My six-year-old became increasingly indignant during the series of eight flights we took last month. The children were all especially interested in the safety presentation before takeoff, but whenever the flight attendants told adults to put on their oxygen masks before helping others, my daughter was agitated. “That’s so mean!” Her eyes narrowed, and she crossed her arms over her body. “How so?” I inquired. She glared at the flight attendant two rows in front of us. “Mothers should always put their children first!”
Mothers instinctively put everyone first in their family. When we first become mothers, our days are spent caring for people who are helpless to care for themselves. We can come to associate that level of care with motherhood in general, and we forget to care for ourselves. We may even get to the point where we can’t care for others because we never put on our oxygen mask. Even after our children are capable of some of their self-care, we still operate like we did when they were little and helpless. I’ve seen my mom and mother-in-law do it for years. They have great joy in caring for their families — make no mistake about that — but they sometimes do so to the detriment of their own well-being.
I have gone through times when this was true in my homeschool. I believed in the importance of giving my children truth, goodness, and beauty as their daily sustenance. I was instructed by Charlotte Mason that,
Like the body, the mind has its appetite, the desire for knowledge. Again, like the body, the mind is able to receive and assimilate by its powers of attention and reflection. Like the body, again, the mind rejects insipid, dry, and unsavoury food, that is to say, its pabulum should be presented in a literary form. The mind is restricted to pabulum of one kind: it is nourished upon ideas and absorbs facts only as these are connected with living ideas upon which they hang.
But in the midst of caring for little ones, teaching my children, maintaining a home, and feeding the masses, I neglected to feed my appetite for knowledge.
When Mary and Martha had Jesus over as their guest, Jesus rebuked Martha for not sitting at His feet. Caught up in the tasks she felt she must do to serve her guest, she forgot how much she needed Him to complete anything. Her sister, however, had chosen the good portion: the teaching of Jesus that would feed her soul. We do well as mothers to choose the good portion, the life-giving sustenance for our souls.
When we stop to feed our hearts, we acknowledge that we are finite creatures who cannot do it all, who cannot survive on our strength. We tell our children that even mothers need to grow.
This does not mean that we should ignore the tasks before us. God is honored by our desire to love our families by physically caring for them. But when we stop to feed our hearts, we acknowledge that we are finite creatures who cannot do it all, who cannot survive on our strength. We tell our children that even mothers need to grow. We teach by example that an education which cultivates wisdom and virtue is for all people, not just underage minors.
As classical educators, we all agree on spreading the feast before our students; but do we pause long enough to partake of it ourselves? Every reason we believe in giving our children truth, goodness, and beauty applies to us too. Our children need their imaginations shaped. They need their tastes cultivated and their affections ordered. They need to see that God is the author of beauty. Why would the same not be true for mothers?
Our minds and spirits are in need of daily sustenance just as our bodies are in need of daily nourishment. Without this provision of ideas and knowledge, we become weak and undernourished in spirit and mind. When my spirit is starved, my stores of hope, peace, and grace become depleted. I cannot neglect to feed my heart with the grace of the gospel. Spending time in truth is necessary to remind myself who I am and to whom I belong. I am a forgetful person; starving myself only makes my memory even weaker.
But feeding our souls is not just for the hardest of days. If we only fed our children when they were starving, they’d be very unhealthy indeed. Truly, we must feed our minds not just to combat weakness, but to grow. Jen Wilkin wrote that “we will not wake up ten years from now and find that we have passively taken on the character of God.” We cannot grow in Christlikeness if we don’t know Him. And we won’t know who He is if we don’t spend time with Him.
God is good to give me this vocation that exposes my need of sanctification and directs me to the redemptive grace of my savior. Motherhood has a way of reminding me that I am lost without Jesus. My need to grow in virtue is evident as I parent young sinners who also need to grow in virtue. But in my sin I often demand from them the virtue that I lack. If I am not feeding myself truth, I can allow sin to fester in my heart. I don’t want to be a lying mother and teacher who tells my children that I have arrived at the pinnacle of virtue. I will best serve my children in their pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty if I seek growth too.
A friend asked recently, “How do I expect my children to learn to order their affections when I know mine are not ordered?” I told her that the way we help our children order their affections is the same way we can order our own. Confess, repent, and feed yourself. Invite your children to the table and be sure to sit down and enjoy the feast too.