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Jerilyn Brownstein + Essential Tools for Motherhood

Jerilyn Brownstein + Essential Tools for Motherhood

Jerilyn Brownstein has worked as a therapist in the motherhood space for the last 22 years — she is a pioneer that explores, excavates, and engages in the inner life of mothers. Her reputation to guide, stretch, challenge and hold women (and groups of women) in and through the journey of becoming and being a mother has been paradigm shifting for all those who encounter her work. We asked Jerilyn to talk a bit more in depth about her work and how being a mother influences and continues to ignite her path… This one is not to be missed, and here’s what she had to say. If you’d like more information on Jerilyn, you can find her at

How long have you been working in the motherhood space?

I have been supporting, honoring and inspiring the inner lives of mothers for 22 years.  I feel like this work picked me.  It is a long story, I will tell it some time but for now I will say I feel unable to stop thinking about mothers! Everything I see, touch, learn and think about naturally returns to this topic.  My long term goal is to re-ensoul mothering.

What are some of the themes you see new moms grappling with when they see you for therapy? How about seasoned mothers?  

New mamas are sacred and scared.  They are raw, soft and a bit wild.  Their emotional life is strong and stormy enhanced by their exhaustion. If they are seeking me out they are often working with birth trauma, isolation, overwhelm.  They are also carrying unexpressed grief (because woven into birth is the death of who we were)however, they are largely unaware of that and instead name it boredom, numbness, depression, restlessness, anxiety or feelings of inadequacy.  Lastly, and most importantly, they are touching into what I call, "sacred darkness."  This is inner material that is often sectioned off and labeled taboo.  This inner landscape touches: hate, rage, jealously, unworthiness, shame, fear . . . all feelings we wish to avoid. This is actually critical work, vital for a woman, because hidden in this material she will find the fullness of her vitality, eros and genius.   Seasoned mamas, and I think it takes at least a decade or two to accrue some seasoning, bring themes related to feeling stuck.  Stuck, uninspired, confused, full of fear, distracted, deadened.  These states infect their relationships, work/creative expression, connectedness to community and body.  Seasoned mamas have enough inner space that undigested biographical material and their soul's longing begin to collide.  It takes a brave and courageous mama to make space and time to work with what she does not like, understand or know about herself and it is a natural and necessary process for adulting and living a life saturated with meaning, connection and soul.

What is your favorite part about being a mom?

My children are young men now (24, 21 and 16).  If you had asked me this question 10 or 15 years ago I would have given you very different answers.  My favorite part of being a mother today is that I get to be in life with these human beings.  They are my most favorite people in the world. I love spending time with them, hearing their thoughts, listening to their ideas, watching how they interface in the world, learning from them, from their perspective   I get to have a lifetime relationship with these beings who I have raised and in many ways they have held an invisible bar for me, raising me to become my fullest most expressed self.  

What is the most challenging part of being a mom for you?

This answer surprised me.  I thought I was going to compile a practical list of all that has been and continues to be challenging.  But I realized the hardest part for me, which is pretty insidious, is continuing to stay awake to and shake up the patriarchal/colonized version of what a mother is... and continue the work of reclaiming, re-membering, re-ensouling a more authentic expression of being a mother and mothering that is not portrayed or lived in popular culture. 

How does being a mother influence your work with other mothers, and how do you stay inspired?

I think being a mother is a crash course in humility.  I feel humbled by my personal experience and I believe that humility has helped me remain wide open in the presence of other mothers and I feel able to enter a shared humble and holy ground that quickens trust so that deeper work is able to be approached, accessed and entered because there is a shared experience.

Are you asking how I stay inspired as a mother or how do I stay inspired working with mothers?

Maybe they have the same answer.  What inspires my personal mothering and my work with mothers is studying indigenous wisdom, mythology and metaphor.  The first two because they are enduring. I trust that what remains, what can not be forgotten, what stands the test of time . . . inspires my thinking and opens my heart.  I also appreciate metaphor as a way into unknown or difficult territory.  It is a lens for me and it widens my vision and deepens my insight.

Can you share some of your words of wisdom for moms of all kinds - expecting, new, and seasoned mamas? How do you help them find the beauty in motherhood, even if / when they are struggling?

I will start backwards. If you are mothering you ARE struggling.  It is very hard inner and outer work. Especially so in our culture because we (and our culture) forget that mothering is not a private affair.  It requires a communal, community, collaborative approach and more often it is individualized and isolating.  I am not sure I can offer wisdom, but I can share what I wish I received.  I wish a group of strong, self possessed older mothers sat me down and told me the whole story.

I wish they said straight, "Jerilyn, becoming a mother and mothering is an initiation.  You are going to be introduced to parts of yourself you never knew, you are going to grow capacities you did not even know existed, you are going to be pulled and stretched, strengthened, broken, softened, purified and transformed in ways you would or could not possibly have known outside of this rite. Mothering, if you stay awake and engaged, will introduce you to your whole self. This will not be easy.  In fact, it will be so demanding at times that you will want to give up, leave, quit, or die and that is all normal, purposeful and meaningful.  When you meet the most difficult moments you must remember those moments are conspiring for your inner enlargement, your becoming whole, holy.  We actually bless those moments (which may last minutes, days, months or years) as they are your teachers. They are asking you, showing you, demanding you to grow, ripen. The heat and grit is for your own rebirth!  You will know yourself and your medicine for the world by mothering and growing yourself simultaneously and we love you and are here for you!!!"  

Can you name 3 things that every new mama needs in her toolbox (especially when she is feeling overwhelmed!)?

I believe there are three essential tools: a circle, a rope and a knife.  Every new and seasoned mama needs a circle of women. A live circle, not a virtual one.  Ideally this would be a group of women of different ages and life stages who are also mothers.  A circle is a place for reflection ( we see you, we see you coming apart, we see you coming back together in new ways, we will tell you what we see) support, expression, and also a space where our imagination can be massaged. Mothering is a high art form and you need a strong imaginative capacity -- listening to, hearing, being with, rubbing up against, leaning into other women works the imagination in profound ways.  A circle is a container that holds you.

A rope is what keeps you connected, what ties you to your own soul.  When I work with pregnant women I also have them make a list, a long list of the practices that keep them connected to their essence. Then I ask them to hang this list on the fridge (somewhere very visible) so that when they are in overwhelm (which they will be!) they will remember to grab the rope. The rope could be a list of dear friends and their contact info, it could be your practices (singing, listening to music, making music, yoga, meditation, painting, praying, writing, time in nature), it could be pictures of your ancestors (people, places, animals, plants). When you are feeling disoriented, overwhelmed or lost you want to have something to pull on, grab onto, hold. The last tool is a knife! This is a tricky one. What I mean by knife is that each mama needs to develop and keep sharp her knife capacity.  The ability to cut away what is not clear, make marks, pierce untruths.  It is an inner tool used for cutting through and seeing what is hidden in things and a tool that marks boundaries. Knife capacity helps us cut away what is inessential. With this capacity we are able to carve a life for our family and our own soul that is protected and nourished and therefore able to feed the soul of the world.