Archetypes can help us get unstuck when we feel like we are out of options through giving us perspectives or lenses that we might not otherwise entertain. This removes us from the habitual neural patterns that have us stuck in a loop that doesn't feel good. Patterns in which we have to lose or let go of something that feels important.
Archetypes can also help us choose a path when we feel overwhelmed. By looking to an archetype that has a particular perspective and personality, we have perspectives available to us that we don't have to create. That is, we don't have to know what we want the situation to look like, we can just know that we don't want what's happening. We step into the perspective of an archetype and try it on. What works for us? What is possible? Does this feel better? What can we do with this understanding?
It's important because when we are parenting we are so often sure of what we don't want, and not as sure of what's possible. If we also have to create that whole dream world of what we do want and how to get there... it can just be overwhelming. And limited. Working with archetypes invites us to step back a bit, give more room to the situation, and to slow down. From there we are able to locate the context of what we're doing. We can see more clearly, we have more options, and we have choice about what we can do. We see different facets of what's important to us, where we're stuck, where we're having success (oh... never forget that last bit... notice and appreciate your successes! Don't gloss over them... they are the strengths that you build with!).
Archetypes are particularly helpful where we are in situations that feel hopelessly tangled, messy, and every question is met with more questions. By stepping into the perspective of a particular archetype we get a finite perspective that has particular possibilities and we are able to manage some understanding or insight from it. The perspective of the archetype has an inherent understanding and knowledge there to build on. When we personify the archetype we can relate to their perspective easily and we can often find guidance in the perspective. We are not obligated to act on that guidance, but the simplicity of having an offering of a way to proceed can open the power of the brain to locate other possibilities. This was not available to us when we were feeling stuck or overwhelmed.
I explore this further in a YouTube Video if you'd like more of my thoughts on archetype as parenting help. You can also sign up for my newsletter if you'd like to hear more.
In ecology we characterize how things work through the concepts of structure and function. Structure is the stuff we see when we ask ourselves WHAT or HOW. Structure is the behavior, the context, the goal, and our intent. It is how we approach a situation, what we bring when we come, and how we use our voice and our body to engage.
Function is about the process, it is the flow and relating we hope to do when we come to a situation. It may overlap some with structure around our intent. WHY and WHEN are the questions that help us explore function.
Sometimes these questions lead us back to our childhood pain. So, tread lightly here. The intention of asking these questions is not to retreat old painful pathways. Instead, what we want to do is skim off the surface of the facts. For me, I was alone a lot as a child. This was both because I grew up in the 1970's and 1980's when that was common... and because I suffered some big traumas during those years for which I did not receive help. Therefore, I have deep values for presence, connection, and being helpful (with consent).
To ask HOW and WHAT we are investigating the structures, environment, and context of our parenting choices. When we ask WHY and WHEN we are locating our values, motivations, and assessing our capacity to show up fully for what's in front of us. The remaining questions of WHO and WHERE are relevant questions, that I'll answer when my next book comes out! Teaser: it has to do with where the relationships are (as in, is it a family relationship, community, or with yourself) and who else might be involved (a dependent, peers, or individuals in an hierarchy).
This post is part of a video that I posted (LOM on YouTube) in a series on Landscape of Mothers Foundations. The topic is Structure and Function... and this post and the video are specifically about Structure. What we do and how we do it in our parenting relationship.
When we enter a place in our parenting where we want to do things differently than what we have known, we are entering the unknown. It helps if we take a look at the places that we have done well in the past, or felt good about how we handled a situation, and we can apply what we know about what works to the new situation before us. I find it helpful to look at where things have gone well and ask myself a couple of questions about it.
There are two parts to what we're investigating, the structure and the function. That is, we conjure a time in our minds in which we walked away feeling proud of how we handled some parenting moment... and we want to investigate the structure, or what was in place, what are the facts, and how it played out. We also want to understand that function, or why we did what we did, and what the context was.
This video (LOM on YouTube) talks about the structure part of our inquiry. We're going to use the "Who, what, where, when, why, and how" questions... and the two particularly related to structure are WHAT and HOW.
For me, I find that an approach that contains curiosity and questions is helpful (and so getting myself to that place before I approach my kids is crucial... and I really need to tie a string around my finger so I can remember it). As always, this requires some discernment. It requires that not only do I come with questions, but that I bring the presence of openness with them. Kids can tell when the question falls more along the lines of "what the hell are you thinking?" rather than, "hey, wanting to check in and ask about what happened yesterday. How do you feel?"
When we come to a situation where we're not sure what to do, or we have an urge to do it the way our parents would have (that wouldn't have felt good to us), we can take a pause and ask ourselves what we have done in times where the kids have responded well. If we already have answers because we've thought about it, we can respond better when a situation takes us by surprise.
What does it mean to have regard for someone? For yourself?
The origin of the word regard is Old French and is made up of “re-“ which means back, and “garder” which means “to guard”. Regarder (the Old French verb) means “to watch”. So, regarding is watching or seeing in a way that is protective, that circles back to safety.
The way I think of it, regard is about allowing someone to have their full humanity. That includes the imperfections, the suffering, the disagreement, the joy and their right to choose their perspective. It means that they are not disposable, that it is not OK to shame or punish them, to tell them what their experience is, and it means that banishment or exile is not on the table. Regard does not, however, require me to agree with them.
Holding someone in their humanity means that our fundamental orientation is that they deserve respect and dignity. If I disagree with them I do not have the right to infringe on their humanity. If I feel hurt by them I still do not have the right to infringe on their humanity. Regard is being able to set boundaries or make agreements without denying the humanity of any of the people involved.
Regard is like love, in that it’s both a place we stand to see another person, and the way we behave toward them. Like love, if we don’t act in a way that lets the other person know how we feel, then they may not believe in our regard or love. Regard is both the things we hold to be true about someone from our vantage point, and our behavior that communicates our perspective to the other person. It is the acknowledgement of the person, and it is the circling back to the safety and validation of being held as a human worthy of respect.
We can also have self-regard. This is the perspective that I hold for myself… one of self-compassion and acknowledgement of my own humanity. The associated behavior is treating myself with respect, honoring that I am having a (likely imperfect) human experience, but that I do not deserve to be shamed, abandoned, or punished… not even by myself. Self-regard holds me to treating myself respectfully, and it holds my inner dialogue to a standard of nourishment and protection rather than criticism and berating. The degrading voice in my head is not mine, it cannot coexist with self-regard.
Ultimately, regard is embedded in a culture of shared humanity, care, and connection. It is also the bedrock of such a culture. Regard also feels like a lighthouse, a beacon, for how I want to be in the world. When I don’t know what to do, or how to handle a situation, I can ask myself what regard would look like if it were present… and I can do that.
Sometimes I notice that more than one of the Landscape of Mothers archetypes will address whatever I'm turning over in my mind. This fall, as is common at this season, change seems to be at the forefront of people's minds. If we listen to the land as we move into autumn, we can learn about how to release, how to let go, and how to grieve. Several of the Landscape Mothers hold ways of being with change, because the quality and tone of it can be so varied. This encourages us to inquire into what nuance of change we are experiencing in our internal world as we see the seasonal change happening in nature.
The Sun and Moon Mother is about the kind of change that is a rhythm, a cycle, some way that we repeat and anchor our lives. She holds the cycling of seasonal activity, celebrations, or simple recurring tasks that we perform that help us know where we are in the scheme of things. Those rhythms might be always having a holiday meal at a certain person’s house, or the constancy of what makes up the meal itself. Or it might be giving a loved one a hug before they leave the house for their day. It doesn’t have to be big, but it does repeat again and again… and so it is the constancy of our rhythmic movement in our lives.
The Wind Mother is the one who introduces change as an environment shift. She picks you up and carries you somewhere else. She is the kind of change that instigates a beginning. She is the seed sower, the interrupter, the creative spark. Things change with The Wind Mother around in a way that the environment is different, more than maybe you are changed by it. While you may mature here, there is a continuity between where you were and where you are not.
The Desert Mother is the change of loss. You don’t get picked up and put somewhere else… you are fundamentally altered within. This is the realm of grief of the things that did not happen, or happened overwhelmingly, such that things will not be the same again. You are not the same. It can look the same on the outside, but nothing is the same on the inside. Things die here. It is a broken open kind of landscape.
Potentially every one of the Landscape Mothers has her version of change or resistance to it. But I see that these three Mothers have a particular kind of relationship to change that helps me locate the nuance of what I’m navigating in my life. They describe not only the way I might be seeing or feeling the changes, but help me identify what emotions I might carry about them. Do I feel anchored and supported, excited and maybe afraid, or am I grieving a loss? What might that mean will be most helpful for me in being where I am? What do I need to give myself in order to be true to myself? What might I want to ask for from others?
I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be together in this life… like, have each other’s backs… even-while-we’re-spread-all-over-the-world kind of together.
I’m noticing that I’ve been conditioned to think that if I’m in a room alone that I’m alone in life. But the under-everything-truth… we do not do this life alone.
The concept of “together” is starting to take on some nuance for me. I am reminding myself that even though the people in my life are busy, they do love me, they are crossing their fingers for my success, and they do care what I’m going through. This challenges the idea that I’m truly floating unattached in the world. I am not.
The other place I’m thinking about “together” is where actually being in contact truly IS this important part of being able to hold the sense of not being alone when I’m the only person in the room. That is, I need connections… real ones, physical ones, committed ones. As a social species, our nervous systems are organized around connection with others, we find an internal sense of safety through belonging, it’s just how we are wired. We’re wired to need each other.
“Together”, for people who have attachment wounds, is sometimes truly problematic. It’s fraught with lessons we received about not being allowed to have opinions, needs, being too much, etc. And so “together” can be a land mine. And sorting through the landscape of all of it might seem downright dangerous. Honestly, there’s no requirement that you do this kind of work. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You are allowed to protect yourself in whatever way you feel is right for you.
And, if there’s something in you that feels like connecting, repairing a sense of belonging, and/or taking care of the one in you who feels desperate to be accepted or loved, might I suggest flying with a flock of songbirds?
Songbirds gather in groups in which they somehow manage to balance cohesion with crowding, following with leading, and safety with access to resources. They exhibit a grace of these qualities of togetherness + space.
What does that look like for humans? I think, often, we assume that it’s people we need, and while that might be true, for a lot of us with past trauma, people feel dangerous. I didn’t have what I needed to navigate safe connection with humans.
Instead, nature… the earth, trees, the ocean… they held me. I connected to nature first. I saw in nature so much of what I was trying to figure out. But it was opinion free. It was simply a reflection of one way nature has solved the problem.
So, if something is weighing on your heart, and you want some feedback, but people feel like tricky business… ask a tree, or a river, or the spider building a web attached to your trash can (seriously… some of my best advice has come from spiders).
Be willing to sit and see what’s there. Join the songbirds and notice what you notice about how they communicate together, how they forage together, how they move together.
Sometimes nature conveys her brilliance in a huge understanding, sometimes in a tiny thing we ponder for a long time, sometimes in such a subtle way that you never realize that you received it.
Today I’m imagining my flock of songbirds… the ones who carry and hold and love me… often from afar… and those I carry and hold and send love to when they need strength and I have it to give.
If it feels good to a part of you who needs soothing… know that I care… truly. I am way out on the edges of your flock of songbirds, singing up your name to energize whatever it is you’re asking for today.
We don't know what we don't know. And the things we learn early in our lives, we often don't question because we get taught so much... and so much of it unspoken... about how relationships and love and connection and meeting needs works. We just absorb these lessons and sometimes we don't realize things could be different. Especially if we spent a lot of time alone as kids.
And not only that, we swim in the waters of our cultural assumptions and traditions every day, and many of those reinforce the lessons we learn from our families. Which is why it is important to create spaciousness in ourselves... to back up from the things we think we know... so that here, as adults, we can fact check them with our own senses. Do we believe what we were taught? Do our cells resonate with a gnosis (an inner knowing) that feels like "what we know to be true" really matches our inner felt sense of it?
The Sun and Moon Mother is the archetype in the Landscape of Mothers who embodies this spaciousness. She is the Mother whose gift is Wholeness. She knows it takes a little room to figure out what belongs to us. She can help us find it.
By spaciousness, I mean, creating more room in both time and space. This invites us to slow down, take a breath, and step back mentally from what is squeezing the situation (what is keeping us feeling righteous and right).
Lots of mindfulness focuses on this space... taking a breath or counting to 10. If we use this technique in conjunction with intending to settle into our own values, we make room to see something differently and know ourselves relative to it.
We make room to truly listen, observe, and understand the roots of the issue. And, it so happens, in that space we can also find our truth. I think back to a situation with a friend where we got stuck in a discussion that was hard for us both. In retrospect, I think it would have been helpful if I'd had the spaciousness to step back and formulate in words that my struggle was rooted in some of my basic safety needs. I suspect that hers was too. We never did recover from neither of us having the spaciousness to step back and assess what we were needing.
My "stepping back" practice is Metta. To the best of my knowledge it is a traditional Buddhist prayer that I believe has been modified through the lineage I received it from. Saying the words is only part of its healing properties for me.
The other part of it, the part that knocks around in my bones and creates spaciousness, is that, for me, it is about softening toward myself, wishing myself well, amidst the chaos and mistakes, and nourishing my inner child who fears judgment. The prayer goes on to acknowledge the humanity of everyone around me... and wishing those people well too. It refocuses me on my values of compassion, kindness, and respect.
This is the healing... coming back to myself to meet the difficulties out in the world. Then I can have my own back in any situation. I can know my needs, I can rise to meet any struggle from my own solid ground. And this is what restores trust between me and my inner child. She sees that she can trust me to hold her carefully, to defend her where she needs it, and to always have her wellbeing at the center.
A couple of weeks ago I decided that I wanted to move onto a big piece of property so that no one could cut down trees without my knowing and approval. I was adamant that this control over my environment was critical. Truthfully, it just makes things feel safer, doesn't it? To think we have control? To be able to predict the possible changes so that you can get used to the idea? To not have things happen that you don't choose?
When we double down on control of the situation, I think that's when we tend to really lose control. Life is made of the shifting and changing of everything. In general I don't like quoting dead white men, but I think it was Heraclitus that said "the only constant is change" (or something like it).
When the world is swirling and feels ungrounded and the emotions are up it seems that the result is usually falling into some sort of distraction... social media, game apps, bingeing on TV. The more tired I am, the more likely I am to use this technique.
And I also know that when I choose myself instead, and turn to the practices that nourish and protect my inner self, that's what really helps me weather the storms. That's what really takes care of me. Those practices make a little more space between me and whatever is going on. I can usually find a breath there... one that soothes my bones and unravels my nerves. A breath that reminds me that I am not what is happening... I am still myself.
From there I can see the ground, I can breathe deeper, and I can tend to my nervous system with my practice. For me it's a way to settle, to remember, to take myself out the fray long enough to reorient back toward my needs (often that's soothing, kindness, and well wishes) and my values (often it's autonomy, gentleness, and respect).
Our practices do not need to look the same to be effective, they just need to tend to the core of things. They need to soothe the deepest of your insides into the "thank goodness" slump (can you just see someone who realizes that help has arrived, or that the situation is about over... and they almost collapse with the feeling of relief?). Like that. When you feel that inside... that's your practice. That's the thing that's new, that takes you out of the chaos, and deposits you back into yourself.
When I first started walking here 10 years ago I was trying to find out who I was. I had left behind my dreams of becoming a professor of biology and decided to be a full time mom. I was scared of the change in my life, and I let the forest hold that for me. It meant I was often afraid here walking by myself.
But, I knew I was safe at the heart of it all. I brought the fears, and I walked with them. And I walked with me. And I realize today that so much has shifted. I'm not at all afraid, I'm so comforted by the trees, the wind, and even the people. I realize, it's because I am at home here. I am wild and domestic, I am light and dark, I am messy and true as a redwood tree. I am at home. I belong.
Welcome to the blog of The Landscape of Mothers and The Mother Journey. These are interconnected ideas about how we can embrace ourselves as human mothers, complete with the messy, the beautiful, the frustrating, the overwhelming, the fierce, and the ugly of motherhood… in short, embracing ourselves as whole beings while we engage in the role of Mom.
So many moms I know have struggled to maintain their sense of identity when small children come along. The job is easily overwhelming, as there is no manual, each kid is different, and “full time” doesn’t even cover the hours. On top of the tasks, there is the attachment, adoration, worry, and constant research to just stay on top of each day.
When I started my mothering journey I thought there were two types of mothers, Good Mothers and Bad Mothers. Most of the time I had baby barf on my shirt, my house was a wreck, and my nerves were thrashed from lack of sleep. After my second baby I had post-partum depression. I clearly didn’t look like a Good Mother. I saw those everywhere… makeup, clean houses, clean clothes… I was a mess. I was sure I was a Bad Mother. In the midst of the difficulty of having two kids under 2 years old, and certain that I was terrible at what I was doing, I had to save my own life.
In retrospect, I wish I’d had a broader range of assessing motherhood. Our culture seems to perpetuate this dichotomous view… but my experience is that it’s not enough. It doesn’t make room for women to be whole beings within mothering. And when we feel like whole, real, messy people surrounded by other whole, real, messy people, then we can find belonging and comfort… which is so rare these days.
So, the Landscape of Mothers and the Mother Journey concepts were developed to help create more space in the dialogue of mothering. It’s meant to be a place where women can figure out where they are in the possibility in the Landscape of Mothers. Where are you now? What are your strengths? Where do you want to go?
And the Mother Journey, is an acknowledgement that we’re always working with different aspects within our parenting. In the (cyclical) Journey we find that we are often moving between mothering as a Personal Practice, a Spiritual Practice, a Political Practice, or a Lineage Healing Practice.
If you like these ideas, if they inspire you to consider your own journey in a different way, if they feel like home even if you aren’t sure what your brain thinks, please consider signing up for my Mother Notes newsletter. There you will hear about blog posts, as well as receive more in-depth information about the Landscape of Mothers and The Mother Journey. I’ll also share more personal stories there.
Thank you for stopping by… I appreciate your interest in creating more spaciousness within motherhood.
Author: Jill clifton
Hi, I'm Jill. My intention with this space is to share how exploring the archetypes of motherhood can make room for us to be whole people within our roles of nurturing our children.