Wandering the cold winter streets at night, Demeter searches for her abducted daughter Persephone. Ceasing to eat, drink and sleep, she is consumed by the empty space next to her where her daughter walked at her side. Her tears of depression cast a chill over the fields of grain. Nothing grows across the land she walks on. Winter takes over with every step until her beloved daughter is returned to her. Only then will grain grow and spring come to the land. She cares not for herself but only for her child.
Demeter is the nurturing mother, but it isn’t necessary for this archetype to have children to be a nurturer. A sense of duty to help others is what’s essential. The Nurturer refused all of the superficial gifts sent to her by other gods to persuade her to accept her daughter’s abduction, rape and forced marriage to Hades. She wants her child back, and nothing else matters. With her child gone a part of her is missing. She is youthful when she lives through the life of her child.
The Nurturer has dreamed of having children for most of her life, and when she has them they become her life. If she’s unable to have children or if she’s looking for the right “father” to come along, she channels her energy into helping and caring for others. She can often be found in the nurturing and healing professions.
She forms friendships with other Demeter women who see value in motherhood and service. They can spend hours talking about the latest healing techniques or ways to raise children.
Her identity is wrapped up in her children or those she cares for. They give her life purpose and meaning. She can nurture many people through her work in a charitable organization, help animals at a shelter, care for her own family, help a stranger on the street, be there for a close friend or lover, care for her students, or help the masses with a creative project like a self-help book.
What Does the Nurturer Care About?
- The Nurturer cares about the welfare of her children whether there’s danger present or not. She has a tendency to put others ahead of herself – a martyr of sorts – but no one comes before the one in her care especially if it’s a child. She would sacrifice an entire town if it mean saving her child.
- When things are going well she cares about providing for the entire group and bestows amazing gifts to people she hardly knows. The sick people she cares for call her an angel.
- She cares about charities and volunteers when she has free time.
- She sometimes lives on eggshells, making sure everyone else is happy before she examines how she feels.
What Does the Nurturer Fear?
- The Nurturer fears losing the person in her care. Her whole identity and reason to live depends upon caring for another. It makes her angry when someone accuses her of destroying the independence of the person in her care in order to protect him from a danger that may not exist.
- She fears not being there to save her child. If anything happens she’ll take all the guilt upon herself and fall into a devastating depression. She can’t help it. Grief consumes her, and she makes everyone else around her suffer.
- She couldn’t stand it if her child or patient left. She needs to be needed and is a prime candidate for “empty-nest syndrome.”
- She’s not into self-analysis because she’s afraid of her own thoughts and emotions. She hates quiet time because she doesn’t like to think about her “stuff”. She’d rather be busy with anything else to avoid it.
What Motivates the Nurturer?
- Love and belonging are strong motivators for her. She likes being connected with someone. Give her a family and she’ll bestow gifts upon them as long as they allow her to care for them. She would definitely adopt a sick child.
- Motherhood and nurturing give her a reason to live. She’ll do anything to save this precious relationship. Demeter was very strong as she was able to denounce all the other gods and hold fast to her goal of getting her daughter back. The Nurturer that part of the story.
How Do Other Characters See the Nurturer?
- Some see her as dependent, needy and passive aggressive.
- She tends to take on many tasks at once, trying to please so many people, overwhelming herself.
- She’s not concerned with being sexy and doesn’t care much for the latest fashions. She can be a very beautiful woman but seems not to realize it.
DEVELOPING THE CHARACTER ARC
Look at your character’s main goal in the story and then at the fears you’ve selected to use against her. What does she need to learn to overcome her fear? Does she need to learn to let go of her children and find a career? Does she need to stand up for herself and speak her mind without worrying about hurting others? Does she need to let her children grow up and leave home?
Very often the Nurturer needs to let go of her attachment to others and find her own identity. She needs to learn that she can take care of herself and that being alone sometimes can be refreshing. A hobby such as yoga and writing can help her find self-love.
What happened to her at an early age to make this archetype dominate her personality? Was her mother not there for her and now she wants to make up for that by being there for others? Did she have to help raise her siblings as a child? Was she given dolls and told being a mother is the greatest thing in the world? Was there a special woman in her life, like a teacher, who helped her and now she wants to give back?
To grow, this archetype is best paired with one of the following:
- The Woman’s Man – can nurture her back and show her what it feels like to be in an equal relationship with another.
- The Recluse – can teach her the value of being alone and knowing herself.
- The Gorgon – can teach her the harsh realities of life and how to stop people from walking all over her.
- The Mystic – can teach her self-love.
- Spends a lot of time with her children or students or patients, whoever is in her care.
- Puts others ahead of herself.
- Is driven to help people.
- Is wonderful to be around.
- Is extremely helpful.
- Is a great listener.
- Is committed to her family.
- Is generous.
- Enjoys staying home most of the time.
- Finds her sole identity is wrapped up in helping or saving others.
- Worries constantly about her children.
- Is self-sacrificing and takes on too many projects at one time because she can’t say no.
- Takes things her family says personally.
- Needs someone to care for.
The Villainous Side of the Nurturer: The Overcontrolling Mother
As a villain the Nurturer would probably kidnap someone else’s baby just to have someone to take care of. She would steal someone else’s creative project to be looked upon as helpful to society.
She would manipulate another person into letting her help them by taking over their life, like Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) does in Misery.
She’s the mother who poisons her child so she can bring her to the hospital and receives attention for all the hard work she’s doing to care for her child. She’s the mother who projects her own disappointment onto her daughter so she won’t leave home and be independent. She’s the master of inflicting guilt upon others.
She does everything with the thought that people need her. She thinks others can’t live without her, but in reality she can’t live without them. She believes she’s helping people but what she’s actually doing is occupying herself with other people’s lives in an effort to avoid her own.
She’s a very dependent person who can’t function without someone else around to keep her company and provide direction.
She feels devastated or helpless when relationships end and is preoccupied with fears of being abandoned. Her lack of self-confidence makes it impossible for her to do things on her own. She cares for others in an effort to make sure others will be there to care for her. She feels helpless when left alone.
She feels she has given up her entire life to raise her children. She sacrificed everything for them. She wants respect and obedience.
THE OVERCONTROLLING MOTHER
- Feels like others are trying to toss her aside and abandon her.
- Thinks others can’t survive without her when she’s the one who can’t survive without them.
- Will hurt others for their own good.
- Butts in when not wanted.
- Exaggerates when hurt or in need.
- Does things not asked of her to seem helpful.
- Seems genuinely nice once in a while to throw others off balance.
- Lacks self-confidence.
- Can’t do anything alone.
Demeter in Action
Nurturer/Overcontrolling Mother TV Heroes
Carol Ann Brady (Florence Henderson) in The Brady Bunch
Daphne Moon (Jane Leeves) in Frasier
Marie Barone (Doris Roberts) in Everybody Loves Raymond
Piper Halliwell (Holly Marie Combs) in Charmed
June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley) in Leave It to Beaver
Nurturer/Overcontrolling Mother Film Heroes
Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt) in As Good As It Gets
Stella Dallas (Barbara Stanwyck) in Stella Dallas
M’Lynn Eatenton (Sally Field) in Steel Magnolias
Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger) in Jerry Maguire
There are a number of classic films where the female character is regulated to the house, caring for the men. These characters are prevalent in Westerns. You can see them waiting in doorways, watching over the men and taking care of their wounds.
Nurturer/Overcontrolling Mother Literary and Historical Heroes
Beauty in Beauty and the Beast
Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins by Pamela L. Travers
Nurse in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Widow Douglas in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Meg March in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Nurse in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Miss Emma and Tante Lou in A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
Francesca Johnson in The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Grandmother in 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Ruth in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg
Annie Wilkes in Misery by Stephen King
Sally Owens in Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman