Who is a Mother?: An Ecotherapeutic Definition

ecotherapy mother Mar 25, 2022

Can the wind mother you? The ocean? Vistas? Soil? Or your family pet?

I was in a parenting group the other day where the use of the term “mother” for others was restricted. This was because many who caretake do not identify with the term mother for one reason or another. The term mother can indeed feel exclusionary when we look at it through the dominant culture’s hegemonic lens.

However, though an ecotherapeutic lens, the term mother opens up quite considerably. In fact, the limited human-centered ways we have defined mothering seems to me to be a central issue in maternal ecopsychology. How has this perspective erased the maternal labor, or mother work, of the Earth? 

In developing my own definition of mother, I am influenced by motherhood theorist Sara Ruddick’s (1980) Maternal Thinking, in which she asserted that men could mother, just as women do. She says, “A mother is a person who takes on responsibility for children’s lives and for whom providing child care is a significant part of her or his working life” (p. 40).

In this way Ruddick articulates mothering as an activity that can be recognized regardless of biological or gendered constructions.

Another theorist who has influenced my definition is Barbara Katz Rothman (1989) who also moved mothering away from kinship as the primary definition of mothering, and expanded the concept of family to, “more than genetics, more than lineage,” towards “families made interracially, inter-culturally, internationally, gay and lesbian, as alternative kinds of families” (p. 19).

As a nature therapist, I define mothers as all those performing mothering labor within social constructions of motherhood, and expand the term social beyond human-centered contexts to include all the many interactions we have with Earthothers (Plumwood). I include more-than-humans, such as plants, animals, and ecosystems, as those who mother and are mothered, something that recognizes the many ways we are protected, loved, supported, and healed by others.  

A lot, a ton, of research supports that nature, plants, other animals all contribute to our sense of health and wellbeing as humans. Recognizing this as mothering is at least one relational way of interacting with our enviornment that doesn’t approach Earthothers in an extractive way. 



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