How reading is saving this young mom’s life (or at least her sanity)

coffee and books

Please join me in welcoming Becca of Making Room to the blog!

It is a truth universally acknowledged by every parent of young children:

Life with little kids is hard.

So parents need a creative or intellectual outlet – an activity to do after the kids are in bed, to talk about on the playground, and to share with the world as their Passion In Addition to Parenting.

What is your outlet? Some moms I know make beautiful things with their hands, like my friend Tara: she works as a nurse and makes gorgeous jewelry in her spare time. Some moms love to run, like my friend Tracy: she tracks her progress in minutes, miles, and amazing races. Still others write beautiful essays, create amazing recipes, and develop a photography business at home.

And me? Besides dreaming about doing all those other things, I love to read.

As my children have become more numerous and more talkative, I’ve clung to reading more than ever. According to Goodreads, the year my first child was born, I read about 30 books. The next year I read 54. This year I’m hoping for at least 65. Maybe even 70!

Why reading? Well, reading is sort of lazy, meaning it is deliciously relaxing. It requires sitting down, ceasing all conversation, and being told a story. For an introvert like me, this is not only peaceful – it is also restorative and absolutely necessary for survival.

Reading is also something that cannot be undone. The floors don’t stay clean. The dishes don’t stay washed. The children don’t stay full.

But the books stay read.

Once you have read a page, a chapter, another book, it’s yours forever. When you finish a book, close the cover, and slip it onto your shelf, you can look at it in your messy, crazy home and think, “I read that, and it was good. That is one thing in this house that won’t change.”

And lastly, reading is also very quantifiable. You read a book, and you have read one book. You read 10 books, and you’ve read 10 books. Ten books! That takes work. You can set a goal, and you can achieve it, all while sitting in bed, turning pages, and being mentally fed and sustained. That’s no small thing for a parent.

But there were stages in my life when nothing on my bedside table interested me, and when I couldn’t imagine sustaining interest in a book. Slowly, that has changed, and I think there is one main reason: I have discovered my genre.

It’s hard to read anything when you don’t know what you’ll enjoy. But when you discover a category of book that really starts you turning pages, you can jump from one good read to another without wavering in between.

Thanks to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s summer reading list, I finally discovered this year that my favorite genre is women’s fiction. When I tell people this, no one has any idea what I mean, so I’ve come up with this very simple definition: it’s like chick lit or romance, but deeper.

It’s girl meets boy, but the girl is a lot more messed up and the boy is a lot less of a hero and there will be serious issues thrown in there too, like mental illness or euthanasia or abuse. It might be historical fiction (Pride and Prejudice falls in this category) or it might be brand spanking new (like Big Little Lies). Once I plugged into this genre and discovered new-to-me authors like Jojo Moyes and Kate Morton, I was on a roll.

I also finally admitted I love memoirs, usually by women, usually modern. Food writing (like A Homemade Life or Bread and Wine) or personal growth (like Carry On, Warrior or The Happiness Project) are favorite memoir topics for me.

Oh, and one last genre. You’ll probably laugh, but here it is. I love pretty much anything about France. From Julia Child’s memoir to Parisian life advice to parenting guides, it doesn’t matter.

How Reading Can Save

And since reading – at least for me as a mom – is all about having fun and learning, I just go with it.

Here are a few tips that I use to keep wonderful books piling up – and flying off – my bedside table:

  • Start with something that looks fun, and don’t let other people’s opinions stop you.
  • Figure out the format that works best for you: tablet or audio or real paper.
  • Learn your library (especially the hold system) so that you always have a stream of free and interesting books trickling your way.
  • And bring the book with you everywhere. Modern Mrs. Darcy taught me this one! You never know when you’ll have some downtime.

As you change diapers, make lunches, bandage boo-boos, and read books, I’ll be right there with you. Happy reading!

Becca is a military wife and mother of two who recently moved from Sicily, Italy, to San Diego, California. She writes about simplicity parenting, everyday hospitality, and growing up overseas on her blog, Making Room.

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  1. Ashley says:

    I love this! I can identify so much. I’m a lifelong reader, the year before our first child was born I read over 60 books. Last year, my first as a mom, I was thrilled to read 31! It really was absolutely necessary; I felt like me when I read. Seeing my list of titles read stack up last year was a small way of knowing pre-baby me was still alive and well. And for this introvert reading has always been comforting, restorative, a must! This post helps me kick aside the lingering guilt that it’s also totally lazy, and instead is work, a measurable goal. Lovely. I’m off to read while I nurse 🙂 (also from a fellow military wife, thank you Becca and your husband for your service!)

  2. Kendra says:

    “Reading is something that cannot be undone.” Amen sister. And I love France as a genre. I find myself drawn to places in books too. Really enjoyed this article.

  3. Becca – I think you and I might be kindred spirits. The year I became a mother is the year reading really took off for me as well. In large part this was, as you said, because it gave me a sense of accomplishment–a thing I could look at and behold and say, “There are still dishes in the sink, but I read 60 books this year!” Another reason I really fell (back) in love with reading is that it made it possible for me to continue to learn and think about things in a new way. I try to read a variety of books, and while it’s true that some of them are perhaps not my genre of choice, I love the brain stretch it gives me to read a biography or classic.

    Thanks for the great post, and I’m looking forward to reading more from you on your blog!

  4. Betsy says:

    Great post, Becca! Also in the France genre….if you haven’t read “On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town” by Susan Loomis, I highly recommend. It is delightful!

    • I have heard of that one but haven’t read it yet. Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll almost certainly be reading it in the next few months… I’m plowing through my library’s stock of French novels!

  5. Beth Anne says:

    I love this, Becca! I’ve recently gotten back to my first love of books – and, it’s even better than the affair we had with each other the first time around.

    P.S. Nice to meet you! I’m a milspouse too, and San Diego could be our next location this summer 🙂

  6. Jeannie says:

    “The floors don’t stay clean. The dishes don’t stay washed. The children don’t stay full.
    But the books stay read.” I can relate to this 100%! Loved your post today.

  7. jeri says:

    I am finishing up my Postpartum Doula Certificate and this article has solidified the idea that I am going to remind new mom’s to have some books lined up to read during their recuperation time.

  8. Katia says:

    What a great post! I have never thought of reading as an accomplishment, but it is an accomplishment, indeed! Reading, writing, crafting, yoga and meditation are what keeps this mama sane. However, I have recently gone back to working full-time, so I don’t have as much time anymore for everything. I’m learning to be okay with whatever situations life presents to me, to live more mindfully, and to compartmentalize my time accordingly. If I can get two hours in my week to settle in with a book, it’s a bonus.

  9. Katia says:

    Oh, and I must add that your favourite genres are also mine. I love reading good memoirs, and if they have something to do with France, I quickly become obsessed. 😉

  10. Meg says:

    I totally get this Becca! Books are something we can accomplish and feel good about! Plus, I love setting an example to my little ones, and showing them how much fun it is to read a good book. My husband and I are planning a trip to France this summer, so I’m obsessed with anything and everything France. I, also, read travel books for fun and adore Julia Childs:) And I just realized you’re a military wife, we have that in common too, ha!

  11. Patty says:

    Great post, Becca! Thanks for sharing. Anne’s reading lists have also helped me find my groove, book-wise. Finding books that keep you interested is so important.

  12. Sarah Vaughan says:

    I’m not a mom (God bless you wonder women who are!), but I can totally relate to needing some quality me time after a stressful day at work. I can’t wait to read some of your suggestions! Kate Morton is also a favorite of mine. Can’t get enough English countryside castles and nice, juicy drama. I have a problem. I know.

  13. Dana says:

    Great post, Becca. I headed right over to your blog and read all about you and several more of your posts. I am not a mom, the Lord in his wisdom did not bless me with children of my own, but I had hundreds in the 35 years I taught school.

    I think that reading helped me keep my sanity through just life in general. When I had tough times at work or life , sinking into a great book helped so much.

  14. Sarah R says:

    I also identify with this so much. I’ve always loved reading, ever since I was a little girl. In fact, my parents had to encourage me to put down the book and go outside! Now it is my happy place.
    “Reading is also something that cannot be undone. The floors don’t stay clean. The dishes don’t stay washed. The children don’t stay full. But the books stay read.” I never thought of it this way, but you are so right!

    I just followed your blog! Thanks for posting here so I could “find” you!

  15. Eden says:

    I’m going to have to look into this women’s fiction genre! Just put a bunch of books on hold for future delivery to my library, but was struggling to find ones I thought looked good based on Amazon’s bestseller lists. Thanks for these other resources!

    • You’re so welcome. It’s totally revitalized my reading and given me a lot of inspiration for writing a novel one day… maybe because this genre seems so much more accessible to me at this age and stage!

  16. Janet says:

    Good thoughts here, nice writing. My only quibble is that P&P is not really historical fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I loves some Jane Austen, but she was writing about fictional people during her actual lifetime, not basing her story on real people in history. Philippa Gregory is an example of that, and she is fun read if you want to get into all the English history. 🙂

  17. Becca says:

    Oh yes! My husband recently left for a job overseas and I have book left in the bathroom that I sneak away and read a page of whenever I am about to lose my mind. (An introvert with the most extroverted talkative daughter is an a wonderful but exhaustive combination.)

  18. Lucy says:

    This makes me reflect on what my favorite genres are. I love biography. I’ve always respected stories that were inspiring…and true. Thank you for making me think about this. In a way, I think it’s hard for me to think of one occupation that is a passion. I feel like more of a dabbler. I like creating a pretty and restful home, keeping a watchful eye on the garden to enjoy it’s beauty and care for the plants, watching flowers bloom, watching hummingbirds birds come to the feeder, having guests come and stay at our house for awhile…and more. Life is so full of interesting occupations.

  19. Amanda says:

    The first thing I packed in my bag for the hospital to give birth to my son? a big new book. Part of my prep for the postpartum all-day-nursing time? getting a stack of books that can be read in small increments for beside the bed/couch.

    I completely agree, reading is essential to a new mom’s survival! Or an older mom’s for that matter, lol! I’m pregnant with #5 and it’s so nice to have a good book (or 3) to read when I’m too nauseous to get out of bed and do much else. I remember my pregnancies by which novels I was reading at the time. My whole life can be divided up into eras by what I was reading during the particular time in my life. Because what I read changes with life stages. Pregnancy brings out the need for familiar books and young adult fiction. Nursing brings out the desire for nonfiction and memoirs I can read one chapter at a time and then mull over during the tedious baby tasks like changing diapers and giving baths. Once baby is weaned and the hormone-induced vivid dreams are gone I can delve into the epic historical fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy that I normally like. And when my brain returns sometime after nursing I also typically grab a classic or two to read. I was a literature major but still have so many classics to catch up on!

  20. Melissa says:

    I love this post (and all Mrs Darcy posts!). I wholly agree. Reading is my lure to rest, my reason to grab a few moments to myself and switch off, there is nothing more fantastic than a book in the bath! I love your notion that you can’t take away the reading, it is done!

  21. Nancy says:

    Becca, you are so right! I finally realized last year that I needed to prioritize reading because it’s the one thing that makes me feel human again, besides a hot shower. A lot of my friends think it’s pretty incredible that I manage to read at least a book a month but I tell them: when something is important to you, you make time for it, just like anything else!

  22. Becca, I love this post. Reading is an accomplishment, for sure! (especially when you have young kids clamoring for your attention — heck, even showering is an accomplishment under those circumstances). And I too love knowing that all the books I’ve read have changed me in some small way, and made me more rich in understanding. That’s a quality that can only help us in our work as moms.

    And yay to Kate Morton and stuff about France! I’m right with you there.

  23. Love this, found reading as my outlet to sanity when I graduated from veterinary school. Thanks for finding the words for what I loved so much “books stay read”, “books are quantifiable”. The other thing I love about books is that they are recommendable. Many people don’t have time to read as much, so when you can heartily recommend a good book that will be worth their time, they really appreciate it! Great blog!

  24. Meg says:

    Before I had the twins, a wise friend told me to focus on something I loved to do and that I could do every day for at least a few minutes. That was reading. The most sustained reading I did the first year of the twin’s life was about 10 minutes — but a very important and refreshing 10 minutes. I think it was that year that I read Gold Cord by Amy Carmichael, one of my all time favorites now. My genre generally in fiction is “realistic fiction,” which includes lots and lots of stories, as well as nonfiction memoirs like Amy’s.

  25. Kelty says:

    What a great article. So true. Some books I’ve read stick with me as they coincide with certain memorable periods of motherhood. I will always remember “The Help” as the book that kept me company in the hospital and the first few late night nursing sessions with my #1.

    There have also been a few books good enough that allowing the toddlers to ransack the house was a reasonable price to pay for the undisturbed moments required to finish them. (Ahem, Attachments!)

  26. Laurel says:

    We could be reading twins, Becca…EXACT same genres I love. 🙂 I’ve got two girls two-and-under and it truly does keep my sanity to make time throughout my day for reading a page or two. Thanks for this wonderful post!

  27. I live that you said “creative OR intellectual”. I want to paint and cook and DIY, but I naturally read, watch TED talks and study French. My outlets show less, but they are relaxing and fulfilling.

  28. Elisa says:

    Yes, yes, yes, yes 🙂
    I can absolutely relate to this! I no longer have to change diapers, but I still have to do school drop off and pick-up, errands, cleaning, laundry, homework.., some days I feel like I spend all day running around and waiting for people, and books make that a blessing rather than a curse, because any time waiting is quickly turned into time spent reading! Thank goodness for the Kindle, which allows me to never ever ruin my books’ covers, start a book immediately after finishing the previous one, look up words in a second, and have lots of books with me at all times without making my full handbag even heavier 😉

  29. Joanna says:

    I love this article’s opening line! It is, of course, paraphrasing one of the most recognizable opening lines in English literature. Rivaled only by that in Anna Karennina perhaps. All of your thoughts are so well articulated. One of the things I’ve struggled with since having my daughter two years ago is how difficult it is to get out of the house and out of our little world. Books have saved me in that regard- they’ve allowed me to travel, and hear other stories, and just generally feel less alone- all without leaving my couch. My brother recently had his heart broken and I immediately recommended Graham Greene’s “End of the Affair.” I realized then how much I have relied on books throughout all of the stages of my lie- I can recommend books for joy, sorrow, heartache and more.

  30. Erika says:

    Thanks for this! While working helps feed my brain, I too need reading to stay sane among caring for my littles. The point about books staying read is an element I’d not thought of before, but it’s so true. While I love to cook, there is less sense of accomplishment in it since there’s always more food needed for the next meal. Sigh. This post is wonderful encouragement to read more and parent well. Thank you!

  31. Hannah Beth Reid says:

    Yes, yes, and yes again! I was given a book for Christmas when my first baby was a few weeks old and it was left sitting around and before I knew it I had finished it while nursing and rocking the baby. I have probably read more during my 5 years as a mom than in the 5 years before that when I was out of high school and working. I used to think that something so solitary wasn’t a legitimate hobby or entertainment, but I have come to see it as the best relaxation for my busy mommy days!
    Thank you so much for sharing the encouragement!

  32. Lauren says:

    I recently recommitted myself to reading regularly. I’ve come to accept that my mood is just way better if I’ve spent a little time reading and a little time writing everyday. It sounds like I’m cheating on my kids or husband to spend time doing those things, but I don’t care what it sounds like anymore. Especially not after reading that some moms are reading 50+ books a year. Looks like I better set some goals.

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