When my daughters were 2 1/2 years old and 8 months old we moved into a new house that had birch trees growing just outside my bedroom window. Over the years, when the trees would broadcast their minuscule seeds over the yard, a seed would land in the garden bed outside the front door and it would begin to grow. This only happened three times in the 12 years I’ve lived here. So I saw the sprouts as magical and I potted them to be replanted in the yard where they could grow tall.
I heard somewhere that, in magical traditions, birch trees were thought to confer protection to children. This made me feel that no matter how many times I felt like a failure of a mother, the birch had my back. The unchanging presence of the birch mirrored back to me the persistence required in parenting... the inevitability of bumping into my own wounds and fears... that I could still keep going in the face of struggle.
The hardest part of parenting for me has been the ways in which I’ve grown up with my children. As they’ve grown, I’ve bumped into the wounds I experienced at those ages. That’s the difficulty... reparenting myself by showing up differently than I was treated when the wound is so active. Oof.
Motherhood (probably parenthood in general) invites us into broaden ourselves to encompass more inner ground, to have more access to ourselves. This is a practice, an opportunity to devote ourselves to this stretching and reaching and gnosis. This invitation to fully explore the inner landscape of who we are and who we can be.
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.
The Ocean Mother is the one who holds all of the things that we ignore, don’t tend to, or left behind because we didn’t know what to do with them. It’s a lot like throwing things we hope to never see again into the depths of the sea. But, the psyche, and the ocean, don’t work that way.
We get the opportunity to address these things again, the wounds, secrets, and shames of the past. This can make the Ocean Mother feel daunting and enormous. It’s why it can feel like she could swallow you up. But it’s important to remember that we have control of our process (most of the time) and we can simply go to the shore and let the Ocean Mother lick our toes. Small steps… little bits at a time.
The Ocean Mother asks us to learn to make enough room in ourselves to hold all of the complexities and paradoxes of being a real human. In many ways The Ocean Mother is the antidote to the dichotomy of Good Mother / Bad Mother.
How to begin to hold more “this thing” and “that thing” in our lives… even though those two things feel at odds? Step one: acceptance of things as they are. Not in a doormat kind of way, or a collapsed and throw-your-hands in the air way… but as a willingness to be in the tough place of feeling torn between two things. The desired outcome is to let both things be true, even if both of them being true simultaneously defies logic!
The more I’ve let myself stand in this place, two things have happened. One, is that I’ve become much more tolerant of myself and others. And the second, even though I was originally fearful of stepping out of the logical place, as if I was giving up all ability to steer the ship, I actually found a lot of clarity and sense of knowing my own truth when I was willing to stand in the “in-between”.
So, what if, instead of falling into “this side” versus “that side” in daily life, we were able to tap into the rhythm of the Ocean Mother and allow ourselves to just flow back and forth between them until we found what we needed? What if the "answer" more like a bridge than a place?
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.
The Ocean Mother is an archetypal landscape mother. In general, landscape mothers help us locate ourselves on the diverse landscape of what it is to be a mother. The Ocean Mother, in particular, can be of assistance when we are wondering how we can be with the unknown, unknowable, mystical aspects of parenting. She can help us explore our own depths and find our own hidden potential through the things we are already grappling with in our role of mother.
The Ocean Mother naturally carries the expansive possibility of life, it is where life originated. She contains all of the potential... and so she can inform our process of looking forward and thinking about what kind of parenting legacy we want to leave.
What kind of characteristics do we want our adult children to have? How do you want them to relate to others? What kinds of things do you want them to value? How do you want them to think about themselves as humans... partners... citizens?
And, in light of all of that, what does it mean you need to teach, provide examples of, hold as valuable in your life? This is the real spiritual teaching of being a parent... that it's not what we say, it's what we do. They know when we're saying one thing but acting differently... and it compromises trust.
So, the spiritual practice that is nurtured by The Ocean Mother is the depth... the ability to shift directions toward increasing alignment with what we really believe in and hold dear. So, if we tell our children we value open time to be creative, are we giving that to ourselves? Or are we running around trying to do all of the things and just saying that we want THEM to spend creative time?
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.