Mother Culture

Mother Culture

Editor’s Note: By Dean and Karen Andreola

In an episode of Wodehouse’s humorous stories of Wooster and Jeeves, the servant Jeeves ruefully remarks to his hapless master that he is retiring to bed “with an improving book.” Ha. Not likely. Jeeves is good at pulling the wool over the eyes of Bertie Wooster. “An improving book” is a phrase of proper Victorian days – a generation before Jeeves. This properness describes the life of many a conscientious mother today who follows a Charlotte Mason Education. It is she who mostly likely has, by her bedside, a genuine improving book.

Like those of you who glean from the articles on Charlotte Mason Poetry, one of my wife’s improving books, was Parents’ Review. Soon after I found an American publisher for Charlotte Mason’s 6 volumes, rare hardbound copies of Parents’ Review came into our care. On loan to us from England, Karen felt an urgency in reading them. So, in the early 1990s, she poured over them when our young children were at play or asleep. After months of leafing-through pages, skipping articles less-relevant or over her head, she stopped and paid closer attention to one. She bookmarked it. What was the article that intrigued her? It was titled “Mother Culture” written 100 years prior! Because it struck a chord, from then on, she sought to live by the advice of this anonymous author. It seemed as if the voice of this writer was calling out across a century with fresh sympathy and challenge.

Believing the message would benefit modern-day mothers, Karen introduced the idea in her homespun magazine. That was 1993 – exactly 30 years ago. “Thought breeds thought,” says Miss Mason. As is the way with a seed of an idea when brooded over, it sprouts. When fed, it grows. During the next decades, Karen would expand the message of this Parents’ Review article. Wherever she was invited to speak on Charlotte Mason, her listeners were also treated to encouraging words on Mother Culture.

How does Karen describe it in brief? She calls it “the skilled art of how a mother looks after the ways of her household. With a thinking love she creates a culture in the home all her own.” In Christian education there is a lot of talk about appreciating beauty in literature, art, music, and nature. This is good. But the Christian mother is also called to produce beauty. Through the fruit of the Spirit, she is an image-bearer of Christ. Both parents, (husband and wife together) strive to reflect the beauty of the Christian life to their children. We want them to see that no other way of life compares. That’s how this anonymous author starts the article, by acknowledging the need for virtue. The most beautiful thing to God is holiness. We are to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness (Ps 96:9) with lives surrendered to Him (Rom 12:1). This culture of beauty is made possible through self-education.

As the Parents’ Review article brings out, we grow in grace and knowledge when we take it as a duty (2 Pet 3:18). A mother who edifies herself is best able to nourish and nurture the souls of her children. After three decades of good propaganda, we are glad to see the idea of self-education in Mother Culture has caught on. Miss Mason refers to this two-fold learning and growing, in teacher and student, as the state of being “twice blessed.”[1]

A chapter of A Charlotte Mason Companion is based on the Parent’s Review article. Mother Culture became the trademark of our ministry, and eventually the theme of Karen’s book, Mother Culture®For a Happy Homeschool. The original article continues to inspire. Yet few know of its discovery. Our thanks to the Charlotte Mason Poetry team for graciously inviting us to tell the story here. We hope that Mother Culture will influence hearts and homes for years to come, and that fathers will also equip and edify themselves as they lovingly lead their families.

By A.
The Parents’ Review
, 1892 , pp. 93-95

It is written somewhere, “A mother is only a woman, but she needs the love of Jacob, the patience of Job, the wisdom of Moses, the foresight of Joseph, and the firmness of Daniel.” But a mother has not only to have all these things; she must have them all at once, often when she is quite young, and too often when she has had no previous training of any kind for the marvellously varied duties she has to perform. All at once (to take an extreme case), a young girl who has all her life been sheltered and shielded, not only from every trouble, but from every experience of life, is made responsible for the home happiness of her husband, and (as if that were not enough) for the health and happiness of a smaller or greater number of grown-up human beings whose help she hires for money, who have to be directed, controlled, encouraged, or reproved, and conducted safely along through the infinite dangers of domestic service. Before she marries, she pictures to herself little of the extreme difficulties of managing that most complicated of machines, a household—not for one week only, during her mother’s absence, but for year after year, without stop or stay, for the rest of her time.

If these two things are difficult, how very much the case is complicated when a wholly untried responsibility comes upon her, and not only her own health, but that of another depends on how she manages her life. And then, perhaps, just as she is grasping the situation, and one child fills her whole heart, more room is wanted, and more and more, and the servant question goes on, the management of expenditure goes on, the desire to be more than ever her husband’s companion grows stronger and stronger, and the centre of it all is one little woman—wife, mother, mistress all in one! Then it is that she gets overdone. Then it is that she wears herself out. Then it is that, in her efforts to be ideal wife, mother, and mistress, she forgets that she is herself. Then it is, in fact, that she stops growing.

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 well as they, were growing!

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. There are, moreover, unfortunately, only too many people who think that sort of thing so lovely that public opinion appears to justify it. But does public opinion justify anything? Does it justify tight-lacing—or high heels—or bearing-reins for horses? It can never justify anything which leads to the “Oh, it’s only mother” tone in any young person.

That tone is not the right one. But can it be altered? 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.

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. The resolute planting of Miss Three-years-old in her chair at one end of the table with her toys, of Master Five-years-old at the other with his occupations, and fascinating Master Baby on the rug on the floor with his ring and his ball—the decided announcement, “Now mother is going to be busy”—will do those young people a world of good! Though some of their charms will be missed, they will gain respect for mother’s time, and some self-reliance into the bargain, while mother’s tired back gets a rest, if only for a short time, either on the sofa or flat upon the floor. Then she can listen to her children, and perhaps do a little thinking—not about frocks and foods, but about characters, and how to deal with them; or she can take a book, and “grow” that way. This would do something, but not enough. Mother must have time to herself. And we must not say “I cannot.” Can any of us say till we have tried, not for one week, but for one whole year, day after day, that we “cannot” get one half-hour out of the twenty-four for “Mother Culture”?—one half-hour in which we can read, think, or “remember.”

The habit of reading is so easily lost; not so much, perhaps, the power of enjoying books as the actual power of reading at all. It is incredible how, after not being able to use the eyes for a time, the habit of reading fast has to be painfully regained. The power to read fast is much to be desired, and the people who read every word are left sadly behind by the people who read from full stop to full stop at a glance. This power is what our children are gaining at school, and this power is what we are losing when we refuse to give a little time out of our lives to “Mother Culture.” It is worth anything to get and to keep even that; and to do it, it is not a bit necessary to read “stiff” books.

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.

It would seem as if we mothers often simply made for ourselves the difficulties we find in after life by shutting our minds up in the present. What we need is a habit of taking our minds out of what one is tempted to call “the domestic rag-bag”of perplexities, and giving it a good airing in something which keeps it “growing.” A brisk walk will help. But, 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.

Is there, then, not need for more “Mother Culture”?


Editor’s Note: The formatting of the above article was optimized for online viewing. To access a version which is formatted more similarly to the original, and which includes the original page numbers, please click here.

Endnotes for the Editor’s Note

[1] On p. 27 of Towards a Philosophy of Education, Charlotte Mason describes her distinctive philosophy of education: “Like the quality of mercy, it is not strained; certainly it is twice blessed, it blesses him that gives and him that takes, and a sort of radiancy of look distinguishes both scholar and teacher engaged in this manner of education…”

2 Replies to “Mother Culture”

  1. What a joy to hear Dean read the introduction here. 🙂 The Andreolas have been my homeschool mentors (by way of their writings) for 25 years.

  2. This article was lovely & very encouraging! How wonderful it was to hear Dean’s voice & the connected PR article read for full understanding. Such a timely & needed reminder.

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