Mother Culture. We’ve talked about it so much over the years. We know that we need it — that it is so important to maintain our ability to read good books, so important to grow intellectually — even though it’s hard to fit in amidst the busyness of motherhood.
For those of you just joining us, here are the basic guidelines for Mother Culture:
- Always have three books available to yourself: a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel.
- Read for 30 minutes per day.
- When you go to read, pick up the book you feel fit for.
It’s hard. That’s the part that I want us to think about today. Or, rather, how to make it easier. For our Mother Culture times to be effective, we need them to be uninterrupted. This is why the original article from which we get the term says:
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!
She wants us to teach our children to respect those thirty minutes of Mother Culture time. The reality, however, is that we often have many more distractions than we have children. So let’s talk about how to deal with them.
1. Get rid of your devices.
While putting a device in airplane mode is somewhat helpful, I challenge you to physically separate yourself from your device. Literally do not be in the same room with it. No phones, iPods, iPads, laptops, or whatever else was invented last week. None of it.
You know why?
A study came out a few months ago that tells us something I’ve suspected for a while: our devices are distracting to us even when they’re turned off. Um, that’s a pretty big deal!
The researchers found that participants with their phones in another room significantly outperformed those with their phones on the desk, and they also slightly outperformed those participants who had kept their phones in a pocket or bag.
This thirty minutes is precious. You want to maximize its effectiveness? Make sure your device is inaccessible.
2. Keep a notepad by your side.
No, this is not for written narrations or journal entries. This is a tool to help you focus your attention. You know what it’s like: you finally sit down, and your to-do list rushes upon you and crowds out your ability to read and think. As long as you are trying to remember what you don’t want to forget, you’re using up valuable brain space. So keep a notepad next to you, write it down, and then forget it.
For some of you, it might be valuable to plan for 35 minutes. For your first 5 minutes, write down all the things you’re tempted to keep thinking about (this is basically a mini Brain Dump). After that, you can enjoy your 30 minutes of Mother Culture in peace.
3. Use a timer.
Yes, they really do make timers that are … just timers. You know: so that you can still be device-free. Some of us do not have the habit of reading for a long stretch of time, and so we are tempted to keep checking the time to see if we are done yet. Others of us have the habit of reading too long and neglecting other duties, and so we are tempted to keep checking the time as well. Regardless of which side of the horse you fall off on, the result is the same: you are distracted by your desire to know what time it is and how much longer you have left.
This is not a state of focused reading.
So get a good timer and use it. You can trust it to tell you when you are done. If you have children in the room, this doubles as a cue for them: “You may not interrupt Mommy. Please wait until the timer goes off.”
If you want to remember what you read, you should narrate to yourself. That’s actually Charlotte Mason’s 14th principle:
As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should ‘tell back’ after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part of what they have read.
It might say “children,” but this is true of all humans. Narration is the quickest, most efficient way to take possession of the knowledge in your books. What you retell to yourself after you read becomes a part of you. I like to read for a full 30 minutes and then narrate after as part of my transition to other duties, but it’s also possible to stop at minute 28 and do a short narration after and finish up in 30 minutes flat.
5. Use the Mother Culture Habit Tracker.
I’m increasingly convinced of the usefulness of habit trackers. The habit tracker increases both the quality and quantity of your Mother Culture time — as long as you post it where you can see it. I’ve posted mine in my office. I walk by it multiple times a day, meaning I am visually reminded to take time for Mother Culture. Many of us are very motivated by boxes to check. A blank habit tracker is just that: a series of empty boxes, ready for us to fill in!
I already had a habit of reading, so I found it amusing that this works so powerfully on me: the habit tracker didn’t start until June, and I was itching for June because I wanted to fill in those beautiful blank boxes! In fact, this has been so effective that I plan to come out with another tracker for the fall!
It’s more than motivation, though. By documenting the categories of books I’m reading, my self-awareness is increased. Did I only read moderately easy books last week? Time to switch things up and dig into a novel! I might not have noticed this rut had I not written it down. The quality of Mother Culture reading over time is determined not only by uninterrupted time, but also the variety of ideas we encounter.
Do you still need a Mother Culture Habit Tracker? It’s not too late to start! (In fact, it’s never too late to start.) Join us, and use the hashtag #motherculturehabit to document your progress on Instagram!
Click here to find my most recent Mother Culture Habit Tracker.
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