Keeping Your Brain Active (as a Mom)

Linking up to Kelly. I love that she's talking about Kristin Lavransdatter. Please, please say you've read it? It's a bit of a beast, length-wise, but it's well worth your time! (I actually don't have my own copy yet, and I think it's time to splurge on one.)

I feel like one of the struggles I hear my mom friends talking about the most is the challenge of keeping themselves challenged intellectually. This struggle is one that both working at home and working outside of the home moms seem to struggle with. The truth of the matter is that once you have children, your brain is busier than ever - but it is busy trying to keep track of those children and their needs! I think that this is especially evident whenever a group of moms gets together. At least initially, all the moms (including myself!) seem able to talk about is their children. Our children absorb our lives, it seems, regardless of what fills our hours. Even when I was working full time when Therese was a baby, I still remember feeling that I would rather talk about her than about my job. Moms just love their babies!

But there comes a time when Moms realize that that kind of low hum of constant mental activity is somewhat draining. It is exhausting trying to keep up with children (small children and babies especially), and sometimes you just want a reminder of what your life was like when you were a bit more intellectual. I don't know if everyone feels this way, but I find that when I commit myself to actually feeding my brain by reading a book (instead of Facebook) or writing an article or blogpost (instead of an Instagram comment) I feel considerably calmer. My brain is fed by that simple exercise of my intellect. We are rational beings, after all! A lot of moms I know bemoan the fact that they can't, say, read a real book anymore. I've been there! The struggle is real! So today, I want to share with you my top 7 tips for keeping your brain active and intellectually stimulated as a mom. 


Read a book.

Sometime last summer, I made it my goal to finally read all the Jane Austen novels. (I finished them sometimes in January or February.) I found it really difficult to focus on them, because the language was definitely more challenging than the online fare I was used to. But I found that if I read them someplace relaxing (like on a coffee shop patio while sipping an iced chai) and committed to at least 15 minutes to half an hour of reading, I walked away so much more relaxed as a result. We'll get to reading e-books in a minute, but I just want to validate the fact that reading an actual book that you can hold in your hands, has real value. Studies have conjectured our brains respond differently to e-books. I think there is much truth to that, and I think we shouldn't underestimate the power of reading from an actual book on occasion, even in short spurts.


Read an e-book.

I used to be super anti e-book. Then, Maria was born. Maria was super colicky, went to sleep easiest if nursed, and would wake up to the sound of a page turning. So, sometime in those early weeks with her, I discovered the wonder that is the e-book. And e-book can be a mother's best friend! I could read in the middle of the night, I could read while Maria napped in my arms - I could actually finish books!! At first, all I had was a Kindle to read on, but once I got a smartphone and downloaded the Kindle app, I could even read on my phone. For a girl who never left the house without a book when she was growing up, the Kindle app is like a dream come true. All that reading, right at your fingertips! Most of the classics are free on the Kindle, and what you can't find for free may be available to borrow via your library's website. And, if you're post-partum, there are some great e-books that will keep you thinking, but still be easy to read. I find books written by bloggers are interesting, informative, but also easy to follow when you're sleep deprived. After I had Maria, I whipped right through Pope Awesome and Teaching in Your Tiara. Both were fascinating, but very easy to read, and it was real boost in my confidence to finish a couple books while post-partum. Some others that are on my list/Kindle are: How She Does It and The Nesting Place. But, if you're up for the challenge, don't be afraid of reading or re-reading a classic! I just discovered Willa Cather and I find her books very readable!

Okay, this is anything but a quick take, but I just have to throw in one more point. When you have an e-book on your phone, or iPod or iPad, or Kindle or whatever - you can read whenever and wherever. My best time for reading the heavier stuff is actually as I'm falling asleep at night. I find it so relaxing, and I feel like my brain can finally focus when everyone else is asleep!


Listen to a Podcast.

I don't know about you, but I feel inspired just listening to intelligent people talk about intelligent things. Two of my favorite podcasts right now are Fountains of Carrots (especially any episode about books or their latest one about G.K. Chesterton), and Read Aloud Revival. I also have been enjoying This Inspired Life and The Art of Simple. I download these and listen to them in the car, while I'm cooking, or while I'm sewing or whatever. Especially for days when I feel too scattered to sit down and read something, these stimulate my brain with minimal effort on my part. (And I'm always looking for new podcasts to listen to! What are your favorites?)


Read certain kinds of blogs.

Not all blogs serve the same purpose. I love reading classic "mom blogs" daily. The writers of those blogs make me laugh and make me feel so normal. I am grateful for blogs like that! But I've found that I also need to follow blogs that make book recommendations (like Modern Mrs. Darcy) or has weekly posts dedicated to linking to edifying articles (I really enjoy Like Mother, Like Daughter's "Bits and Pieces") Some blogs are good at teaching you something in a very accessible way (Jenny has a real gift for that) and some will just flat out being challenging to read (I don't actually follow Kathryn's blog, but I need to! I met her in person once and she is wonderful!). No matter how you go about it, find something that is just a little bit out of your comfort zone!


Have a Mom's Night Out - where you don't just talk about kids!

I've been to Mom's Nights where we just try not to talk about kids, but I've found a more organic way of doing this is just to spend the first hour or so talking about our families, and then watch as the conversation naturally shifts. I've been to Mom's Nights where we printed out and discussed some theological document - but that felt kind of forced. I've also been to Mom's Nights were we spent the first hour or so talking about our kids, then proceeded to talk about everything else - our faith, the state of the family in our culture, the state of schooling and our concerns as we research the best schooling options for our children, what we feel God is calling us to do in our lives, how to grow in a healthy marriage, etc. Those conversations weren't forced, but they were tremendously edifying for all of us. It's futile to try to avoid talking about your families. That's what matters the most to you, at your given state in life (as a mother to little ones!). It's better to continue the conversation long enough that it isn't limited to talk about poopy diapers and nap schedules. It's all about a balance!


Sit at a coffee shop, or in a bookstore, or library.

This is probably the easiest of my tips, but it works! Sneak out of the house one evening or on a Saturday morning, and go sit in a coffee shop, or at a bookstore, or in a library. Being surrounded by people doing research, reading books, having good conversation - it will direct you that way, as well. Starbucks is ridiculously expensive, but I sometimes find it worthwhile to dole out $4 for a coffee, because I know that the atmosphere relaxes me and helps me to think. 


Learn a new skill.

Okay, I'm totally going to put her on the spot here, but my dear friend Amy is the person I have in mind here. Not only is she a phenomenal mom (her home is basically little kid heaven) but she also taught herself a new skill when she became a stay-at-home mom. She taught herself how to seriously quilt, master modern quilting, and even went on to start a successful modern quilting blogdraft a whole host of patterns, and even write a quilting book. She found something she wanted to learn, fell in love with it, and continues to work on it. And it challenges her! Other friends became experts on alternative medicine options and healthy eating, and another friend is about to become certified as a Creighton Practitioner. There are so many different skills you can learn or master, and it's worth seeing if any are ones that may interest you.

This post, of course, is not meant to make you feel bad if you are too overwhelmed to attempt anything new or challenging right now. I do hope that it will help get your wheels turning if you are looking for a way to stay intellectually in shape, and show you that there is more than one way to accomplish that!

Have a wonderful weekend, friends! And stay tuned for book pre-order details, coming next week!!! If you're hoping to win a free copy, be sure to check out the giveaways going on over at "Carrots for Michaelmas" and "A Blog for My Mom."


  1. Amen to number 7 - there are so many opportunities to learn fun things as a SAHM that I never would have though I would be interested in. Cooking came first (you know, necessary for survival.) Next up was knitting (definitely still an amateur), and I can't wait to start with some sewing later this year.

  2. This is such a great post! (And I promise I'm not just saying that because you like the podcast!) I am really glad you enjoy listening, it means a lot. Sometimes if I get out for a couple hours I'll go somewhere and have lunch by myself and just read a book, and honestly it's one of the greatest feelings! I never thought I'd appreciate those small silent moments so much before I became a mom!

  3. My husband is in grad school and we got married right out of undergrad (and had a kid 10 months later) so it was a weird identity-shift for me to not be a student anymore and be surrounded a bunch of very smart students. Reading has been a sanity-saver. And boy, did I ever bless my parents during night feedings for getting me a Kindle Paperwhite the Christmas before our baby was born.

    As for podcasts, I really like the several you mentioned. I also enjoy Catholic Stuff You Should Know (makes Thursday night dinner preparation so much more fun), 99% Invisible, and the ubiquitous This American Life.

    1. Thanks for the podcast recommendations! And yes...Kindles are the best invention for parents getting up in the middle of the night with babies. :-)

  4. Great post! I've been a SAHM for over 13 years, and it seems like over the years, I've found different projects and side things that stimulate my mind and feed my intellect, At times it has been writing and researrching a website, learning about alternative medicine, studying to be a LLL leader, learning HTML ,helping my husband start a business and of course blogging, Sometimes I think I actually had MORE time as a SAHM to pursue those side intersets, than if I had been working, because I know working outside the home would have exhausted me, mentally, while staying home allowed me to pursue intellectual interests in small, managable chunks of time.

  5. I recently had the realization that I wasn't taking care of myself enough (when I joked that j hardly ever have time to wash my hair!) and this goes along with it. I find myself only reading books about sleep training or homeschooling and I rarely read for my own benefit or enjoyment. I also rarely give myself time away alone! Thankfully summer is a slower time and I hope to make more time soon.

  6. This is all really good advice, even for people who aren't mothers. Sometimes I think of "expanding my horizons" and going out of my way to learn something new, read something different, or improve on a hobby I already enjoy. This was good encouragement to do those things! Thanks! :-) (And Kristin Lavransdatter is one of my all-time favorite books. Sigrid Undset's books are worth the effort to read!)

  7. This is such a great post - thanks so much for sharing (and for the shout-out!). I loved each of the tips, especially the going and sitting at Starbucks (or similar place) one - that has a huge impact on me feeling like a normal, grown adult, and listening to podcasts, and learning something new! Loved it. :) And thanks again!!


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