Making time for books in the mommy years


Literature / Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

Several of you have asked how to find time to read while the laundry needs folding and the dinner needs cooking and there are little people hanging on your skirts. Believe it or not, this is the first time I heard anyone express that wistful jealousy – and I want to thank you for giving me a fresh perspective. I hear what you’re saying, and will be more gentle in my heart when I share my glowing literary reviews.

For me, books are kind of life. How would one do without them? They have knit themselves into my daily habits since I was a tot, and in all honesty, I do not compromise much household-management quality in their pursuit. My house is reasonably clean (only reasonably) and the dinner I put on the table tonight was yummy.

I’ll tell you a few secrets about why.

1. Let go of the pressure.

First of all, please please don’t stress about reading. Books are a gift for enlightenment and for joy. The last thing you want is to get knotted up about this person’s book count or someone else’s challenge or how many tomes you Should Be reading. (Cris loves her challenge because she set it for herself, and because at the end of 2020 she will have read more books and more variety of books than she would have otherwise. The sky will not fall for her if it’s fourteen volumes accomplished instead of twenty. Or ten volumes. I didn’t ask her about this, but I know.)

You are reading what you’re reading. Let it be what it is. You are rocking this motherhood thing, and your cupboards* would put the rest of us to shame. Hold an open book in front of your nose, close your eyes, breathe in. See? Scent of heaven, and don’t you feel better already? Now you picked up a book today.

*or flowerbeds, or creative art, or laundry system, or time spent caring for people

If reading does not matter much to you, find little ways to nudge yourself that direction, but don’t force anything now. If reading does matter to you, but you struggle to incorporate it into a busy life, read on.

2. Find your favorites.

Write down the five best books you’ve read – recently, or ever. As you look over the titles, search for commonality. Are they all nonfiction? All historical fiction? Written around the nineteen fifties? Antique? Published by a house you trust? Are they story? Inspiration? Classics? Fresh releases and New York Times bestsellers? Little chunks of satisfaction, or deep and gripping plot? Fast paced? Richly worded? What do you love?

A few weeks ago, a new friend of mine who is nearly seventy told me, “I read fluff. I do. I feel kind of bad about that, but I spent all those years in social work, breaking my mind on all the hard parts of changing people and the world, and when I went home at the end of the day, I wanted to read fluff.”

“Oh wow,” I told her. “I totally get that, but for me it’s the opposite. I want to read all the big, important, social issues about race and drug addiction and education because I feel like my life is fluff.”

We had a good laugh together.

When you find common themes in the books you love, you will know what to look for next.

3. Branch out.

You can only branch out when you know where your roots are, and you can only grow your roots by branching out. If the roots represent your favorites, sprout a few leaves and try something new.

Until you know a lot about books, grabbing random ones off library shelves will not work for you. Start by Googling booklists that relate to what you’re interested in. Even better, ask a librarian for recommendations – and be specific about the kind you want. Better still, ask a friend to pick three favorite books off her shelf for you. You will nearly always find a winner, and some good reads you wouldn’t have necessarily chosen for yourself. They will grow and stretch you.

4. Surround yourself.

Reading happens naturally when books are ready to hand, begging to be opened. I keep classics and favorites on my piano, children’s books on an open shelf, board books in a basket, library books wedged against the loveseat, and whatever we’re currently reading on the end table.

Take the library books or loaned books you just gathered (see point 3), and put them where you’ll find them when you sit down for a moment. If you come across an interesting new title with a recommendation you trust, buy it inexpensively, and resell later as you wish. Keep a few good books on hand – more than you can read. Build a little excitement for that half hour tonight after the house is quiet.

5. Plan it in.

I hope you don’t hate me for this, but I think that in numerous ways, life with little kids is exactly suited to a prodigious amount of reading. Hear me out. Among the things I learned to love about breastfeeding was this: a great many enforced hours of sitting in quietness. Sometimes just snuggling. Often, reading.

Winter is good in the same way. My children love couch time and snuggle time with Mommy. And PJ days with popcorn. And family evenings in the living room – rarely are we all there together, but at any time a few of us will be hanging out with a good book. Children can make you “busy,” but they can also slow you down.

Pick a few times to fully savor the joy of reading. In the days when I was getting up multiple times a night with a baby, I went to bed as early as I could. But these days, the large majority of my reading happens on Sunday afternoons, and in the dark delicious hours between 9:30 and 11:30 at night. Don’t tell.

6. Seize the little moments.

My life holds tons of waiting time, in little pieces. Sitting in foyers until the professional calls us back. Waiting in a vehicle. Watching the pasta cook. Showing up a bit too early. For these moments, a book tucked in the purse is lifegiving. It’s also why I like the Libby app on my phone. Libby is a lending network from which I can borrow digital books from local libraries for free, and read a few pages anytime.

I had forgotten this until Gina’s comment reminded me, but I used to spend those moments checking social media and numbing out. Frankly, I’d rather read something I love. See more thoughts in the link.

7. Read with your kids.

Don’t discount the books you read with your children, even if they’re picture books or juvenile fiction. Reading aloud is a beautiful way to experience words, relationships, and stories. I tend to get a little severe when they interrupt me too many times, but otherwise we get along swimmingly.

Create a regular story time just before naps: three stories for the kiddos, then fifteen minutes for Mommy while you watch them drift off. Or choose a great bedtime book for reading aloud to older children, and share a chapter or two each evening. Little House on the Prairie books will always be precious to me, because when I read them I can hear my dad’s voice, and feel again the wrapped up cozy feeling of childhood bedtimes.

8. Read with a friend.

No, I don’t mean in the same room or at the same time, because hey. That would be super cool but not super practical. What I mean is, read a good book and then give it to someone who’d enjoy it. Compare notes. Tell her your next recommendation, and ask for hers. Swap impressions – who didn’t like the ending, and which character had it coming, and whether that new Christian writer knows what she is talking about.

It’s good motivation, good incentive, good reward for your efforts. It makes the book stick more – mean more, somehow.

9. Grab audio.

I’m new to this, because I can’t figure out what to do with all the interruptions and noise in my house. I hate missing parts of books, even words here and there. And I don’t like wearing headphones when I’m with my children. And I don’t always know what content is coming, and whether I’ll want my four-year-old picking up that impression of farming/ marriage/ war/ appropriate words to use in the kitchen.

I have friends who listen to audio books while driving, walking, cleaning, or washing dishes. I do it when I can, but it takes me a long time.

10. Talk about what you’re reading.

I tease my husband that he doesn’t have to read – I pass on to him all the good parts. “So I’m reading this book by a 500-pound lady. It’s amazing. She has fantastic things to say about hunger and need.” Or, “I’m not sure what to think about this new book, but it’s changing the way I think about the adoption of older children.” Books shape me, and I want my husband in on it. We talk about how the cultures I’m exploring intersect with truth and our own stories. I read him the most beautiful paragraphs.

My reading comes alive when I can share it.

I talk to my kids too – maybe about books I wouldn’t let them read yet, that still have plots or pieces worth passing on. I’ll read a single chapter aloud, or retell it in my own words, or quote some statistics. I consider all this to be educating the family, gently opening our eyes to the strange and wonderful things in our beautiful world.

There are busy, intense times of motherhood when much reading is a weariness of the flesh: when you are simply too tired, too ragged, to invest in the extras. It’s okay, hon. Truly okay. But if reading rejuvenates you, carve out a little section of life for it when you can.


How do you do it? What do you think?

21 Replies to “Making time for books in the mommy years”

  1. Love this, Shari. For a book lover, reading happens. A page here, a chapter there really adds up. My hubby and I are adopting this habit of reading before we drop off to sleep… not something we would ever have done in our newlywed years. But it’s wonderful for this stage in life.

  2. just another good reason to keep breastfeeding that toddler… I’ve been thinking that maybe I should cut back this year and be more intentional about spending face time with my children; but reading is as natural as breathing for me, and maybe as necessary, for without it I’d possibly drown in the mundane. Reading aloud to children is super important! It greatly helps them in school and it also instills in them a love of reading… so that in a few years, they’ll be quietly digesting their own books giving you time to bolt down a few gulps of yours.

  3. I read recently that children learn empathy if they are read to, because they learn to put themselves in the story. Never thought of that before, but makes sense. I loved breastfeeding, because I often had a book by my rocker. I am past that stage now, so I often read to relax and go to sleep. I babysit toddlers, so I still get to read to little ones, and I have a house of book lovers yet, too. I joke with my husband, that he did not know when he married me that we would never have enough bookcases!

  4. The advice that stood out to me was to talk and share it with someone… in my case that’s my husband. I know it does make a difference in how well I retain a concept or story, whether or not I talk about it… it’s too easy for me to grow introspective and clam up. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Thank you, Thank you! It was refreshing to hear this not only how to make time, but also in some seasons it isn’t as possible.

    I have consumed many books in years gone by, but the last 5+ years I have read probably the amount of books I would have at one time read in a month. 8 children in 12 years(which I do not regret!), along with other responsibilities and stresses have brought my reading almost to a halt. This winter I am pushing myself to read more, but quite frankly, most of it has been fluff. 🙈😂

    Audiobooks and creating are what has kept me going. Seems I can still create with my hands when my head is too full to comprehend written words. Often when I am creating is when I turn on my audiobook. There are times when it is hard to hear or I am listening to a new book and am unsure about the content, that is when I tuck one earbud into my ear and leave one out. I can still hear my story, but can also hear the children. 😉

    So many more thoughts rolling around, but am unsure how to get it out. I think sometimes we use the adage “you will find time for what is important or what you love” a bit too freely. Reading has always been important and I love it. However, more important things happened, namely my children and husband. There are things I have had to sacrifice for their sake. In a deep place in my heart, I hope I haven’t smothered my love of reading permanantly, but I in no way resent the sacrifice. So my encouragement is to embrace your current season. For me it is snatches of books here and there and even a quick read of an “Ivy Malone mystery” 😂, but someday I hope to read thicker and more inspired tomes and maybe, just maybe read them alongside of my children.

  6. I read stacks of books while breastfeeding. Now my baby is 5, and I don’t have that excuse to sit down. However, I think reading blogs and youtube steals more book time from me than anything. But I realize now I have been reading! Out loud, to my family. Thanks for waking me up. And yes, I get kind of severe when I get interrupted too often.😄 (have you read The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street?)

  7. As an absolute lover of books – and I mean good old books, not ebooks – I loved this and the previous list. I love a good book recommendation and I used to love rainy days so I could hunker down and read while the rain fell outside.
    As a mom of two young children, I have discovered the joy of reading to my children and that I’m actually good at it. I love to read to my children! But I love to read for myself too and I will admit to wistful jealousy and incredulity too. Just how?? Unfortunately, I am rarely willing to sacrifice sleep for the sake of a book. My time will come yet I’m sure!
    On the flip side, I pretty much have Bread and Jam for Francis and Are You My Mother memorized. Does that count for something??

  8. I love this. Exactly what I’d like to tell others, though much more articulate than I would manage.

    I’m often asked how I read so much and I feel bewildered to answer. I want to say “but I don’t read nearly enough” and “reading is like breathing to me.” But I don’t want to make someone feel guilty for not reading since it is a luxury of the time and place in which I live.

    I also know I make time to read by not doing some things that others do. I know moms who won’t go to bed if their kitchen floor was dirty and can be found mopping their floors late at night. But when I tuck the children into bed, my work stops. I read without guilt. I can finish housework the next day. This was my husband’s wish, he didn’t want me cleaning at night, even when the children were little and I always felt behind.

    I also found that my book reading increased greatly when I cut back online reading. I miss reading some of the blogs that I used to check regularly but, for me, choosing books over online reading has been a benefit.
    Gina

    1. Thank you, Gina. Really good thoughts, and your last one I had not considered in writing this post. We may each read hundreds or thousands of words a day (texts, emails, news, blogs, and social updates) without feeling like we read anything. It’s worth asking how distracting our “lighter reading” 🙂 is, and what we find worthwhile and joy-bringing.

      I’d forgotten this, but for me, the Libby app coincided with my removal of social media shortcuts from my phone, and was an intentional choice to spend my moments of boredom on something bigger-picture, that engaged my mind and rejoiced my heart.

  9. I owe a comment here, don’t I? 😄 A couple things: Reading simply isn’t as high a priority for me as for some of you others (you already knew that) And, that’s okay (I already knew that) But the “why can’t I be more like that amazing person” still catches me off guard. Thanks for the encouragement to be happy with who I am and for the nudge toward reading more. I’ll take that. 😊

  10. I have read your blog for a bit and have stayed quiet, however this is a passionate topic for me. My husband and I both love reading and have been known to read the same book at the same time. He is a faster reader than am I and find it fun to pick his brain when the storyline gets suspenseful! We began reading to our children the day they were born. We weave books into our daily routines as much as we do dinner, or chores, or homework. Our eldest is a voracious reader and will often chose books over other recreational activities. Our middle daughter has discovered the joy of reading and often asks for books for birthday or Christmas gifts. Our youngest is a very good reader and is figuring out what genre excites her…. at the moment biography and autobiagraphy seems to be her “thing”.

    We are past the breastfeeding and toddler years. We finished the elementary years and are close to finishing the middle school years! Time does fly past you! Taking 30 minutes (or more) to yourself at the end, (or start or middle or whatever works for you) of the day is vital to staying sane! Moms tend to focus on our little people and our husbands and we put ourselves last (not a bad thing, just a thing). Taking 30 minutes for “me” time is my way of recharging and being able to meet all the demands for my attention. I love to read a book and take a bath after all the kids are in bed and the house is quiet.

    Just my thoughts…..I will now slip back to the preferred role of quiet reader. God bless you all!

  11. I, too, find that I am a better person if I make time for reading. It is something that just ‘happens’ for me – I will be folding clothes, intentionally in the moment, and then when I put the clothes away – oops – where was I? But I have stopped feeling guilty about it because it is who I am, and I do get the ‘other’ things done sometime, somehow.

    I read when I wait for an appointment – people stare less when it is a book instead of handwork. I read when I wait for the children to come out of school. I read when I am waiting for my husband to come to bed. I read to my children while they do the dishes – they ask! I read in the few minutes I am waiting for everyone else to assemble for supper – it is usually yummy, I think. Years ago I read when the children napped – I was willing to cut my nap short. And breastfeeding was a delight until they were old enough to grab the book.

    I just wanted to comment on your one picture of books. I’ve read them all except ‘With’ – I will have to track it down. I especially liked ‘Everything happens for a Reason’. Have a blessed weekend!

  12. Yes about the Libby app. Also Gutenberg.org where you can find lots of classics for free. I am in the reading=breathing category of people. We are currently living in Africa and while I love that, the worst thing about it used to be that there is no library or bookstore within hundreds of miles. In desperation I read the few books I had over and over again. But now? I can check out books and audiobooks from the library right here in my mud hut village. Shall we say, game changer!!! If you know any missionaries let them know about this. Nothing like visiting Thornfield Hall to divert your mind on a smoking hot day in the tropics 🙂 And my children just adore their audiobook time in the afternoons. Also yes about the breastfeeding. I understand the hate for ebooks but I also learned that a phone or kindle is much easier to hold while nursing… I read Les Miserables while nursing my little boy through his newborn months and the two are now indelibly connected in my mind… When I remember the story I also think about how chubby his baby legs used to be and how cute. I love that.
    My favorite category of books is autobiographical. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen. Cross Creek by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. The peek behind the scenes feeling you get is the best.

  13. I love all this! Thank you! This has been my problem though and would love advice…..I either don’t read, or I get so carried lost in one that I can accomplish nothing else. In other words….(quality of) supper and absence of clean clothes in drawers indicate that mama drowned in a book again. Help???

  14. I spy someone reading The Deepest Well! 😁👍

    I am like you in the way I can’t not read. A page here and there, half an hour before bedtime, while waiting at appointments. I’m not like you in that I don’t have a wide variety in my material. Right now I just stick with informational/inspirational/nonfiction, because I have an addictive relationship with gripping fiction. So I avoid the library like some might avoid the bar. If I take one sip, I’m gone and my house goes to pot and my children are neglected and I wear down my own immune system by pulling all-nighters. Seriously, I have sisters and friends to whom I’m accountable.

  15. I found the unclear work hours of early parenthood made it hard to justify reading. Books keep me whole and sane, but there was a stretch of years in which I read nothing. It took time and discipline to build reading back into my life, but with time, it was so rewarding.

    I felt significant guilt during early parenthood about doing “nothing” but read. It took time to articulate priorities and validate the role of reading for me. I also had to find different reading rhythms to suit my life stage. I learned to grab free minutes throughout the day; part of this was learning what minutes could be free, if I was more efficient, set more realistic goals, and (especially) limited phone and Web use.

    To build momentum, I started with something great + enjoyable and accessible. I learned to keep several books of different genres going, so that I was never completely out of reading material and to cut down on decision fatigue over what to read next. In time, I experienced the snowball effect—reading begetting reading, the effort to absorb words off a page smoothing into pleasure. Now, I’m back to books being my oxygen. 🙂 But wow, I forgot about the work it took to bring the habit back until this thread came up.

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