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Shakespeare and jam: A smart guide to joyful homemaking



Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 05/26/23

No, your brain will not atrophy from staying home with your kids. In fact, homemaking can be an exhilarating challenge for your sharp mind.

When I made the choice all those years ago to be a stay-at-home mom, I worried that my intellectual side was about to die.

I was so excited to spend my days at home with my baby, but I was apprehensive too. I’d been lucky enough to get a great education at the University of Notre Dame, and my passion was endlessly discussing things like literature, philosophy, and history.

Now that every day was filled with diapers and laundry and nap schedules, I wondered if the rest of my life would always be like that. Is my brain about to atrophy? I worried as I wiped up yet another mess.

Nine years into being a stay-at-home mom, I’m happy to tell you that no, your brain absolutely will not atrophy from staying home with your kids. In fact, homemaking can be an exhilarating challenge for your sharp mind.

My favorite way to describe my homemaking approach comes from Tasha Tudor, who wrote: 

“I enjoy doing housework, ironing, washing, cooking, dishwashing. Whenever I get one of those questionnaires and they ask what is your profession, I always put down housewife. It’s an admirable profession, why apologize for it. You aren’t stupid because you’re a housewife. When you’re stirring the jam you can read Shakespeare.”

You absolutely can read Shakespeare (or Austen, or Tolstoy …) while you’re stirring the jam (and I do!). You can do lots of other things to enjoy homemaking, too. 

Here are my favorite ways to embrace my homemaker vocation using my whole mind.

1Embrace the repetitive nature of homemaking

At first it was a shock that I had to clean the kitchen every night of my life! Now that I have four kids, I also have to do laundry, clean up our homeschool room, and do other repetitive chores every single day.

Yes, homemaking is repetitive. The key is to embrace and work with that repetition instead of resenting it.

My breakthrough came when I discovered that these Sisyphean tasks feel light and easy with a good audiobook or podcast. 

Most evenings I pop in some Bluetooth headphones and listen to a book while I’m cleaning. It’s my favorite way to “read Shakespeare while stirring the jam.” I’ve devoured so many great books this way, and it’s made the repetitive daily tasks enjoyable and somewhat relaxing.

2Join or start a book club or discussion group

When I became a stay-at-home mom, I craved an intellectual outlet, so I started a book club with my friends.

That book club is still going strong all these years later! It’s one of the best things in my life and so much fun. 

One of my friends was not much of a reader, but joined the club for the social aspect. Over time, she began reading more and more, and now she reads almost every book with the club. Last week she called me and said, “Thank you so much for starting this book club. I was at a party yesterday and had some amazing, deep conversations about literature. I never would’ve read all these books if it weren’t for book club!”

Most of us in the book club are stay-at-home moms, and our reading and discussions are wonderfully life-giving.

If a book club is too much right now, try meeting to discuss articles or podcasts instead. Just meeting regularly with friends to talk about something intellectual refreshes your mind to embrace your vocation. Or as Tasha Tudor would say, find your own ways to read Shakespeare while stirring the jam.

3Turn your creativity and energy toward homemaking

I have to credit Catholic life coach Janet Quinlan for this one. Recently I heard her speak at an event, and she encouraged all of us parents in the room, saying, “You are smart and hardworking, and you have what it takes to figure out how to keep an orderly house.” 

I knew exactly what she meant, because some days, I just don’t want to put in the effort. I throw up my hands and gesture vaguely at the children to explain why my house is a mess.

But the truth is I actually do know what needs to be done, and I am capable of doing it. I know how to make a meal plan, I know how to set up and stick to a cleaning schedule, and I know how to create a welcoming and orderly home. 

All that talent you have for planning and working? You can use every last bit of it as a stay-at-home parent, running your home well and beautifully. 

One way I motivate myself is inviting a friend over, because somehow cleaning feels more urgent when you have company coming. So if you need a little push, text a friend to come over for a play date tomorrow!

4Place little reminders around your home

When my oldest was a baby and I was worried about not using my mind as a stay-at-home mom, I printed out my favorite poems and taped them to walls where I would be sure to see them, including over the changing table! I figured this would remind me of loftier things while doing mundane and unrefined daily work. 

Over the years, I added beautiful prints of fine art to the walls (mostly from thrift stores), and books that encourage my work as a  homemaker. 

You can find so many great poems, song lyrics, quotations from saints and the Bible, and so on, on Etsy. Or just write or print them yourself as I did. You can even download a font created from St. Teresa of Avila’s handwriting, and use that.

These little points of beauty remind me of God’s presence and the eternal purpose of my vocation as I go about my days. 

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