I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about mother culture. This phrase stems from Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education. A simple definition of mother culture is a mother continuing to learn and educate herself as her children grow. Before we have children, we tend to have a pretty good grasp on who we are, what we were created to be, what we need to accomplish. We may get an education, hold a professional position, travel or a myriad of other possibilities. Then we become a mother. Suddenly our lives are no longer our own. We used to be able to wake up, take a shower, and head out for the day all in a matter of 30 minutes. In those early years of mothering, we are lucky if we ever get to take a shower at all! Our precious little bundle occupies our every waking moment, the needs of baby become all consuming and certainly come before our own needs. Then we add more and more babies and suddenly we are entrenched knee deep in the wonderful, soul-consuming task of motherhood. What a joy and privilege and honor it is to be entrusted by our Lord with these little ones. We discover a love like we have never known and are determined above all to do this task the absolute best we can possibly do, this task of raising children. We begin to pour our very heart and soul into the bringing up of these little lives and hearts. It doesn’t take long, as many young mothers have discovered, that when we pour and pour into our little ones we can quickly find ourselves very empty indeed. Over the years our well becomes dry. We must restore the well. We restore our well by filling ourselves with curiosity and wonder, by continuing to learn and better ourselves, by seeking His will for our lives. If teaching is the art of imitation, and as mothers we are always teaching, then we ought to be making ourselves worthy of imitation. This is true whether or not we want to be imitated, or even if we are worthy of being imitated.
So often as mothers we become so consumed in the early years that we “use ourselves up”, yet our children continue to grow and change and need us possibly even more than when they were young. The early years can be physically challenging, but older children can be OH so mentally draining. Just when we think we have not an ounce of mental energy left, a gallon is needed right now. We must continue to grow alongside our children.
“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. Do you as often see a child proving to its father that he is wrong? I think not. For the father is growing far more often than the mother. He is gaining experience year by year, but she is standing still. Then, when her children come to that most difficult time between childhood and full development she is nonplussed; and, though she may do much for her children, she cannot do all she might, if she, as they, were growing!” Charlotte Mason
As homeschooling mothers, I often think that this is a bit less of a challenge for us. The years that I homeschool one or more of the children are my years of greatest learning and growth. Not only do we learn right alongside our children as we teach them their lessons, but we tend to be two to three steps ahead of the right now learning as we are looking ahead and planning future lessons. (Especially while planning out a general liberal arts education!) It’s easy to come across great reading suggestions in the homeschool arena. But what of the mothers who aren’t homeschooling? Read! Read and read some more. There is no greater and easier way to acquire knowledge. Taking time to refresh ourselves with a simple walk, a music lesson, a “paint night”, a bible study, or a simple evening out with girlfriends to chat. This is where we can bring more Scholé into our lives. We want our children to develop a love of learning and to always have a sense of wonder and curiosity. Don’t we all as mothers want our children to learn to carve out time for reading and learning new things? Our children must FIRST see that in us. When mother keeps growing, she continually has something to offer her children.
ATMOSPHERE: As mothers, it is our responsibility – like it or not – to set the tone of our homes. This is a very large component of educating our children (homeschooling or not!) – the educational tool of atmosphere. Home is where our children learn how to respond and interact with the world around them. This is where a very large percentage of who they “become” happens. This is where the component of “caught not taught” is seen so well. It is easy to think of the home atmosphere in terms of how we have our home decorated, if there is soft music playing in the background, or with delicious smelling cookies baking in the oven. While this is an atmosphere, it is only a minimal part of the whole.
“The way you keep your house, the way you organize your time, the care you take in your personal appearance, the things you spend your money on all speak loudly about what you believe. The beauty of Thy peace shines forth in an ordered life. A disordered life speaks loudly of disorder in the soul.”
If only it weren’t for the Fall of Adam, then our home atmosphere would be perfect and serene. IF ONLY! The reality is that life happens constantly in our home, and our home is made up of many sinful creatures. The dogs bark constantly, the dinner is burning, the children are bickering, the washing machine just broke (again!), and the husband is working late (again!). Learning to respond properly to these life circumstances is what Miss Mason refers to as the educational tool of atmosphere. We must then be sure to guard and equip and own internal culture as that is what is going to fill our homes – it’s going to spill out all over the place! “For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks”. Are we going to respond in a thoughtful and disciplined way? This is where we can choose to find truth and beauty or we can fail miserably. Fail we will – of course! But let it be our goal to respond in a way that sets the atmosphere for our home and our children.
One thing I have learned during this 20 plus years of motherhood – that I will fail. I will be wrong and fail over and over and over again. I will be wrong in my methods, wrong in my theology, wrong in my going out and in my coming in. What it boils down to, is that we aren’t thinking, being, doing, serving or loving in the way we ought to be.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak then I am strong.” II Corinthians 12:9-11.
May you too be wrong. Be wrong a hundred times over, and then repent, for that is where our true learning may begin.