Staying Intellectually Stimulated as a Stay-at-Home Mom

Back in August, I alluded to the wealth of opportunities for intellectual stimulation for homemakers.  The acts of caring for, disciplining, sleep training, feeding, and playing with small children do require a lot of thinking, discerning, and prayer.  You can’t parent on auto-pilot, because kids change all the time!  When you add in running a home (and trying to balance the two), I don’t see how anyone can say that our job is mind-numbing or boring.  But when women talk about missing intellectual stimulation, they’re usually referring to a more academic or “adult world” kind of experience.  I thought I’d talk a bit about some of the “grown-up” ways that I have tried to keep stretching my mind in the midst of full-time motherhood.  Today I’ll focus on external things, and next week I’ll talk about decisions I’ve made in our home life.

First of all, I love to read the Great Books.  I was an English literature major and have taught high school literature, so when I’m craving an intellectual outlet, my first inclination is to pull out a challenging work of literature and dive in.  But you don’t have to be a literature nerd to stretch your mind with a great novel!  I don’t really have that much time to pleasure read during the school year, though–heavy reading mostly happens on vacation.

Not everyone has the time or inclination to commit to a long work, but my husband and I do subscribe to a couple intellectually stimulating journals with shorter articles we can savor in our spare few minutes here and there.  We’ve been New Criterion subscribers for years, and we love reading and learning about art, music, literature, politics, and culture.  My favorite contributor is Anthony Daniels (who also writes under the pseudonym of Theodore Dalyrumple), a British physician with whom I would love to sit in a pub and talk about anything and everything.  We have recently added the better-known First Things to our list, and it has been a thought-provoking addition from a more explicitly religious perspective.

Another way I’ve kept the schoolie part of my brain active has been working on foreign languages, whether reviewing my college Latin text, working with a study buddy to start Koine Greek, or watching a French movie with the subtitles off.  Granted, this was a lot easier when I still had everyone napping!  Now that I’m teaching the big kids French vocab, I’ve been able to review AND spend time with the kids, and I can’t wait for us to start Latin together next year.

Homeschooling really has been stretching to me intellectually, in ways I didn’t expect.  While my kids are at this age mostly learning things I already know, it’s incredibly stimulating to figure out how best to explain a basic mathematical principle to my son or to come up with a fun mnemonic device to help E remember her memory verse.  And I’ve found that I learn so much more teaching than I remember from childhood.  I know that not all moms are called to or would enjoy homeschooling, but I am never, ever bored during our school time!

Over the years, my mom has recommended some great books on the importance of cultivating the life of the mind.  Two of our favorites are Love Your God With All Your Mind by JP Moreland and Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey.

Having said all this, I do want to emphasize that I don’t spend all my “free” time actively reading and studying and doing, doing, doing.  I might read a few profound things a year…and then spend several months pondering them.  For me, the rhythms of naptime and early bedtimes and limiting outside activities to my children’s attention spans have helped me learn to rest and embrace pockets of leisure time.  Leisure is vital for contemplation; Josef Pieper wrote that “only someone who has lost the spiritual power to be at leisure can be bored.”  Though a mother’s work is never done, my choice to stay at home with my children has given me the opportunity to think deeply about ideas in a way I didn’t have the leisure to in my pre-child work life.

Do you ever miss the intellectual challenges of college or career?  What do you do about it?

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