A few weeks ago Oprah Winfrey had Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of "Eat, Pray, Love" on "Super Soul Sunday." One of the many topics they discussed was motherhood and having the wisdom to know whether you are the type of woman who is a mother, an auntie, or if you should stay the hell away from children.
I found this discussion insightful, as both women have chosen not to have children themselves, but see themselves as fabulous aunties. They went on to discuss spiritual teacher Joseph Campbell and his ideas about the hero’s journey, in which a man travels far away from his home to discover his true passion and reason for living. Along the way, he will encounter challenges and people who shine a light on the hero’s true self. Homer’s "Odyssey," Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist" and even "The Wizard of Oz" are all examples. These stories have served to inspire millions of readers as they search for their true selves in their careers.
Oprah and Gilbert indicated that according to Campbell, women do not have a hero’s journey because their journey — the ability to create life — is already chosen for them. What can be more meaningful than creating another living being? That’s where I call foul and bullshit.
Women, at least modern women who have choices that their mothers may not have had, are also on a hero’s journey. But because our culture doesn’t tell that story, here is my attempt at outlining the hero’s journey for a mom.
Surrendering to Circumstance:
Motherhood by its very nature is the most unpredictable journey you can take. There may be an assumption that you control your kids, but that is inaccurate. The desires to feel secure and like you know where you are going or who you encounter when you greet your toddler or teenager each morning is completely unknown. Your children are people with their own desires and thinking that are separate from you. The moment they leave your womb, you are no longer in running the show. This foreign terrain requires that you develop flexibility and an ability to go with the flow when things change up on you midstream. Motherhood creates within you the ability to take what you get and make the best of it.
The protagonist always has an amazing love interest in these epic tales and that is true for motherhood as well. If you are a single mom, on your days without your children you get to fall in love and experience deep passion and freedom without worrying about the needs of your kids. Knowing they are safe and secure allows you to love with abandonment before they return. If you are married, love is rekindled when your husband notices and comments on the color of your eyes when sunlight hits them perfectly. It’s the freedom to love and build a life together that every hero finds after he’s found himself. This love is anchored deeply in a self-knowing.
There are countless unforeseen obstacles that make mothers universal heroes on the scale of say the Goddess Athena.
Motherhood is an adventure of overcoming one obstacle after the next. The first obstacle is learning to sleep on the schedule of a newborn while your house is an absolute mess, the laundry is piling up and you haven’t been able to get a shower in two days. Sleep deprivation is an obstacle that solidifies heroes in my view, but there are countless unforeseen obstacles that make mothers universal heroes on the scale of say the Goddess Athena. Yea her!
Every hero has a near-death experience from which he escapes by the skin of his teeth, only to discover that death is not to be feared, and that in life, he is larger and more stalwart than he ever imagined himself to be. Well, every mom who lives to tell about childbirth and the unfathomably stressful early days of motherhood knows what it means to kiss death and escape with a great depth and appreciation for life. Moms know that the person they were before giving birth has died and that the people they are now is some new version of themselves.
Knowing One’s Self:
Motherhood proves your strength, vulnerability, insanity and joy from the time your child is born.
In the end the hero discovers the power within him that is bigger than any adventure, death, love or obstacle he could ever imagine. Motherhood proves your strength, vulnerability, insanity and joy from the time your child is born until you exit this earthly realm. If you look at yourself as the hero in your mom journey, you’re likely to discover all that you’ve become since being a mom wouldn’t have been possible without being a mom. Motherhood allows you to really see the parts of you that would have stayed buried if these children not had been born.
In my view, motherhood is the ultimate hero’s journey, because it does not exalt the experience of self. Moms discover their best and most noble parts of themselves without leaving the comforts of home but by losing their self-concerns in the interest of their children. If that is not a hero’s journey, I don’t know what is.