Essential Archetypes: What Does it Mean to Be a Mother?

Writing a memoir can seem like an egocentric act; It takes guts and confidence to insist that your life story is one worth telling. But for me, processing and describing my own experiences crystalized my desire to help and support other women. After publishing Unbridled: A Memoir, I felt compelled to establish a foundation to help women from all walks of life live fully and authentically by expressing each of the four feminine dimensions I had explored on my personal journey: Mother, lover, warrior, and sage. My hope is that by naming my foundation for those four archetypes, I've given it a near- universal resonance. All women may not identify with all four, but nearly all of us feel drawn to at least one.

Over the years, I've traveled around the country and worked with women from a variety of backgrounds and coping with the gamut of challenges. They've taught me that these archetypes are even more complex and multifaceted than I'd realized. So I'd like to explore them one by one with you.

Let's start with the Mother.

The strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.
— Barbara Kingsolver


Motherhood is an experience that has been shared by billions of women, and yet is entirely unique for each. Every conception, every pregnancy, every birth, and every childhood is different. And I don't just mean that individual mothers have varied experiences, though that is true, too. Mothers who have borne multiple children will tell you that every one of them was utterly singular, different, and memorable.

And being a mother means so much more than merely bearing and caring for your offspring. It means agreeing to walk around in the world with your heart outside your own body, carried in pieces by each of your children. It means delighting in their successes and suffering alongside them. It means biting your tongue when you long to lay down essential wisdom so that your kids can learn for themselves. It means feeling the love in your heart expand exponentially when your children have their own children.

But the Mother archetype is about more than children, too. Motherhood and mothering take many forms. 

Caregiving of any kind is a form of mothering. As I've explored in my upcoming book, Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife, many spouses of injured veterans feel a type of mothering energy when they choose to help their loved ones heal. My own experiences as a physical therapist and conversations I've had with other healthcare workers reinforce this idea. When you tend to the needs of another, selflessly and lovingly, you are channeling the Mother archetype.

Mother is a verb, not a noun.
— Proverb

Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl Buck was committed to another facet of the mother role. From the 1930s until her death in 1973, Buck devoted herself to the global needs of unwanted children. Having grown up in China, she was outraged that the existing adoption services considered Asian and mixed-race children “unadoptable.” So she founded Welcome House, Inc., the first international/interracial adoption agency. Buck herself adopted mixed-race children, and Welcome House has found homes—and mothers—for thousands of children who desperately needed loving families.

And a less literal type of mothering can be found in backyards and gardens everywhere. The earth may not be a child, but it is an entity than needs attention, nourishment, and care. Flowers and plants, pets and wild animals, the natural resources we use, every aspect of Mother Nature can draw mothering energy from women everywhere.

The Mother archetype may seem like it only applies to women with children, but in reality it is an attribute present in us all. Nurturing, selflessness, and caregiving are all traits we access at certain times and under certain circumstances. When we tend to injured loved ones, our blossoming gardens, children in need, our pets, or even ourselves, we are connecting with the universal Mother.

A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.
— Washington Irving