The Archetypal Mother

archetypal motherIf you watch the t.v. or flick through a magazine you’ll see our culture’s idea of what the archetypal mother looks like. Fairly attractive, slim, cheerful, caring, compassionate, and always smiling. It’s as if all these different, interesting, unique people melt down to become one homogenised mass once they give birth.

Like ‘motorists’ who wear tweed and spend all their time driving through beautiful landscapes. And ‘homeowners’ who are all respectable couples who read the Daily Mail and have one daughter and one son.

In the media the archetypal mother is either the nurturing caring ideal or one of those neglectful, selfish mums who breed thoughtlessly and probably take drugs. If you’re not one of these stereotypes then you must be the other.

Well this seems to be a well-kept secret so don’t tell anyone, but the archetypal mother contains both extremes (except maybe for the drugs…) The archetypal mother is loving, protective, nurturing and holds the child close, but the other side of the archetype (the ‘shadow side’) is selfish and rejecting, and she pushes away.

Jung would say if we don’t integrate our shadow side it is likely to leap up and take us by surprise, leading us to behave a lot worse than if we allowed it to have its say sometimes. If we observe other mammals, they kick and bite their offspring to send the message that they are not welcome right now, or need to work it out for themselves.

We’re way more civilised than that, and our offspring need a much longer nurturing period, but they also benefit from doses of the other stuff along the way, otherwise how are they ever going to find out what they are capable of when left to their own resources? Our way of helping them stand on their own two feet takes the form of not jumping in to solve their every problem, trusting in their intelligence and motivation to do the right thing, and giving them space to take responsibility themselves. But we also ‘bite and kick’ sometimes, when we’re impatient or we’ve had enough: ‘Go and play by yourself!’ ‘Don’t bother me now!’ ‘Sort it out for yourself!’ ‘I think you know what to do!’

It’s all good practice for our children (and us) because at some point we have to let them go. The archetypal mother may nurture and protect her children but she also at some point pushes them out of the nest shouting ‘Fly, dammit, fly!’

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