I changed the mindset as to the role of reading in my family’s life.
by Nicki Johnston
I first read Till We Have Faces five years ago for Well-Read Mom’s Year of the Friend. I didn’t have a group yet and I attempted to read the book on my own… It didn’t go well. I didn’t “get” the book or why many considered it to be Lewis’s greatest work, and I certainly didn’t like it.
This summer, five years later, I picked it up again. I was able to enter into the story rather than hold it at arm’s length and, in the protagonist Orual, I saw myself. In short, I loved it. The book, of course, hadn’t changed – but I had.
At the time of that first reading, I was four years into my journey of motherhood. I had a nursing baby, a two-year-old, and a four-year-old. I enjoyed reading but “I read Slop with a capital S!” (quoting my now favorite author Flannery O’Connor). Reading was set apart from my family, and I would sneak it into the few quiet moments I could spare for myself. Usually, I was too exhausted to read more than a few pages without falling asleep.
Then, over the subsequent five years, my reading life slowly shifted. I began to read worthwhile books and to discuss them with other women. I read the fictional and spiritual classics selected by Well-Read Mom along with nonfiction works that challenged me to think more about leisure, education, and the purpose of reading. I started journaling about my reading and keeping track of my favorite quotes. But, most importantly, I changed my mindset as to the role of reading in my family’s life.
At some point, reading became something I did with my family rather than as an escape from them. Instead of trying to sneak in “me time” to read a book, I made reading integral to our home. I had read picture books to the boys when they were little but, as they grew older, I began to read excellent children’s literature to them as well. I read aloud Little Women in 2019 (Well-Read Mom’s Year of the Artist) and plan to do the same this year with Anne of Green Gables.
I’ve structured our afternoons to include quiet reading time: we all stop what we’re doing and come together in the same room to read﹘or, for the littles, look at﹘books in companionable silence. In this way I both model for my sons the importance of reading and allow myself space for a life-giving pursuit.
In the evenings, my husband started to read aloud to our family and now, when the boys go to bed, I read aloud to him as he washes dishes. In this way, we’ve worked our way through St. Augustine and C. S. Lewis, an epic poem as well as an epic western, and quite a bit of science fiction (my husband’s favorite genre). At the dinner table, one of our favorite topics of conversation is “What was the most interesting thing you read today?” and individual, leisurely reading has become an integral part of our Sabbath-keeping.
Perhaps most significantly, we began homeschooling. Initially I was reluctant to give up my personal reading time to pre-read books for my children. I soon realized, however, that the books we were choosing to read in our homeschool are the very best stories of all time. I was not exposed to these stories growing up, and they are not beneath me as an adult. By reading poetry, fables, fairy tales, legends, and myths with my young sons, I continually reorient myself toward truth, goodness, and beauty.
My life circumstances haven’t changed much. I’m not currently nursing a baby (my fourth son just turned two), but I’m still exhausted after long days with little boys and rarely read more than a couple pages at night before drifting off to sleep. Regardless, it’s the reading I do with my family that has made me the reader that I am today. I finally did join a Well-Read Mom group last year. With so much more to learn, I’m grateful it’s full of women much smarter than I am. But I’m also grateful for the reading that takes place within the walls of my home, surrounded by the young children with whom I learn and wonder. It is this reading that began to change my mind and open my heart to receive and be affected by stories such as Till We Have Faces. I look forward with an open heart to all the beautiful books we’re reading together during this Year of the Family.
Want help choosing great literature for your children?
As part of a Well-Read Mom membership, women receive the Well-Read Mom Family Supplement. The Family Supplement suggests novels and picture books that are meant to be read alongside the Well-Read Mom reading selections each month.