We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is the Mother Archetype?

By Mark Wollacott
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The mother archetype is basically an idealized or invented version of a mother that, in most cases, is meant to be more or less universal. Archetypes generally serve as composites or standardized templates of what a certain role or identity is or, conversely, should be. When it comes to mothers, they are usually divided into several categories, each with heightened or enhanced attributes. The archetypical nurturer, for instance, might display all the best elements of caring and selflessness, whereas a depiction of a mother who abandons her child would probably have exaggerated flaws and complexes. The archetypical mother is commonly used as a dramatic element in storytelling, mythology, and lore, and also has an important role in psychology. Psychologists Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud in particular have written extensively on how humans create their own archetypes of motherhood, and what that means both to human development and to society as a whole.

Understanding Archetypes Generally

Broadly speaking, an archetype is a representative model or universal example of something. They are frequently seen as elements of the collective unconscious. This means they are often symbols of nebulous spiritual needs that are projected onto other people to help individuals understand the world in which they live. This creates characters that are similar to epitomes and stereotypes. Each is given characteristics that fulfill those needs, even if the real person is quite different.

Consistent Characteristics

The mother archetype is an idealized version of the mother, which means that it usually represents what humans want in a mother just as other archetypes represent values such as the hero or the villain. There are many elements that represent the different aspects of being a mother, but some characteristics are more or less consistent. In most cases these figures are seen as persistent, stubborn, caring, and patient. There is also almost always an intense bond between mother and child.

Jungian Perspectives

Psychologist Carl Jung spent a lot of time considering the mother figure and what she represents to growing children. He believed that the mother archetype exists within the child from infancy. According to his theories, babies project their own motherly ideals onto the person they feel is their primary nurturer. A substitute, such as a nanny, a grandmother, or a day care worker, can be imbued with the same values as the actual mother in the eyes of the child if that person does the majority of the nurturing.

The Archetype According to Freud

Sigmund Freud had a slightly different approach. He theorized that the archetype developed in layers over time, which some have likened to the building of a pizza. Following this analogy through, the child first feels hungry and wants food. Then the child realizes he or she has a craving for a particular kind of food, in this example pizza. This then develops into more specialized needs such as a pizza with salami, cheese, bacon and a host of other toppings. With the mother, this means a general need for a nurturer that develops into a need for specific mother qualities that are unique to the child’s situation.

Mothers Throughout Mythology and Lore

In mythology, archetypical mothers are often linked to the idea of the Great Mother. This includes Great Mother deities such as Gaia and Mother Earth. In this archetype, the mother nurtures not just the child, but all of creation or certain elements of nature. This kind of care is always given to a female deity. In many polytheistic religions, the mother forms a triumvirate along with the maiden and the crone archetypes as the three stages of womanhood.

The familiar Cinderella fairytale represents two mother archetypes, the wicked stepmother and the fairy godmother. The wicked stepmother represents a woman who is not the rightful mother, but is also not a nurturer of the child. It is a projection of neglect and a loss of a true mother in the child. The fairy godmother, by contrast, is the projection of a more benign and caring figure.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By lluviaporos — On Feb 20, 2014

@bythewell - I think you can still call love a universal quality. It isn't really fair to say that those women didn't fit a mother archetype. They might not have gone down with the ship, so to speak, but that doesn't mean they didn't love their children.

The Earth Mother archetype is often one that can be cruel but does it out of necessity or love.

I like to think this is the norm for mothers, even if they don't always get it right.

By bythewell — On Feb 19, 2014

@clintflint - I remember reading a study once where the researcher wanted to discover if there really was a universal quality that could be ascribed to mothers. She figured that, if nothing else, the sacrificial quality of a mother's love must be just about universal.

But she actually found even that wasn't true. There are cultures that lived in places where there were often famines and there was a tendency among new mothers in these places to stop feeding their babies when there was scarcity and basically let them die.

Which sounds horrifying, because it goes against the standard mother figure archetype, but it was actually a survival thing, because it was a case of either the baby dying or the baby AND the mother dying. I think the study concluded that there just wasn't any real universal quality that could be ascribed to motherhood.

By clintflint — On Feb 18, 2014

I think there are a wide variety of archetypal mothers. It depends on culture and the kind of media that you consume as well. They aren't all about love and familial pride either.

I mean, the nagging mother isn't exactly a positive archetype, but it is definitely one of the big ones. You have the mother who wants their child to succeed in the ways that they didn't and pushes hard for their child to excel.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.