Archive for Using Our Minds

Book Review: Eve in Exile

I haven’t blogged much this spring because all my free time has been spent reading, but now I have some really good books to recommend to you guys!  First up, Eve in Exile, by Bekah Merkle, sister of Rachel Jankovic, whom you already know we love.  Unsurprisingly, this book on femininity delighted and challenged me.

Eve in Exile has two main points.  First of all, both the radical feminists and those who long for the “good old days when women knew their place” have it wrong when they talk about what it means to be a woman.  The former insist that we’re just like men, and the latter seem to think the Victorian mother or the 50’s housewife embody the perfect, “merely decorative” little woman.  In following the radical feminists, women have been discovering that the myth of having it all is impossible and exhausting to attempt, just as countless bored housewives have discovered that sitting around in pretty clothes while their husbands do all the real work is pretty depressing, too.  But God actually had a better idea.  He created us to be beautifully different from men and gave us hard and important work to do. Merkle spends the second half of her book giving a brief overview of what feminine work includes, under the general headings of Subdue, Fill, Help, and Glorify.  She argues, “God did not create women to lounge around in picturesque poses, occasionally embroidering a handkerchief.”  We’re to be working to build things (family, culture, community), “to make holiness beautiful, to make it taste,” to help our husbands (if we have them) and “our people” (family, friends, those who God has put in our immediate sphere of influence).  I really could have quoted about half the book, but I’ll just give you this one beautiful passage about the work of a homemaker:

Our jobs are not important because they keep us just as busy as if we had “real” careers.  They’re not important because we can come up with important sounding words to describe them.  Our jobs are important because they are poetry.  Because they shape loves and they shape loyalties, they teach and they convict.  They’re important because they take glorious truths and make them incarnate, make them visible, and weave them into the souls of the people around us.        (Ch. 14)

One thing I most appreciated about this book was its focus on our attitude.  Do I see my work in the home as poetry?  A woman can be a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her children, cooks fresh meals from scratch three times a day, reads the Bible to them every night, and resents them every minute of every day.  Such a mom doesn’t get a pass over her mom friend who went back to work full-time and put the kids in public school after her husband developed a debilitating illness that prevents him working (but does it all with a cheerful spirit).  In our efforts here at E2S to encourage moms to embrace full-time motherhood in the early years, we have tried to make clear that this is a lifestyle we must commit to do joyfully, not resentfully.

The book doesn’t get into too many specifics of what a Godly woman’s life might be like, because Merkle rightly acknowledges that every situation is different.  Although Anna and I do manage to live on a single income with large families in two of the most expensive places in the United States, we’re both very much aware that staying at home full-time is financially easier in the good old Midwest (where we both come from!), for example.  And the author herself works now at the school where her (teenage) children attend, so while she acknowledges the need that young children have for their mothers, she definitely is not saying women can not ever work outside the home.  Rather, she urges that we make decisions about commitments and employment based on the needs of “our people” and not our own desires for personal fulfillment or praise.

While a book on Biblical femininity can often make the single and/or childless women among us feel left out, Merkle’s call applies to all women. If the focus is ministering to “our people,” our vision for ministry as women needn’t just be limited to young mothers who should be staying home with their kids.  My youngest daughter’s namesakes are my favorite author (who never married) and a single woman from my church growing up who became an honorary member of our family (she and my mom and I even road tripped together in my teens) who worked hard in her profession and served faithfully in our church for many years before taking her very ill mother in to live with her for the last years of her mother’s life.  This Godly friend of mine did not get to marry until her 50s and never had children of her own, but her entire life has been centered around service, much of which was explicitly feminine.  Since this blog is written for young mothers, we don’t talk much about other groups of women, but I so appreciate a robust philosophy of womanhood that can challenge women in any stage of life.

I came away from the book feeling excited and challenged to step up my game.  All too often, I act like an employee in my home, doing the bare minimum in housework and cooking to get by.  Instead, Bekah Merkle reminds me, I need to see my home with the eyes of a business owner.  I don’t just want to clock in and out; I want us to thrive!  I want us as a family to do great, glorious things for God.  I want to pursue excellence.  Some weeks, that might mean coaching my children as they clean house before the social workers come out to do another home study foster family interview (side note: I realize that a year from now, frazzled with my five or six kiddos bouncing off the walls, I will laugh at the thought of cleaning up for these social workers, but I’m still in the wanting to make a good impression phase.).  Some weeks, that might mean ignoring the state of the house and snuggling on the couch together all morning to read a really good book.  Some weeks, that might mean spending all afternoon in the kitchen together in preparation for hosting another group for dinner.  Some weeks, that might mean running my kids to four different activities as they develop the skills and talents God has given them.  Regardless of the agenda for the day, I’m re-inspired to tackle it with joy and a sense of purpose!

As always, I would love to talk more about Eve in Exile with any dear readers who have read it, too.  Email me!  And is anyone else enjoying Bekah and Rachel’s What Have You podcast as much as I am?


Note: The links in this post are amazon affiliate links.  If you decide to buy this book and order it (or anything else from amazon) through our link, we’ll get a tiny percentage back, which we’ll use to pay the hosting fees for this blog. =)



Posted in Book Reviews, Philosophy of Motherhood, Using Our Minds | Leave a comment

Do We Have to Work Professionally to Use Our Gifts and Talents?

“I’m too smart to just take care of kids all day.”

“I sacrificed too much to get this degree to not use it.”

Have you heard moms saying things like this?  It troubles me that so many women believe they have to have a paying, prestigious job in order to use their education and engage their passion.  I’ve said in the past that such an assumption is intellectually lazy.

004If you have to be paid in order to do what you love, how much do you really love it?  If staying home with your children would prevent you from using any aspect of your skills, how meaningful are those skills, really?  In my 20s, I had my dream job–teaching Jane Austen to bright, engaged high school students.  I loved it.  I pinched myself to make sure I really was being paid to read 18th and 19th century literature and talk about it with a class of kindred spirits.  When we had our second child and even that part-time job became too complicated with my mothering duties, I closed down my little teaching business and focused my energies on my children and my home.  I did not stop reading Jane Austen or studying the literature and culture of Regency England.  Now, toddlers can’t really read or appreciate the greatest novelist of the English language (cute board books notwithstanding), but they can appreciate quality children’s literature, carefully selected by a mother whose standards were formed by reading the best of the best.  Reading and studying Austen and the culture in which she lived has shaped my mind and given me insight into the personalities and motivations of the people around me. It’s also inspired me to take my first steps into writing, which I’ll tell you about some other time.  I did not abandon my love of Jane Austen just because I wasn’t being paid to teach about her anymore.

I’ve seen this same ability to bring one’s training and passions into home life in friends who are scientists, mathematicians, nurses, musicians, lawyers, a writer, and artist, and a French professor.  It probably won’t look like that dream job, but a mom who really loves science will engage her children in looking at the world with curious eyes.  She’ll use her knowledge base when she reads up on vaccines, diets, or gardening.  A mom who steps down from a job involving statistical analysis can use her logical training in analyzing parenting philosophies and setting up reasonable budgets.  She’ll be able to share her love of numbers with her kids from a young age, helping them enjoy the math of everyday life.  A highly trained classical musician might not be able to continue a grand concert career after staying home with her children (though music can lend itself well to fulfilling part-time job opportunities), but she can open the world of classical music to her children, exposing them to all the great composers, teaching them about harmony and basic music theory as they play and sing together in the home, and giving them a solid foundation to become musicians and music appreciators themselves.  I could go on and on, but hopefully you catch the vision.  Hopefully you’ve already seen it in your fellow stay-at-home moms!  What we do when our children are small is not a reflection of what we might always be doing with those passions, but it can be an exciting time of using those passions in a different way.

As women privileged to live in an era where our opportunities for education and training are as accessible as they’ve ever been, we should joyfully embrace the opportunity to explore our God-given passions and talents.  We should never think that the choice to embrace our calling as mothers means we must reject our gifts and interests.  Rather, I encourage us all to develop a vision for embracing the passions we’ve been given and and to bless our families, communities, churches, and friends with them in the context we find ourselves at the moment.  Three cheers for the intelligent, well-educated, passionate, stay-at-home mom.

Posted in Using Our Minds | 1 Comment

Book Review: The Mommy Brain

mommy brainWhen I asked you all for book suggestions at the beginning of the year, Catherine requested that we read/review The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter by Katherine Ellison.  It’s a fascinating read.  The author, a highly successful professional woman, bristled at the implication that becoming a mother had dumbed her down.  As she delved into the research on motherhood and intelligence, Ellison found that science tells a very different story than the stereotypical “my kids have drained all my brain cells” mentality expressed by so many mothers.

Ellison gathers an impressive array of studies to support her thesis that motherhood improves our perception, efficiency, resilience, motivation, and “emotional intelligence.”  It’s the last phrase that I find especially interesting, especially since she had claims early in the book that “more mothers of young children than ever before [are] involved in mentally demanding work…” (ch 2).  (As you can imagine, my hackles always rise whenever a working mom brushes off the “simple” act of raising a child as mentally undemanding.)  Too often, women (and for that matter, men) are deemed successful only if they rise to prominence in an “intellectually demanding” field.  So I appreciate Ellison’s endeavors to point out that motherhood trains us to have strong empathy, nonverbal communication (her fancy way of explaining a mother’s intuition), and optimism (the “spin control” she says we need to cope with all the little frustrations of parenting young children, reminding us that it will all be worth it someday).  These are life skills, she argues, which make us happier and more successful in every endeavor (and better employees in the workforce, of which she assumes we all want to be a part).  Those of us who have learned to discern the baby’s cry or who have a pretty good idea of what that look in the preschooler’s eye means are flexing the emotional IQ muscles we honed in the all-day-every-day business of childraising.  I appreciate this defense of the precious expertise of motherhood, and it’s supported by a good chunk of research to send to a frustrated first-time sahm who is worrying that her brain is turning to mush just because she’s not earning any money.

Unfortunately for the cause of full-time motherhood, Ellison is more cagey on the question of why, if all this time with little ones is so great for our brains, we should chuck them in daycare and head back out to the workplace.  She’s very concerned about our earning potential (in later chapters, she bemoans the mommy track and pushes for universal preschool to free us up to work), but comes short of really examining what lifestyle can give us the most emotional potential.  She praises women who are juggling work and home life, mentions bored sahms who have thrown themselves into charitable volunteer work, and cheerfully concludes that multitasking forces us to be more efficient, which must be a good thing, right?  Efficiency has its place, but where is there room in efficiency for taking your moody kindergartner out for a walk so that you can get at the heart of what’s been making her so crabby all weekend?  Where is there room for listening to your grade schooler ramble on in excruciating detail about a cool technological innovation he read about that morning?  Where is the time to sit and read the same three board books over and over and over to the toddler who is in the midst of a language explosion and is actively incorporating every word of Gossie and Gertie into her rapidly-increasing vocabulary?  Where is the time to sit the preschooler down on the potty chair and sing her song after song until she finally has success?  Even Ellison admits in her final pages that multitasking needs to be done in moderation, and she wouldn’t advocate spending every waking minute on your smartphone.

The latter chapters earned a few more eye rolls from me.  There’s a one-sided chapter on moms in politics, in which every liberal woman politician in the past 150 years seems to get a mention, and there’s the obligatory dig at President George W. Bush.  Motherhood needn’t be a politically divisive issue, but Ellison has to grind her ax, despite the topic being disjointed from the rest of the book.  There’s a section on how we need to ask for help, because motherhood doesn’t have to be as draining as it’s portrayed (this help, in the author’s mind, comes in the form of paid childcare, or the affable coworkers who agree to shoulder some of your responsibilities while you work from home because obviously single people don’t have as much of a life as a mother who is Having It All!).  Ellison doesn’t mention a lot of ideas for help for stay-at-home moms because we’re not her target audience; she doesn’t seem to remember consistently that we exist, except when we’re bored, financially crippled, or depressed.  Kudos to her for caring that working moms can be run ragged, but her proposed solutions fall short.

I don’t want to be unfair to Ellison; her book is not meant to be a philosophy of family culture or full-time motherhood.  She does touch on many of the questions I raise here, she just doesn’t find a satisfactory answer.  It’s as if she accumulated all of the research and statistics she could find on working moms and just got lost in the details by the end.  While I take issue with her assumption that “physical work” like cooking dinner and washing clothes isn’t as challenging as “cerebral work” like second-guessing our doctor’s advice with the help of google (yes, really), Ellison does a good job of pointing out that intelligence has many facets, and motherhood enhances and utilizes many of them differently than the workforce.  She has certainly done her homework when it comes to the scientifically measurable effects of motherhood on a woman’s brain and psyche.  The Mommy Brain is worth the read for those who enjoy behavioral studies and for those who are asking what motherhood has done to our brains.  But I’d point you in other directions if you’re seeking more of a philosophy of motherhood.


Has anyone else read The Mommy Brain?  I’d love to have further discussion in the comments!  And are there any other books on motherhood any of you want us to review?  It might take me another two or three months, but I’m up for the challenge!


*This post contains affiliate links.  When you click through and buy from amazon from our site, we receive a small percentage commission which we use to help fund this blog!*

Posted in Book Reviews, Having It All, Importance of Mothers, Reading, Using Our Minds | 1 Comment

When Mom Leaves: Illness

Today, I’d like to finish up my series on daycare. (I know, it’s been a few weeks…I get distracted!) If you’ve forgotten where (or why) we started, here’s the beginning post in the series.

I remember taking my oldest son to the doctor’s office for his first ear infection where he was almost a year old. I was bummed, and worried (new mom!), but the nurses were amazed that we hadn’t been in before that. When I asked why, they said that it is not uncommon for a baby to have 4-5 ear infections in his first year of life.

What my doctor’s nurses didn’t tell me that trip is that whether a child is cared for in their own home or cared for in a day-care setting is one of the main factors contributing to the number of colds, and consequently secondary ear infections, in babies.

Daycare centers are breeding grounds for disease. You see all the things you would expect to see, like colds and coughs and the flu, but they also breed other nasty diseases, like hepatitis A. In fact, when you look at who’s at risk for hepatits A, it’s daycare workers and children, especially those under 1. For the under-1 crowd, who are constantly creating messy diapers and are constantly putting their hands in their mouths, it’s very easy to see how a nasty disease like this would spread in a daycare setting.

A nationwide survey showed that the spread of hepatitis within communities is often linked with daycare centers that provide care for children under two years. Large centers for infants and toddlers have the highest risk of outbreaks. (Dreskin, 71.)

Children in daycare, especially infants and toddlers, are at increased risk for acquiring and spreading infectious diseases, compared to children not in daycare. They have more respiratory, gastro-intestinal, skin and epidemic childhood infections, and are at a higher risk for serious secondary infections, e.g., meningitis, than are children in home care. Infectious diseases are more common and more severe, and more complications occur in the younger ages. (Bell, 116.)

Ask any pediatrician, and he will tell you: babies kept home are healthier than babies in daycare.

A common reaction to this fact is the idea that while babies will be sicker in their first few years of life, encountering all those germs early in life will lead to better immunity later.  But can we just step back for a minute and examine what we’re claiming? How could it ever be a good thing to expose an infant or a baby to disease? Their little immune systems are not as developed as ours, and their bodies as less able to handle sickness. They can’t express to us how they’re feeling, and sometimes it takes something truly drastic happening to us to realize how sick our children truly are. And given the number of cold viruses out there, how could we ever guarantee that a cold our child had as a baby would truly provide him immunization? While there is a place in responsible parenting for a parent to teach his child to ‘take their knocks,’ it does not seem like subjecting a baby to illness is the right place to start.

Instead of looking to expose our children to nasty and potentially permanently damaging diseases, let’s view ourselves as protectors. This starts in their earliest days, where the number of people that they’re exposed has a direct influence on their health. Let’s not keep telling ourselves that they’re resilient, in this area and in many others, and instead admit that they are tiny little people who need us to keep them safe.

Part 1 I Part 2 I Part 3 I Part 4 I Part 5


Works Cited:

Schlafly, Phyllis, Ed. Who Will Rock the Cradle. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1990.
Bell, Reed. “Health Risks from Daycare Diseases.” Schlafly 115-122.
Dreskin, William and Wendy. The Day Care Decision. New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc., 1983.

Posted in Daycare, For New Moms, Having It All, Using Our Minds | 1 Comment
  • banner sidebar
  • favorite books
  • When you search Amazon through our site or buy through the affiliate links in our posts, you're helping us cover the cost of maintaining this blog. Thank you!
  • banner sidebar
  • subscribe

Swedish Greys - a WordPress theme from Nordic Themepark.