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Mother: Role vs. Identity

Posted on February 1, 2015 at 3:30 PM

Each person is the embodiment of a unique signature of energies.  Whether we interact with that idea as 'personality', 'behavior', or purely in the physical realm of the senses, there is no denying that each individual is unique.


No one person is defined by one particular role.  Although we all start off as infants, we move through other identities and roles throughout our lives.  These ideas (from observed identities and roles) fill out the symbolic language that make up our communication, stories, dreams and thoughts. 


Although we all start out as infants, the infant is not self-aware to make its own existence the first archetype in its symbolic alphabet.  The strongest archetype and initial one that most identify with is the Mother. 


For women, this can be particularly challenging as most, if not all, have some sort of struggle with separating from the mother, choosing whether or not to be a mother, making peace or not with their mother, etc.


But it is the Mother archetype herself that I would like to explore today as we interact with it.  The mothering role can be performed by either men or women.  Mothering is a nurturing function.  Plenty of familes have a father who is more of a nurturer and a mother who provides structure and livelihood for the family.  The association with traditionally defined roles is not what we are discussing here.  Instead let's look at the way an individual identifies herself with the role of mother. 


Many people have identified so strongly with their ability to nurture and care that when the time comes for the mother/child dynamic to come to its natural conclusion (the releasing of the child into adulthood), the nurturing individual goes through a kind of identity crisis.  Being a mother is not an identity.  It is a role.   Anyone can play this role, but it is a role that has a definite beginning and an end.


To identify too strongly with any archetypal role is to become a flat character in a story.  We are made to be much more complex both in our personalities and in our interactions with others.  The mother whose child has grown up must navigate the change in relationship or risk becoming codependent with the child - looking for any way to still nurture and feel as though she is 'being a good mother'.  When in reality, there is so much more for her to explore in her own energetic growth.


One cycle of feminity notes the progression of womanhood from Maiden to Mother to Crone.  Our society currently resists old age - rejecting the value of age and wisdom because it is perceived as a loss of beauty and vitality.  Elders in our society are not often viewed as beautiful, wise, or desirable.  It is a challenge for us as beholders to fight this trend. Instead, we hold the key to our own progress just by viewing graying hair, experience, and the natural slowing of our bodies as valuable for what they symbolize in life experience.  And for those of us without as much experience and longevity - these symbols indicate people who may have a lot of insight and wisdom to offer.


In the popular Disney film "Tangled", the villain Mother Gothel epitomizes this struggle to remain as close to Maiden-hood as possible by clinging desperately to the role of Mother.  Mother Gothel refuses to let go of 'her' child by keeping Rapunzel closeted in the tower. She tightly controls the youthful power that the Maiden inherently holds.  The Maiden, in turn, yields to the Mother's perception of her own youth.  In releasing the Maiden from her clutches, this clinging view of Mother must face moving into the archetype of Crone.  Since Mother Gothel fears old age, seeing no value in the wisdom of old age but only death at the end, she resists letting go of Rapunzel refusing her any kind of independence. 


Although the story is a gross exaggeration of the dynamic, it is a helpful exercise for all of us, mothers and fathers alike, to face our own shadow fears of releasing children to independence and the acknowledgement of our own growth and moving towards the independence of an empty nest and all that it entails.  This is healthy development.  Because development of any life progression must include the return to nothingness. "For we brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it."




Categories: Archetypes, Mother, Moon