How My Mother Saved Her Sanity (and Accidentally Saved Mine Too)

I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s in the Midwest. It was a great time and a great place to be a kid. Summers were hot and muggy. We caught fireflies, played in puddles, drank from the hose, rode bikes, and generally spent the day getting sweaty and dirty. I have an older brother and whatever he did, I wanted to do too.  There were a few other kids in the neighborhood, but because we attended a small Lutheran school, our school friends didn’t live the same neighborhood as we did.  This also meant that we didn’t know them that well, and my mom wasn’t overly keen on having us at their homes for extended periods of time or having them at ours. Different families have different rules and boundaries, and ours didn’t always align with other families’ rules and boundaries.

In order to have a legitimate reason to kick all the neighbors out or call us home during the middle of the day, my mom did something brilliant: she instituted a quiet reading time for my brother and me during the summer. Every day, at the same time, any kids playing at our house had to go home, or if we were at someone else’s house, we had to come home, just for an hour or so.  We had to go up to our rooms, pick a book, and read.  Although I supposed we could have picked other toys to play with, we didn’t.  I had shelves of books in my room to choose from, so I just picked a book and read.  No TV, no video games (we didn’t have any anyway) – just quiet time, alone, with the assumption we would read books. And so we did.

My brother is a naturally a great reader. He reads quickly, comprehends much, and as a child, often read books that were well beyond his age level.  I wanted to be just like him, so that meant I read too.  I didn’t read as fast (I still don’t), but he usually suggested books to me.  Some of them I loved, and some I didn’t get but read anyway, and some I gave up on. Even when I gave up on a book, I just looked for another one to suit me.  I ended up finding plenty of books that he wasn’t interested in, either.

Now, mind you, while my mother was a school teacher by her training, during those years she was a stay-at-home mom.  Her primary purpose wasn’t so much to get us to read, but to have a quiet home without neighbor kids over (although she didn’t admit that to us until we were much older).  Engendering a love for reading was the by-product of her genius parenting technique of enforcing daily quiet time with no other kids in our house. Her goal was simply saving her sanity during the summer.  By creating a love for books and a recognition that reading is both leisure and an active experience worth taking a pause in the middle of a day to do, she saved mine too.

I can’t imagine a life without stories, and how impoverished our imaginations would be without books. Someone asked me recently about how I came to love stories and literature so much. I thought immediately back to quiet time in the summer, and how it helped create a daily habit of reading, and also a comfort with quiet and preference for it in the midst an otherwise unstructured setting.  That comfort with quiet and habit of reading (and healthy habit of imagining) is a refuge from this crazy world. It’s not escapism, but rather a retreat to the permanent things that have endured for generations: that which reflect the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.

So my advice to other moms as summer approaches and you’re wondering what to do not to become unhinged: institute a quiet time, every day.  No electronics, no friends, no running around. Just quiet for at least 30-60 minutes, with a full supply of good books within reach. You never know.  You just might save your sanity and your kid’s for years to come.

In His service and for His glory

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