Mothering is not a biological imperative or privilege

by Vagdevi Meunier

Photo by Caleb Jones from Unsplash.com

This post goes out to all the people in the world that provide mothering to others. Fathers, brothers, sisters, grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, neighbors, teachers, and any chosen families and symbolic relatives I may have missed.  Mother’s Day is for you too and at The Center for Relationships, Austin, TX, we take our collective hats off to you in gratitude for the warmth, love, and support you provide to dear ones.

Mother by Annie Spratt from UnSplash.com

For centuries people (and by that I mean men mostly) have been in awe of the female womb and have imbued it with magical powers.  From wandering around the body and causing all kinds of mysterious symptoms all the way to casting spells and damage to others, the woman’s biological ability to germinate and bring forth another human being has been exalted.  At some point we stopped seeing the womb and its bearer as magical but still saw women, especially mothers, having the inherent capacity of emotional, intuitive, and organic abilities to nurture and understand children (and by extension other humans) as a bio-genetic given.  In some communities women are still viewed as having special skills related to caring for others simply because they can give birth.  At the same time we are all aware of women who are harmful mothers or unable or unwilling to nurture others or be compassionate caretakers.  We are also aware of men and other non-mothers who have way more qualities of mothering than biological mothers.  

Carl Jung was one of the first psychological theorists to propose the idea that “mothering” and “fathering” are symbolic roles and qualities that all of us possess to different degrees.  In Jung’s perspective, all human beings carry aspects of the two archetypes, Anima and Animus, and the extent to which one type is expressed more than the other influences one’s personality or decisions.  Beyond the archetypes, we are also influenced by symbolic qualities of “Mother” that not exclusive to one gender.  Similarly, in Taoism, similar distinctions are made between Yin and Yang energy which could be loosely described as female and male energy which influences everything around and within us.   Positive mothering is associated with balanced containment, nourishment, warmth, compassion, and gentle caring.  

Art by Jonoikobangali

Mothers can be a powerful positive or a negative destructive influence in the world.  The opposite of the nurturing mother image is the devouring, toxic, and lethal mother.  In Hindu spirituality, this negative mother image is represented by Kali, the goddess of destruction who devours her young but also clears the world of evil.  In the right circumstances the negative energy of the powerful mother can be a force for good that protects and reduces harm.  What is needed in the world today is less force and destruction and more warmth, nourishment, and growth producing connection.

So if you are a symbolic mother in someone’s life who embodies the qualities of Yin energy and the nurturing mother archetype, thank you!  The world needs your warm, caring, emotional presence to help others grow and flourish.  If you would like to nurture these qualities in yourself, here are a few qualities of positive mothering that you can nurture in yourself –

  • Fertility is absolutely necessary in producing healthy plants or people.  To cultivate fertility one must till and aerate the soil, infuse organic food, and plenty of water into the soil.  Similarly as a mother-figure don’t forget to rest and rejuvenate, help your body eliminate biological toxins as well as stale ideas and thoughts, and hydrate with plenty of refreshing water to make your body supple and moist, so you can adapt to any conditions in your life.
  • Containment is the gentle art of holding and regulating the flood of emotions in another person like a vessel that prevents food from spilling out.  An emotionally present and attuned mother figure provides the loving container in which the other person can both express feelings while, at the same time, building the capacity to hold feelings so they don’t overflow or take over.  A strong mothering presence can help us manage even the most intense emotional experiences while staying grounded in reality and the present moment.  
  • Sacrifice for your loved ones wholeheartedly because mothering is most often about sacrifice for the greater good, as long as the sacrifice does not deplete your own resources.  A well-nourished and cared for mother has the best resources available to sacrifice for others so they may grow, because a malnourished mother cannot produce a thriving baby.  Fiercely protect your time for self-care, eat wholesome food, get as much sleep as your body needs, and emotionally, make sure you are drinking deeply from emotionally nurturing relationships yourself so you can provide that for others.
  • Empathy, compassion, and wholeheartedness are natural states of flourishing mothers.  In a community where mothering figures are honored, recognized, and rewarded, everyone gains a sense of empathy and compassion for each other.  Good mothering is about preserving and fostering healthy relationships so individuals in these relationships don’t feel the pinch of loneliness, alienation, or detachment.  It is sad that in our western and developed societies, we discount or look upon mothering with disdain.

Photo by Sylvie Bliss from Pixabay

So on this Mother’s Day and everyday beyond today, find a way to exalt mothering in every person who has these qualities.  Whether it is the father who works from home and cooks healthy meals for his family, the grandmother who drives hundreds of miles tirelessly to be with her grandchildren so they are not raised by strangers, first responders who tend to the injured and traumatized with a loving touch, teachers who provide so many qualities of mothering to their students every day, and to anyone sacrificing self-interest in order to help another human being be the best they can be, you deserve to be honored and celebrated every single day.  Seek inside yourself for a rich source of self-compassion, love, and nourishment and know that your wisdom and energy make this world a better place.

Vagdevi Meunier, Psy.D., Master Trainer for the Gottman Institute and National Marriage Seminars and Licensed Clinical Psychologist, has been a Certified Gottman Therapist and Workshop Leader since 2006. She is the founder of the Austin-based Center for Relationships (FindMyCenter.org). Follow her on Facebook at the Center for Relationships and on Twitter @TCFRAustin