After my husband graduated from university, we were basically broke. Throughout his fifth year of school, I was the one working. I had one year of undergraduate studies completed, but when we decided to get married, we were realistic enough to know that someone had to be earning money.
Once he was finished school, there wasn't money for me to go back to school right away. It was my intention to return, but after a year or so, we started having thoughts about children, and we began planning a family. When others discovered I was not returning to school, I was told that I would regret it. I was told I needed to have a career to "fall back on" should the need arise. I was told I would be bored silly with the monotony of domestic duties. I was told my life of the mind would languish. Well, none of those things were true; ever. I have never found being at home boring. Of course, there are things that are mundane about domestic life, but there are mundane things in every line of work. I found it ironic that even Christian friends who valued children and family thought I would enjoy my family so much more if I finished school and had a career for a while.
I loved reading and studying and I wanted to keep it up even after my daughter was born. What I didn't want was to live an existence where I was pulled between the demands of school and the demands of my home and children. Fortunately, The University of Waterloo, my alma mater, has a world class distance education program, and that is how I got my degree. Yes, it took sixteen years from start to finish, (having babies meant opting out a semester here and there) but the reason I was in it was not for record-breaking completion. It was for the value of learning. I am self-motivated, and it fit with my temperament. I was the mother by day, focusing my energies on my children and home, and when they were gone to bed, after some time spent with my husband, I studied. It was the beginning of a habit of life long learning. Once I graduated, we were in the thick of homeschooling, and I discovered that there are more avenues for a mother to feed her mind other than just formal educational institutions.
Young mothers who have a hunger for learning do not have to suffer from a lack of intellectual food. They also don't have to sacrifice time with their children to learn. There are many resources available to make it possible. For a woman who wants to be at home full time but wants to continue to feed her mind, I have a few suggestions that don't involve enrolling in classes if you don't want to or can't. I can honestly say that I have learned as much since graduating than I did while studying simply by reading and studying on my own.
First, make Scripture your priority. There is no point in filling our heads with a lot of other knowledge apart from a Christian context. If you only have time for one book, make it the Bible. Partake of commentaries to help with your study. I recommend the book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart. It has really taught me to read the bible better.
Second, read books about reading. I read Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book, and if I had one word to describe it, "dry" would be the choice. It does have a lot of valuable information, but be prepared. I liked Susan Wise Bauer's The Well Educated Mind better. More recently, Tony Reinke's book Lit! has got great reviews. It's on my Kindle, but I haven't read it all yet.
Third, read widely. Most of us tend to prefer one kind of literature over another, but that doesn't mean we can't balance it. There's nothing wrong with indulging in your favourite fiction, but I've found that my enjoyment of fiction has increased with a better understanding of history. My husband likes reading about science and math, and some day, I may even have a look at his History of Mathematics book, although it's not calling very loudly to me yet.
Fourth, get ideas from the footnotes of your books. I love it when an author has a "For Further Reading" section, or a bibliography. That's where I've got the best ideas. Don't read books just because others say you have to. It's good to get recommendations, but don't think that if you don't read the latest "must read" that you'll suffer somehow. The phrase "A must read" ought to be put in a box and left on a shelf, in my opinion. Certainly publishers must know someone who could come up with more original descriptions.
Fifth, take advantage of online resources. Worldwide Classroom, Ligonier Connect, and iTunes U all have lots of things to choose from. If you're looking for resources that aren't strictly theological, iTunesU has a lot of choices. I have benefitted a lot from all three of those resources. Worldwide Classroom gives lists of books that go along with the classes, so you can do more than listen to the lectures.
Lastly, check your motives. Duty becomes drudgery quickly. Don't read hard books and burden yourself with it because you feel like as a stay at home mother you need to prove to someone that you're not languishing intellectually. Do it for the intrinsic value of learning. Do it because you love it! I have been sucked into thinking I had to "prove" something simply because I haven't had a career. I'm getting over that, and finding much more joy in it.
Young mothers, if you are of a nerdy, bookish bent, and feel that motherhood is going to rob you of that, think again. No, you don't have to go to a school to feed that fancy. You may do so, but if that isn't a possibility for you, don't worry. There are resources for you.