Here, in America, we just celebrated Mothers’ Day.
It’s a complicated holiday. For some of us, it’s a lovely way to honor the relationship we have or have had with the women who birthed and/or raised us. For others, it’s an opportunity to receive appreciation and respect for the commitment and sacrifices that come with being a mother. But for some of us it’s a painful reminder of mothers we lost too soon or relationships that felt abusive or neglectful.
There is this idea that a mother should provide love, acceptance, comfort, nurture — and soothe us whenever needed. And if we didn’t get it from our actual mother, we’re screwed. For life. Many of us have a deep longing for the kind of mothering we wished we had received – and didn’t – or never will again.
This last week in the Under the Light of the Full Moon course at the Light of the Moon Café, we’re been exploring “mothering” as an archetypal force and looking at how often the struggle with eating and food can arise out of a hunger for nurture and a deep longing for comfort that we don’t know how or where to find, let alone give to ourselves.
We are often starving for mother-ing — mother, as a verb.
Frustrated by attempts to get it from our own mothers or caregivers exactly when we want it, as much as we want, and just the way we want — we might compulsively seek it in “comfort” foods, or maybe reject the physical sustenance food can give because it doesn’t soothe us in the ways we really want or need.We might try to stuff down or restrict this longing through eating behaviors because the mothering we hunger for doesn’t feel available to us, for one reason or another.
Maybe we are afraid to ask for and receive mothering out of a fear of being unbearably disappointed if it isn’t forthcoming when we need it most. Maybe we think we don’t deserve to be nurtured or feel guilty for wanting it too much, too often.
This is not about blaming mothers for disordered eating behaviors. It’s about looking at mothering energy through an archetypal lens, rather than a literal one, so we can begin to see it as a particular energetic constellation that is ever available to us.
So, at the Café we’ve been exploring how we often confuse the physical symbol of mothering (food) with the energy of mothering itself. Or how we mistakenly think the only place we can get mothering is from our mothers. This confusion is understandable since we are hard-wired to use food for nurture and comfort, and to get it from our mothers. Think of your experience as a new born baby in distress. Waaaa!! What are you given? The breast or the bottle. And how do you respond? Ahhh. You are soothed. So, it’s no wonder we confuse eating with the energetic pattern of mothering. Problems begin when it’s the only way we know how to be comforted or soothed.
When we can identify what the desire for mothering feels like and looks like, we can recognize that the mothering we crave can, and needs to, come from a wide variety of sources: from our dog, our partner, listening to music, from our best friend or neighbor. Or from Mother Nature (swimming in the ocean, watching a sunset, walking in the forest, digging in the garden, listening to the birds, etc.). Notice we never say Father Nature.
By recognizing and connecting with the sensation of being soothed and comforted, we can begin to develop an Inner Mother that can be there to nurture us exactly the way we want and need; one that can feed us and sustain us emotionally as well as physically. And we can then discover that as our Inner Mother grows stronger, it functions as an antenna helping us to recognize other sources of mothering — and as a magnet, drawing those sources into our lives.
All of us can benefit from a strong Inner Mother that is neither overly indulgent (“Chocolate for breakfast? Whatever you want, Dear.”) nor harshly critical (“Chocolate for breakfast? What’s wrong with you!”). We want and need an Inner Mother that is supportive and curious (“Chocolate for breakfast? What’s that about?”) and encourages us to grow into who we are meant to be.
The task of creating an Inner Mother can be daunting, but it helps to recognize that none of us ever got the perfect, ideal mother. The experience of the imperfect mother is archetypal, in the sense that it crosses all culture and all time. Perhaps there is a good reason for that. It may well be that no one has ever been blessed with an absolutely perfect mother because one of our tasks as human beings is to learn how to perceive and receive the energetic of mothering, consciously and deliberately, rather than remaining stuck at the literal, physical level of existence, continually feeling victimized by the limitations of our own mothers or frustrated by the lack of nurture in our own lives. Perhaps this hunger for mothering is a path that can lead us towards greater consciousness as it forces us to move away from relying on only the concrete, literal aspects of life to nourish and sustain us.
CREATING AN INNER MOTHER
- List three important things that you always wanted from your mother but never received. More attention, physical affection, continual support, loving recognition, encouragement, consistent protection, a particular skill set? (Note: just like a photograph used to be created from a negative, we begin with what we wanted and didn’t get.)
- Imagine in your mind’s eye what it would have been like to have had the perfect mother. Picture how this mother would have provided you with these three things and what that would have felt like. Imagine how it would feel, now, to receive these things you have always longed for. (Your imagination is your super power.)
- Return to your list and in front of each item, write the words “I need to give myself …”
Wishing you well on your recovery journey,
P.S. If you want to learn more about the archetypal mother, check out my self-study course, The Four Faces of the Feminine Psyche https://lightofthemooncafe.com/the-four-faces-of-the-feminine-psyche/