Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.
Friday, September 22, 2006
CRIB NOTES: Motherstyles--Personality and Mothering
I often feel like my personality and my natural abilities do not correspond to those of a good mother. I can feel claustrophobic with the normal physical closeness of taking care of small children, in addition to their regular use of me as a jungle gym, their loud voices are often jarring, and I don't like the unexpected and the chaos that regularly accompany motherhood. I don't have much, if any, "mother's intuition." To me, it feels like my personality is not really suited to being a good mother, and I have mostly seen my mothering self from a deficit perspective. So when a brief description of a book called Motherstyles , which claimed that every personality type had its own parenting strengths, was passed out in my ward, I decided to investigate.
The author, Janey Penley, bases her book on the Myers Briggs personality types. Myers and Briggs detailed 4 dimensions of personality, which are described below. For those familiar with this typology and who know their personality type, skip ahead.
1. Extravert/Introvert: This dimension differs from its common usage, and does not just center on one’s predispositions to interact with others, but how social interaction shapes personal energy. Do you feel exhilarated by large group gatherings? Does the world of people and external experiences energize you? Or are you more likely to turn inward to reflection and ideas? And favor interactions with just a few people, better able to relate one-on-one?
Here are Penley's descriptors for the two ends of this dimension
- Extrovert:Outward, go and do, many, people, breadth
- Introvert: Inward, stop and think, few, solitude, depth
2. Sensing/Intuition: This dimension focuses on what kind of information you favor. Do you attend to information that you obtain through your five senses? Do you favor a down to earth, step-by-step problem solving approach? Or do you place your trust more in gut instincts? And do you proceed by bursts of energy, and by bounding about to accomplish a task, rather than in a more linear fashion?
Again, here are her descriptors:
- Sensing: Common sense, details, present, realism/facts, practicalities
- Intuition: Imaginative, patterns, future, theory/innovation, possibilities
3. Thinking/Feeling: This dimension focuses on how you come to decisions. Do you use logical and objective analysis, relying on your intellect? Or do you favor your emotions and feelings when you are faced with choices?
As Penley describes:
- Thinking: Decide with the head, concerned with justice, fairness, and truth, skeptical, value and trust logic
Decide with the heart, concerned with relationships and harmony, affirming and accepting, value and trust feelings
4. Judging/Perceiving: Here, the concern is on lifestyle management. Do you favor schedules, plans, organization, and limits?Or do you prefer more flexibility, going with the flow, and making decisions more spontaneously?
Here is how Penley describes the extremes in this personality dimension.
- Judging: Plans provide comfort and security, aim to structure life, like to do things one at a time, want to be prepared
Plans cut off unexpected opportunities, aim to let life happen, most productive doing several things at one, like to take things as they come
Each person is likely to favor one aspect of each personality dimension. Of course, there is a range between each extreme, and while in one dimension, you may fall closer to the end, on another, you may be more squarely in the middle. In all, the Myers and Briggs taxonomy creates 16 unique personality types (such as extrovert-sensing-feeling-judging).
This is all old news—Myers and Briggs, a mother-daughter team, created this schema during World War II. Penley’s contribution is to apply personality type analysis to parenting. What does each unique personality type bring to the mother-child relationship?
She spends the first part of the book helping the reader to determine the characteristics of their personality, with a chapter devoted to each of the four dimensions. Strengths, struggles, and tips for each specific personality category (i.e., introvert, feeler, etc.) relevant to parenting are included. I particularly appreciated the tips—those things that can help me, with my specific personality, to feel calm, comfortable, and happy in my mothering identity. For example, one of my most defining and unchanging personality traits is my introversion. One of her tips for introverted mothers is “‘Taking care of me’ means getting quiet time for reflection. Take at least half an hour to an hour everyday for solitude.” I already knew the alone time was important for my healthy functioning, but this helped me see why (I thought I just couldn’t handle my kids and didn’t enjoy being with them enough) and it provided a justification for my quiet times.
She then spends two chapters discussing the strengths of each one of the total 16 unique personality types, created from the melding of the four distinct dimensions within one individual. She gives each a short-hand title—for example, responsibility, independence, and heart-to-heart mothers, and again discusses strengths, struggles, and tips.
For the most part, I enjoyed the first half of the book. It had a workbook feel, and I didn’t spend time reading through all the sections, but jumped to those with relevance for me. I felt like I learned some interesting things about myself that resonated with who I am and provided some good ideas for how to manage the demands of motherhood. Furthermore, the material was clear and succinct and organized in tidy categories, which provided me with some order in how I think about these things.
The last 5 or so chapters of the book are her ways to put all this new knowledge into practice. For example, she talks about how children’s personality types go with parents’, and how all members in the family contribute to the overall family personality. She spends a chapter discussing father personalities. And she spent some time focusing on what kind of jobs/volunteer activities suited each personality type. I connected less with this material and felt like it was not as relevant for me now. Part of that is because my children are too young to really identify their personality types (although I do see some emerging traits in them of course). And I did think about how my husband, a feeler, interacts with our 5 year old daughter, a drama queen, and how much more effective he seems to be at it than I am, a stubborn thinker.
All in all, it helped provide some insight into who I am as a mother and helped me think about the best way to use my time. I also felt a certain measure of relief in thinking more about my personality in terms of strengths, rather than seeing myself as a "not a mothering type" trying to be a mother. I found affirmation for all the varying parenting styles, none of which are best, but which can all contribute to the healthy development of children. At one point while reading, I gasped when I read that my specific personality type has the hardest time, on average, with mothering. Rather than seeing this as a foreboding omen, dooming me to a motherhood of anxiousness and unhappiness, I actually felt validation. Yes, mothering is hard, and it just might be particularly hard for me. But, I AM NOT A FREAK OF NATURE! There are others like me--and given my personality type, my reaction to motherhood could have been predicted. It’s a quick read—put it on reserve at your library and check it out.
How do you think your personalities have influenced your mothering? Have you felt limited or empowered by your personalities in your roles as mothers? I did wonder a bit while reading if and how personalities change over time. Or if I should try to change parts of my personality that I don't love. Because I still think that some aspects of my personality might need moderating to help me be a better mother...What do you think?
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