If we infuse our lives with rich books and experiences and we have our disciplines of habit in good order, we have only 2/3 of our formula in order.  It is our God-given duty to create the atmosphere in our homes.  The truth is, we do this whether or not we give it a single minute of thought.  We must contemplate the type of atmosphere we want and what mindset we must have in order to create an atmosphere of serenity.  Then we will be able to begin to create the proper atmosphere for education in wisdom and virtue.

In my view, this is the ultimate goal in Mother Culture – when the mother is reading, enjoying a trip to the museum or gardens or seashore, attempting a slightly challenging new recipe or learning as she grows something new in the garden, when she takes a class online or begins a blog to share her knowledge with the world, when she does anything that adds to the atmosphere of learning in the home in a way that is serene and joyful, that is when her children will learn the most from her.  From the example of her desire to learn throughout life, they will gain the same desire to learn.

The Series:

Reading

Creativity

Spiritual Life

Ten Minutes