Developing a philosophy of mothering

Developing a philosophy of mothering

I’ve never received more comments or email than I did for the On Being a Mother entry. I wrote it quickly, without much revision, as a way to affirm to myself the value I felt in being a mom despite all its obvious hardships. That piece drew a lot of support. Loved hearing from all of you.

There were comments and emails too, though, from those who are on the outside looking in, feeling that mothering really is a hardship, that they don’t enjoy the company of their children, and worse, feel guilty about it. Guilt for something you can’t control is the worst feeling you can possibly have. I have no intention ever of adding to anyone’s guilt! Sorry for that unintended side-effect.

I’m all about nurturing ourselves and our kids
through our pain to health and vitality.

That’s the whole Brave Writer modus operandi! Moms who struggle are certainly as invested in their children, love them as much, yet feel they are missing the genetic material to help them have that energy and joy in mothering that they hear about from their friends.

Their experience is a bit like never having had an orgasm and having to hear how great sex is! You feel instantly shut out from the “universally glorious experience” and you can’t imagine what you’d have to do differently to get to that blissful state of being. Believe me, I get it. (More than you know!) All of us have had that “outside-looking-in” feeling in some area of our lives.

In no way do I want to minimize the pain and bewilderment that women feel when they are handed an 8 lb. bundle of limbs and told “Go, therefore, and mother.” The crucible of total responsibility up against very real human limitations drives most of us into an emotional collapse at some point in our children’s lives (and more than once!). That’s why it’s so important to embrace this “more than full-time” job with the expectation that you can find tenderness, connection and love, or you won’t make it! Chronic stress and disappointment in your life is the stuff of which midlife crisis is made.

My goal in the parenting journey is to experience pleasure with my children. In other words (and here, the sex metaphor really is apt!), I’ve deliberately cultivated happiness as the chief aim of parenting. Not discipline. Not character-building. Not training. Not even education. My main concern for my kids and for our family has been to create a happy, peaceful, honest, nurturing, attentive-to-each-person’s-peculiarities environment so that our relationships with each other would be about connection, not about tolerating or managing each other.

It’s my belief that in a space of joy, humor and kindness, education, love, and satisfaction thrive. Relationships become a source of strength and refuge from which to live the rest of our lives rather than an obstacle filled with frustration and pain. I’ve often said, “Joy is the best teacher.” I’d add, “Peaceful relationships are the foundation of a joyful life.”

Lizzy asked in the comments:

I wonder, Julie, what or who it was that helped you develop your perspective. Was it your own mother? Was mothering a dream you’ve had since you were a little girl? Are you one of those folks who has read ‘all the books’ for inspiration?

These are great questions with longer answers than I can do justice to here. But let me tackle it this way. I never thought about having kids (didn’t like babysitting, couldn’t figure out why babies were “cute”). I come by my passion for children through mothering, not through any inherent maternal drive. My mother is incredible, though. She was the one who threw “back-to-school brunch” parties for my friends in 7th grade. She’s the one who patiently typed my essays in high school. She’s the one who has shared her very real self with me and has always listened to my pain without editing it. She’s also the one who lost her marriage to an affair and checked out emotionally for several years of my young adult life. Her deliberate recovery and prioritizing of emotional health has had a huge impact on me as an adult.

I also had the privilege of being mentored in homeschooling by an utterly free spirit of creativity who showed me the value of picnics over math pages, and dress up clothes with face paints at 10:00 in the morning on a Tuesday. As I’ve given myself to mothering and have paid attention to the writing process as it’s worked out in parent-child relationships, I’ve discovered that people thrive when they have space to be who they are, when their pain is taken seriously and when both are addressed with compassion and creativity.

That goes for both moms and kids. If we get too lost in our children, we become withered, unhappy, grouchy adults. If we are too consumed with our adult selves, we lose sight of our kids and overlook their needs for devoted attention.

Between these extremes is an awesome middle ground;
it’s the space where what you do as an adult
can be shared with your children and vice versa!

It’s the space where you tune into your own needs (I have to get out for a haircut or I’ll scream) and also keep an eye on what’s happening with your children (they need naps). If you love Mary Cassatt, you share her paintings with your kids. If they love Wii Dance Revolution, they get you to compete. There’s a give and take that includes touching, eye contact, sharing interests and problem solving. It’s a mutual admiration society that is fed by time together where all members get something from the shared experience.

In other words: joy in mothering is directly related to ensuring that you do things with and for your kids that make you all happy. Really.

The Homeschool Alliance

12 Responses to “Developing a philosophy of mothering”

  1. Colette says:

    “I’ve deliberately cultivated happiness as the chief aim of parenting. Not discipline. Not character-building. Not training. Not even education.”

    My prospective is that of a mother of 4 under 6yrs of age. This is definitely a worthy goal, but I would like to add that in my experience, the women I know who have a hard time mothering are ones that have little to no authority over their children. I don’t mean a mother has to be a dictator or your house like a military barracks, but if you are spending your whole day, or if you work, the time spent with your children, constantly battling, constantly appeasing, there will be little to no joy.

    If there is not a bedrock of rules that can’t be broken and consequences for breaking these rules, chaos reigns.

    For example, my 3yr old son has a short fuse and has been screaming “I hate you!” at me when he gets mad. This is totally not acceptable in our house. He is made to apologize and if he can’t, he sits on the naughty chair until he can. If there was no consequence for his actions and subsequent better behavior I would be a total nutcase. I have 3 other children and there has to be a rule of law!

    For some women, this is something that is very difficult. I know from my days as a working mom the guilt involved, not wanting to have to spend my time with my kids having to discipline, I just wanted to enjoy them.

    My kids are all very young, but for me, there would be little to no joy if no meant maybe and temper tantrums ruled. Discipline is not the focus of our lives, but I would definitely not be able to enjoy my kids if we didn’t have some structure in place. Unlike a lot of people, I am looking forward to my kids’ teen years and I hope they are as rewarding to me as yours seem to be for you!

    I am so enjoying these posts, Julie, they are wonderful.

  2. Beth Haynes says:

    I really hope you will check out Connie Allen’s website, Joy with Children. Your philosophies of parenting have much in common. Connie’s job runs workshops on parenting. She is trying to do for parenting what you do for writing.
    My husband and I participated in a 12 week call-in seminar with her and found it of tremendous value. A central theme for Connie is emphasizing the importance of the emotional connections between parent and child. It took me a while to understand what she meant by that phrase, but it has transformed my parenting experience from one with a lot struggle, guilt and conflict (in addition to a fair amount of the good stuff) into one which is much more relaxed, and, well, joyful.

    She absolutely does NOT advocate rolling over and playing dead or let-them-do-whatever-they-want. What she was able to help me achieve a much improved perspective on what I actually have control over, and provide me with a more realistic set of expectations for myself and my “job” as a parent.

    If you are interested in my attempts to put some of it into writing, I have attempted to capture it in a series of blog posts here:

    Thanks so much for an excellent blog which touches on so much more than writing!!

  3. Kay says:

    Be true to yourself. Truly love the people that truly love you. See them, listen to them. Don’t keep “score” with anyone for any reason. Have no expectations, they are not necessary, they may only cause trouble.
    Thanks Julie for your love and support, thoughts and innermost feelings, plus enthusiasm to reach out.

  4. Brittney Shideler says:

    I’m a mom of 4 kids from 11 years to 1 year. I think that the difference between a peaceful and mutually honoring family and a family in need of lots of discipline is time, the time the parents put into their kids. And I don’t mean running around to lessons, play dates, etc. time, I mean good quality time as Julie describes. Kids need quality and quantity time. Bottom line, as I’ve learned over and over, their emotional buckets must get filled with positive, affirming, loving connection with their parents. If you fill their bucket it overflows in their wanting to please you in return and your need for rule enforcement goes down exponentially. If the buckets are empty, they’ll have to try and fill them on their own and it won’t be good. Every parent should read Romancing Your Child’s Heart. It’s all about filling those buckets.

  5. Dawn says:

    I get it! – I beleive it! – I even practiced it when the first children were younger. (I have 8: ages 16 to 6 months) But somewhere along the line I began schooling at home instead of homeschooling and now I’m stuck. Not only do I not enjoy it anymore, nor do they, but I have a child two years away from college with a deficiency in many “subjects” due to the mix of the two extremes. The schooling at home has stifled the creativity and fredom to learn naturally and the homeschooling attempts have derailed his traditonal acadmics. Now what? Do I have time to chuick it all and go back to really enjoying each other, spending quality time learning each other’s interests and just allowing natural learning to take place in the vacuum of stress I hope to create with the release from the “school prison” I’ve created? I want to beleive I can do it – starting today. I know the younger ones would thrive, like my oldest used to, but I’m afraid that I’ve done permanent damage to the oldest.

  6. Lizzy says:


    Many times I’ve repeated your words (from Writer’s Jungle?) in my head –“relational peace is the priority, relational peace in the priority.”

    None of the schoolwork is worth damaging my relationship with my kids. And the schoolwork is so much more enjoyable when the relationships have been tended.

    Thank you, Julie, for your words this week! I am thankful for you in my homeschooling journey.


  7. Julie Bogart says:

    Cindy, I changed your post status to pending rather than posted. I would rather you share your experiences of mothering instead of promoting a specific philosophy or program. Can you share about your relationship with your children instead? That would be lovely. If you would like a copy of your comments to use to draw from, simply ask in comments (or email me) and I’ll happily return the comment to you to look over.

    For everyone: let’s use this space to talk about what you *do* with your kids that enhances joy in mothering, rather than talking about which methods achieve your goals. I’d rather not debate different parenting books or models.

  8. Julie Bogart says:

    Dawn, I so hear you. 8 children is a lot of human beings to keep track of, let alone nurture. And they all seem to come equipped with individual personalities which means they respond differently to the same stimulus! Just when you think you’ve got it “working,” a child comes along for whom “it” doesn’t work!

    When I hit a wall with my kids (schedule, routine, unhappiness, anxiety), I drop everything and talk. We get around a table or go out to the trampoline or take a walk or head to a coffee shop and discuss “What’s going on?” I sometimes make the mistake of thinking I know what they need when in reality, I haven’t asked! When I ask and am open to any answer (which includes things like—”No I don’t want to study chemistry in high school even if colleges say I must”), we get further.

    I like to have a discussion, then take some time off of discussing (to allow myself to percolate some ideas and for them to also) and then to come back together to brainstorm solutions that take both goals and emotions into account. I hope to post more about this tomorrow. But the short answer is: It’s not too late. At all. 🙂

  9. Lucy says:

    These are great posts and the subject is really hitting close to home. I really want to find that balance that allows everyone to be happy and doesn’t neglect any one person’s needs. Also, I wanted to point out that another drain on parental energy is illness, in a parent or a child. Things like cancer, ADHD, complicated pregnancies, premature births, etc. can really affect a family’s reserves. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. I am looking forward to hearing more from you.

  10. Jean says:

    My philosophy of parenting is a mix between “these are the important things we don’t compromise on” and “everything else is an adventure!” The tricky part is separating one from the other. 🙂
    When it comes to education, my cartoon counterpart is Miss Frizzle on The Magic School Bus who always says, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” When a new opportunity comes up or the kids are trying to learn something new, we dive in head first without knowing if it’ll succeed. Sometimes I sit down with them and say, “I don’t know how to do this either. Wanna try together?” Knowing that there’s no condemnation for failure (because it’s just an adventure no matter what) has led them to hike mountains, build robots, audition for plays, write bills to present to the legislature and other crazy things I never dreamed we’d do. Those adventures build the greatest memories and bring so much joy into our lives.
    Keeping the “important things” (worshipping God, caring for family, being kind to others, etc.) as the never-changing, solid foundation brings us joy, too.
    The struggles usually come when we get stuff in the wrong category, and press things that shouldn’t be pressed or let slip things that we shouldn’t let slip.

  11. Katie says:

    I have age 14, 11 and 8 year old girls. I haven’t mastered the fine balance of relationship/discipline, but when I have hit on it for a time, it has been because I was willing to turn off the voices in my own head (projecting disaster in the future for my kids’ lives), set aside my own plans for the situation (for the moment) and look into my child’s eyes. The girls know that when I invite them into my room for a talk, they can relax and tell Mom everything– even if “everything” includes, “I don’t want your help. I don’t think you know enough to help me, and I just want you to leave me alone and let me do it myself.” That last came from my daughter in regard to practicing violin a few weeks ago, and after she made her request, I decided to honor it. (She was so sweet, she prefaced that tough statement with, “Mom, I don’t want to hurt you, but…”) I *do* know a lot about music, but not violin specifically, and although I think she is making a mistake not availing herself of my expertise, I am willing to let her go on her own. I made a request too: I asked her to practice in the furthermost corner of the house each day so I cannot hear her. (If I hear her make mistakes too many times, I begin giving advice.)

    Anyway– even when they are younger, there is a way to do this and still maintain discipline. I remember when my oldest was eight, and really detested her language arts program (not Bravewriter). We had a “gripe session” before I set the plans for the new school year, and I was able to communicate to her that although there are certain requirements where school is concerned, I am also interested in furthering her joy in learning, and want to hear her opinions before I make final decisions. (Not that I am going to let the kids ditch chemistry or algebra, but I *do* want to hear what they are connecting with and what feels dry-as-dust.) I actually have them do freewrites every so often on this topic.

  12. […] instead of the philosophy.  or maybe moving with the ebb and flow of tidal homeschooling.  or prioritizing peace and relationships.  or bringing a bit of Easter to our homeschool.  letting go of Morning Time […]