Mother Culture

Mother Culture

“Is there, then, not need for more ‘Mother Culture’?” -A

In April of 1892, the readers of The Parents’ Review were treated to a most mysterious article. Not the opening article, but the second one, beginning on page 13 of that month’s issue. Entitled “Mother Culture,” its author was never explicitly stated. It was signed merely “A.,” the pseudonym of the person who coined the term then appearing for the first—and last—time in The Parents’ Review. I don’t know who “A” was, but I do know that her message struck a chord that resonates with homeschooling mothers today.

The mysterious writer of the article “Mother Culture” bemoans the mother who gives everything to her children and her family, but takes no time for herself. These mothers, she says, wear their self-denial as a badge of courage:

“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.

What could be more virtuous than self-denial? Indeed, I have spoken many times on Charlotte Mason’s “Call to Parents,” and I specifically challenge parents to steal time from themselves and give it to their children. I recall one mother speaking to me after that talk, echoing the pseudonymous “A,” perhaps even using her own words:

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… Mother must have time to herself.

I remember standing across from that woman in 2014, that modern “A,” and assuring her that though she may steal some time from herself, she should not steal her own culture—her very soul.

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.”

No, mothers cannot say “cannot.” I urge you to find your half-hour out of the twenty-four, to read, to think, to remember.

But why “mother culture”? “A” is not silent on the point. There is an explicit reason she says “mother”:

For the father is “growing” far more often than the mother. He is gaining experience year by year, but she is standing still.

Oh I see. It is “mother culture,” because dad already has it. Dad already has culture.

I remember walking through Times Square in New York City with two of my business colleagues, all three of us fathers. We fathers, “‘growing’ far more often than the mother.” My colleagues were engaged in an animated discussion about the latest television series they were following. They talked about how business travelers must find ways to keep up. They download the entire season, then they can watch it on their flights. They talked about which episodes were best, and which seasons were available in toto for offline viewing.

He is gaining experience year by year, but she is standing still.

My two colleagues noticed I was quiet. It was night-time, but in the neon sheen of Times Square, it might as well have been day. With sincere interest and energy in his voice, my colleague turned to me. “Art, what do you do when you are on the plane?”

His sincerity and energy were contagious. I responded without thinking. “I read poetry,” I said.

They both erupted in laughter. “Oh that Art,” they must have thought, “What a joker. What a funny guy. Poetry! Ha!”

I was taken aback by the laughter, but I didn’t blush. Memories of Charlotte Brontë’s poems were still burning in my heart:

Sweetly the little birds do sing
Warbling their notes in air
While flowrets in their tiny cups
Bright gem like dewdrops bear

The little birds do sing sweetly. I have heard them many times, warbling their notes in the air. I can’t hear them when I’m on an airplane, but Charlotte Brontë can bring them to me just the same.

The mysterious writer explains the woman’s dilemma:

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 [manager], she forgets that she is herself. Then it is, in fact, that she stops growing.

I think the same conditions press on mothers today. Mothers homeschool their children and love their husbands. And in all that loving and giving, they forget who they are. Without books, the food of the soul, they stop growing.

I think fathers have also forgotten who we are. But it is not always because of the pressure to be a provider. It is not the pressure to be a provider that drives men to follow sports, play video games, and binge-watch their favorite TV series. It is not family pressures that drive them to join boards and commit themselves to excessive work outside of home or job. It is something else.

But whatever the reason, when men forget who they are, they stop growing. In that sense, “A” does not speak prophetically to our generation. As far as we are concerned, she got it wrong:

He is gaining experience year by year, but she is standing still.

He may be gaining experience year by year, but he is, in fact, standing quite still.

What is the consequence of all this “standing still”?

If we mothers were all “growing” there would be less going astray among our boys, less separation in mind from our girls.

“A” whoever you are, please come and speak to us today! Not to mothers this time, but to fathers! Please warn us, please tell us, what fathers can do so there will be less “astray among our boys, less separation in mind from our girls.” Because boys gone astray and girls separated away is the epidemic of our day.

I don’t know. Maybe “A” is speaking to us today. Maybe we dads need to take a step back and see how these women found their mother culture:

The wisest woman I ever knew—the best wife, the best mother, the best [manager], 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.

“A” tells us that a mother fails to do this when she forgets that “she is herself”—and what is “herself”? Something that transcends being a mother. Something that transcends being a male or a female. Something that bears the image of God—a “person.”

Mothers and fathers, let us remember who we are. Let us take time for “Person Culture.” Mothers and fathers, let us dust off the helpful hint from April of 1892. Find your three books—“a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel”—and keep them on your bedside table, or on your tablet for the airplane. But wherever you put them, remember to always “take up the one [you] feel fit for.”

The secret’s out of the bag now. Always have something going to grow by. I’ve got my three books. How about you?

7 Replies to “Mother Culture”

  1. This PR article is part of one of CM Soirée’s online courses. I think I need to add YOUR article right after it as well!
    Your thoughts ring so true on so many levels.
    Thank you for sharing this!

  2. While I would love to share this with my husband, he is simply not a reader. He can read and does so for work and he is actually quite a good writer. But reading is physically difficult for him. Does he just replace books with audiobooks or are there other ways to grow and engage in Person culture?

    1. Angela,

      That’s a great question! The phrase “stiff book” appears in a few other Parents’ Review articles. For example, we read:

      “Some of these talks are as great a mental effort as that of reading a stiff book…” (PR4)

      “Perhaps we never tackle a really stiff book, but live on novels or biographies or tasty religious literature.” (PR18)

      So I think a “stiff book” is a book that takes a lot of mental effort to read. What may be “stiff” for one person might not be “stiff” for another. For many (most?) of us, Charlotte Mason’s Home Education is a stiff book. My current stiff book is Josef Pieper’s Leisure the Basis of Culture.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *