Are stay-at-home moms wasting their minds by spending all their time with young children, doing menial tasks like housework and diapers? Here at E2S, we emphatically affirm that full-time motherhood can and should be a vital, fulfilling, important occupation. But when you’re in the trenches with very young children, housebound because the kids have been passing illnesses back and forth for the past three weeks, and find yourself talking to your husband about dirty diapers at the dinner table, you might find yourself thinking back longingly to a time when grown-up conversation was not the exception rather than the rule. Last week I talked about books, journals, and activities I’ve used to try to keep myself intellectually stimulated. This week, I want to talk about some decisions I’ve made in my home life.
When I’m tempted to complain about lack of intellectual stimulation, I always have to go back to my attitude about my vocation of full-time motherhood. Do I embrace my calling and do it to its utmost? Or do I just skate by, doing as little as possible? In any job–business, teaching, accounting, child rearing, homemaking–doing the bare minimum is a good way to make yourself feel bored. I’m not here to lay on extra burdens for moms who already feel overwhelmed. If you’re potty training the toddler and nursing a baby and getting your kindergartner to school on time, all while your husband travels for business, you’re probably maxed out! But if you feel like you’ve mastered the basics and are twiddling your thumbs at home, complaining of boredom, maybe it’s a good time to work on improving your homemaking skills: gardening, housecleaning, baking, cooking from scratch, breadmaking, home decorating, sewing clothing, mending, and the list goes on. Bethany has shared about learning to embrace the enforced slow times at home (such as when your baby is napping or the kids are sick) as times to learn something new. Not even Martha Stewart does all those things by herself all the time (she has SERVANTS!), but if you’re in a stage of life where you are able to perfect an aspect of homemaking, why not go for it?
Another huge contributor to my sense of intellectual stimulation, or lack thereof, is how I choose to set up our home environment. When I feel that a book/toy/game is mind-numbing to me, I remove it from our home. CS Lewis wrote that great children’s literature can be enjoyed by children and adults, so I keep great books in our home that I don’t mind reading aloud a hundred times. We have audiobook versions of great classics like Charlotte’s Web and the Chronicles of Narnia, and I can honestly say that after listening to them dozens of times, I still get chills at particularly poignant points in the stories. The toys that I find interesting–legos, Snap Circuits, blocks–are usually the most stimulating for my kids, too. And when we have fun kid’s games like Kids of Carcassonne, Catan Jr, or Zooloretto, my husband and I don’t mind playing them with the kids. By working to provide an intellectually stimulating environment for my children, I end up benefiting, as well.
I also try to cultivate friendships with other moms who enjoy philosophical discussions, and I treasure my “old friends” like Bethany and Anna who will launch into a thoughtful conversation with me on practically any topic under the sun–and who won’t be offended when I have to abruptly end the call to go bandage a skinned knee or discipline a child or clean up spilled applesauce. He who walks with the wise will grow wise, and iron sharpens iron, you know. It’s not that I won’t be friends with girls who “just” talk about shopping and weight loss…but when I meet a thoughtful kindred spirit, I’m willing to put extra time and energy into the relationship.
I think there’s a temptation to conflate “intellectual stimulation” and “activity”–as if keeping busy outside the home is necessarily intellectually stimulating. If it’s activity you crave (and your kids are the appropriate age), there are certainly many acts of mercy that a stay-at-home mom can do: volunteering in church or ministry, visiting a nursing home, tutoring a single mom trying to get her GED, being an English conversation partner with an international student, etc. This fall, I hauled all my kids out to pray in front of our local Planned Parenthood as part of 40 Days for Life. Activity is not necessarily a bad thing, but I’ve found just doing things for the sake of getting out of the house wears me out without exercising my mind.
Finally, I do have to acknowledge that I’m in a season of life in which I just don’t have a lot of spare time. My mom has been a great example to me of using her empty nest years to acquaint herself with great literature she’d missed, instruct herself on the basics of economic theory, study systematic theology, and go in-depth into periods of history she skimmed by in school. But that season of life is many years down the road for me! And honestly, though my husband is a professional scholar, he doesn’t get to spend much time digging into topics outside of his field, either. Any parent–whether working full-time or at home–has to face the reality of limited free time for extra intellectual pursuits or hobbies when the children are small.
How do you stimulate your mind when you’re home with the kids?