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)