Jennifer Pharr Davis on Motherhood + Positive Forward Motion

Jenn Pharr Davis on coming into herself as a mom, seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, and balancing it all.

Astral Archetype, Jennifer Pharr Davis, is an internationally celebrated adventurer, author, mother and business owner who set the fastest known time on the Appalachian Trail. Motherhood and and Nature have shaped her equally.

Below, learn more about her story in the film Positive Forward Motion, and read on for her thoughts on coming into herself as a mom, seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, and balancing it all.

ASTRAL  //  Did your expectations change for yourself when you became a mom?

JPD // Hmm. I think the biggest expectation that changed was with regard to time. I didn’t have as much, or feel like I did at least. Inevitably, you’re keeping another human alive. I can’t remember what comedian I heard say any mother could go up to the most talented male on earth and be like “Oh hi, Leonardo da Vinci. You painted the Mona Lisa? That’s nice. I made a baby. Inside me. And I can feel it kick!” I thought that was hilarious. But it’s totally true. Being a mom is such a wonderful thing. One of the best things. But you have to pull back on the reins in other areas of life. You just can’t do as much, physically or with work or whatever. There aren’t enough hours in the day, as they say. So that’s probably the biggest change.

ASTRAL  //  In the film, Positive Forward Motion, one of the women says she feels like the truest version of herself out in the wilderness.  Where do you feel like the truest version of yourself now? 

JPD // Still in the wilderness! I spoke in Phoenix last Friday and Brew was like “You HAVE to go to the Grand Canyon!” I haven’t ever been and I also haven’t taken any real time off in quite a while. I guess the last time was about 15 months ago when I sold my hiking company and spend 4 days at Cumberland Island, which is one of the most magical places on earth to me. And now so is the Grand Canyon! It took me four decades to get there but now I want to go back all the time. But back to your question, being in the wilderness makes me feel the most alive. I realize I’m a part of nature. I’m a part of the beauty. I’m made to be a part of this and that is just absolutely magical and amazing.

ASTRAL  //  What are your kids’ relationships with the outdoors like?  Do you think that nature being tied to your work affects their outlook? 

JPD // Our kids are very different from one another. They both love being outside and camping and have a great fondness for nature. As Charley once put it “if there’s a tent and a fire and s’mores, count me in!” And Gus is even more gung ho and boisterous than Charley, always running up the trail and burning so much energy.

Years ago we were camping in Rocky Mountain National Park after spending like, two months on the road and in several dozen national parks out west. We were in a pretty remote area by a lake and there were tons of mosquitoes and the kids started smushing them and sticking them to a piece of duct tape we had in our repair kit. And they made up this little song that went “the mosquito Hall of Fame!” It was the funniest thing. That’s when Brew and I looked at each other and were like “our work is done. These kids get it.” They’d figured out how to turn a negative into a positive and have a great time. Our friend Warren Doyle who’s the Trail Yoda and has hiked the AT 18 times said he never wanted to burden his kids with the outdoors but instead make it so they’d always feel comfortable if they chose to return to it. I hope that’s what we’re doing for Charley and Gus and I feel like, so far so good.

ASTRAL  //  What has surprised you most about motherhood?

JPD // Hmm. Well, I had really severe prenatal depression with both kids. That caught me off guard. Some of my friends when they were pregnant were like these Mesopotamian goddesses of fertility who felt so beautiful and strong and capable. And I just felt like garbage.

Beyond that I would probably say both how more fun it is than I ever could have imagined and also how much more work it is than I ever could’ve imagined. It’s just a lot at both ends of the spectrum. Life is very full, in a good way. But yeah, filled up to the brim and takes a lot of energy with these kids and being a mother.

ASTRAL  //  Is there such a thing as work/life balance? If so, what does it look like or not look like for you? 

JPD // I don’t know that I ever feel like I’m balancing it perfectly. When I travel- like I just got back from a week in Arizona speaking and hiking- I miss my kids SO MUCH and can’t wait to pick them up from school and give them big hugs and hang out with them. It’s more of like a pendulum swing for me, back and forth. Or like balancing something on a sharp point that may hold up for a split second before it starts leaning over. Every now and then I’ll attain that work/life balance nirvana but most of the time I’m just like, teetering one way or the other.

ASTRAL  //  If being in the woods shaped your ability to think of yourself as beautiful and your body as perfect, just as it is, how has motherhood shaped/changed that self concept? 

JPD // I feel like my kids are these mirrors that reflect back on me. Because they are me, you know? Or at least they have a lot of my DNA. But they also say stuff and do stuff that can rock me or make me really mad or really sad or really happy or just have these really big feelings. Kids are like enormous amplifiers. They make everyone louder. In more ways than one I guess. But they just make you realize your shortcomings and imperfections. They don’t really impact how I look, like my self concept. They just bring it to light and make me think about it more. Which is really cool if you think about it. They’re kind of like little teachers, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally.

ASTRAL  //  I know you love to talk about “Roses and thorns” with your kids at dinner, where they talk about a highpoint and a low point for the day.  Can you give us a “rose” and a “thorn” for motherhood? 

JPD // Yes, we do “rose, bud, thorn” at dinner with the kids, where Rose is the high, thorn is the low and bud is what you’re looking forward to. First off, I feel like motherhood, really, is just a collection of millions of roses and thorns. That’s all life is for anyone, isn’t it?

As for specifics, the rose is definitely something out in nature. Like, I remember us being at this lake near the continental divide in the North Cascades in Washington years ago. It was this magical day and Brew and I swam in the water and it was freezing cold but we had an amazing hike and sometimes it just sinks in how lucky we are to get to spend so much time outdoors when so many people around the US and the entire world can’t. That’s the one that sticks out but we’ve had dozens of roses like that, really every year and almost all of them for me are in nature.

I would say the thorns, we haven’t had a lot yet fortunately but I would imagine they’d be the opposite of that, like when Charley broke her arm or when Brew had to be rushed to the ER with a serious heart infection. Those were pretty heavy times. And I’m sure more of those days will come. But we’re fortunate to have had a lot more roses than thorns. And I hope when we’re in the thorn situations the rose ones will sustain us. It’s a lot better in life to focus on the roses. 

Astral Jenn Pharr Davis

Interview with

Jenn Pharr Davis

Astral Archetype, Jennifer Pharr Davis, is an internationally celebrated adventurer, author, mother and business owner.

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