A dear friend, happily childless by choice, came over a few weeks after the birth of my third baby to bring me some food. Years ago, we worked together and became good friends as we navigated the absurdity of government employment.
She has not a mean bone in her whole body, but when she asked me if I still did freelance writing and editing, and I responded that I did, she said, "It must be so nice to be able to use your brain!"
Now, I know she meant no harm, but it is a commonly accepted notion that mothers of young children don't get to "use" their brains. Now, it's true I'm more distracted, more sleep-deprived, addled at times, and certainly the case could be made that I've lost my mind in some sense of the phrase, but let it be known that I most assuredly use my brain!
When my children get a fever or a rash or any ailment, I begin a triage: what was their exposure? viral or bacterial? how is their demeanor--restless, lethargic, in any other ways worrying? how shall I treat the symptoms? what can I do to minimize exposure to the others in my household?
When my children are distraught psychologically, I research the most effective strategies for lessening anxiety in children, or how to teach mindfulness to the undeveloped neocortex of a 5 year old. Or, I determine, perhaps this just needs a hug and a kiss from mama.
When I homeschool my eldest and he wants to know about the largest prime number ever found, and how to perform prime factorization, I'm learning right along with him (and retaining more math education than I ever did when I was in public school!) When my daughter asks "Where did the first people come from before there were people?" I'm challenged to consider this and explore big questions alongside her. When my baby son cries for me, I think: does he need to nurse, is he tired, or does he simply need to be picked up and held? Is he developing normally and when will he be ready for solids?
What's the right chemical to get out this stain? How do children learn morals and ethics? How does a pressure cooker work, and what are the healthiest ways to cook for 5 people? How can I start a book club for me and my friends? What are the logistics to consider when camping with 3 children?
I could go on and on. You get the point. It's not all intellectual (though some of it is), it's not all academic (though some of it is) and it's not always important (though much of it certainly is), but every day, and much of every day, I am certainly using my brain.
If we are human, cognitively able and unimpaired, and alive, we are all using our brains. Let's stop, parents and non-parents alike, from perpetuating the idea that parenthood (and especially motherhood) is a state in which brain-use ceases or terribly slows. It's not true, and it's not helpful.
I do have a sense of humor though--my thoughts are often interrupted by my three handicapper generals (see Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut) and I do feel distracted beyond measure many moments of the day. But to be a good parent, to be a mother, means to engage my brain in more areas, subjects and times of the day than I ever experienced before parenthood.
And now to tend the fussing baby! (What does he need? A diaper change? Is he hungry? ...... )