17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
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

  • Feeling: 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

  • Perceiving: 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?

What are Crib Notes?


  • Very interesting. I will pick up the book as soon as possible.
    I had so many of the same feelings before I was a mother. I thought I just wasn't wired to be a good mom.
    I would love to understand how my personality will help me be a better mother. I would appreciate reading about what strengths I may have hiding. I am relieved to know that any "type" can be a great mother...and like you said I'm not a freak of nature.
    So far I really enjoy motherhood, but sometimes I compare myself to others and feel like I'm not as good of a mom, and think I should be more like "them" - then I think, that's just not who I am. This post is encouraging. Thanks for sharing.
    posted by Blogger Melissa at 9/22/2006 02:31:00 PM  

  • This book sounds fascinating (but I'm a big fan of Myers Briggs, too). I don't know if I'd attribute it to being an INFP, but I've definitely wondered why I'm not more suited to mothering newborns and toddlers. I am often irritated at their inability to articulately verbalize what's going on (which is a totally unreasonable expectation but one I can't quite get over).

    I've wondered if different personalities are better suited to parenting different age groups. Maybe I'll love being a mom to tweens or teenagers?

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post and the book suggestion!
    posted by Blogger EmilyCC at 9/22/2006 02:39:00 PM  

  • I'm INTJ (if I remember correctly). So, I remember when the kids were little they were a little to physicially close. And it was the 24/7ness of early parenting that is SO hard! (I swear it gets better, my kids are 8,6, & 2 and it is way different. I often have uninterrupted showers even).
    My extrovert friend has her own needs. She is constantly needing to get out of the house and away from her kids and go out with her husband or a friend. She gets tired of her kids but needs to recharge in an extroverted way. If its only been 5 days since a girls night out to her it feels like "forever". I, however, want my kids to be in bed or in some other way leave me alone so that I can hang out by myself in order to feel sane, calm & happy. Luckily, now that the kids are getting older (and the house bigger) it is much easier!
    I think I am lucky that my mother wasn't a baby person and didn't love other people's babies so she 'worried" if she'd be a good mom. She said it was different with your own, and she enjoyed us more and more as we grew up.
    I think she was a wonderful mother! She was introverted. She was intellectual. Sha was a SAHM. She didn't bake bread all the time or anything though. She wasn't known for her pies and only sewed when absolutely necessary. She wasn't "amazing" with other people's children. She raised me to realize that each mother brings her own strengths to her family. She gave me the confidence that I would be a wonderful mother, no matter what my individual talents and strengths happen to be.
    I am very glad that you found this book. It is an important message. I will definitely check it out. Thanks!
    posted by Anonymous JKS at 9/22/2006 02:42:00 PM  

  • I can't wait to check out this book Michelle. Thanks for the synopsis and your thoughts. Did the book say what personality type has the easiest time with mothering? I am curious. I have no idea what my personality type is although I am pretty sure it starts with extrovert.

    I appreciate what JKS said about her extrovert friend also needing to "get away" but in a different way. Just because social interaction helps to shape my personal energy, doesn't mean that the social interaction with my children fulfills that need. Far from it. Maybe (like other have said) this will change a little bit as they get older. But for now, at least 85% (maybe more?) of the conversations I have with my 4 year old drive me at least a little crazy and I too get claustrophobic feelings on a regular basis (in fact it was I believe it was a large contributing factor to the hard time I had breastfeeding).

    I think I am pretty good with "going with the flow" as well as planning and the mixture of the two is what has helped me in mothering.

    I can't wait to get my hands on the book to do some deeper evaluations on this one.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 9/22/2006 03:34:00 PM  

  • Yeah, I'm going to pick it up too- thanks for the thoughtful post... I knew I wasn't crazy, but it's good to hear research backing that up!
    posted by Anonymous tracy m at 9/22/2006 04:33:00 PM  

  • Emily--She doesn't explicitly discuss different ages and how that interacts with different personality, but it seems that some mother personalities would do better at different stages. She mentions that children's personality types don't really develop completely until around 8, and then talks about personality interactions between family members. Thus, I would also suspect that part of parenting adolescents would depend very specifically on how the personalities of parents interact with those of teens. I am really afraid of the over-emotional teen. And Emily, since you know about Myers-Briggs, do you have any idea about what kinds of personalities make good friends? Or marriages? I am curious about complementing vs similar personalities.

    Carrie, I had to return the book to the library, so it's not right in front of me, but I *think* that she does say that ENFP (N is for intuitive) have on average the easiest time. And she does talk about extraverts and what it means to take care of themselves-- having lots to do, variety, and regular interactions with other adults (like JKS mentions.) And don't get stuck inside the house. I really like her suggestions for how to recharge--they are specific to each personality dimension and easy to implement. She also talks about to match volunteering and other opportunities with personality type so you don't end up doing something that is draining rather than rejuvenating.
    posted by Blogger Michelle at 9/22/2006 05:31:00 PM  

  • I think for me, time will tell how my personality is affecting my mothering. I think it's safe to say I have a strong personality and I am also very bossy. And I am aware that I need to turn it down a notch sometimes when dealing with my kids and other people's kids too (when I am babysitting them or teaching them at church, or at playgroup)

    My mom and I have very different personaliteis and she did an amazing job raising four children. Whenever I have doubts about my personality not meshing with my kids I try to remember a situation similar to it and how my mom and I got through it with our differing personalities...this helps.

    I also turn to my husband a lot b/c Pukey is more like him and Poopy is more like me, so if I am stumped with how to mother Pukey, I ask him for help or just tell him to deal with her.

    If I had a little more time on my hands, I would be interested in reading this book..thanks Michelle.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 9/24/2006 06:23:00 AM  

  • I've always believed that God not only sends us children that are supposed to be in our family, but that He sends us children that mesh with our personalities.

    My kids are always challenging me and forcing me to grow in good ways, but I know that if they were not the way they were (their own personalities), then I would probably be the worst mother in the world.

    For example:
    All three of my babies were perfect little babies. Good eaters, sleepers, and smiled a lot. Very mild and calm. Yes, this is a blessing no matter who the mom is (or the personality!!), but I knew it was a gift because....

    ...My sister has the patience of a saint. She's very calm in difficult circumstances --She had a beautiful baby boy with acid reflux who cried for 5 months straight. He's still pretty needy, but she not only has borne it with great patience and love, but she has helped him reach his milestones, etc. that I would have probably not cared about if I was dealing with so much pain and noise.

    Yes. God sends us the children we are meant to have, and because I wrote this, my fourth child will have colic... :)

    (That book sounds very interesting, though...I might have to get it, although discovery of my crazy personality might get me sent to the loony bin...)
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 9/24/2006 06:37:00 AM  

  • The more you tell about this book, Michelle, the more I want to read it. I think I'm going to put it high on my reading list. I, also, am really glad you wrote this piece.

    It's interesting how the author categories so many different types of mothers....refreshing since most of the parenting literature out there assumes we all have the same strengths/ weaknesses/ needs/wants.

    I was so terrified of becoming a mother because mothering (at least how we typically define it)does not come naturally to me. Then I see the many varieties of women who are mothers who are raising really great kids and I have some hope that I can pull this off.
    posted by Blogger Jen at 9/24/2006 04:49:00 PM  

  • Michelle, thank you so much for putting together a well thought out, informative post.

    I am both interested and afraid to read this book. Which means I'll probably end up reading it.

    I've never been one of those super touchy feely, great with everybody's kids people - it's just not me. And because of this I had trepedations about mothering my own...until I got them. They are like me and their father and there is some alien blood in there too...but ultimately, I RECOGNIZE myself in them and so most of the time I know what to do with them. I see alot of myself in my son (the good and the bad) and so I treat him how I'd treat myself, or how my dad taught/treated me (I'm very much like my dad). My daughter...don't really know her personality too well yet - I'm not sure who she is like so she gets a mixture and so far it's working (but hey, she's only 2). So far, by all accounts, I haven't screwed up too badly and I don't mind the motherhood ride.

    OK, just re-reading what I wrote and I NEED to read this book. Amazon.com, I'm coming...
    posted by Blogger chloe at 9/25/2006 12:09:00 AM  

  • Hi, mothers! Google alerted me to your blog and I can't help but post a comment to your discussion of my book MotherStyles. Thank you Michele for such a well-written and personal book review. I am so glad you felt validated and found the tips for your mothering style helpful. You don't mention your personality type specifically, but I assume you are an Introverted-Judging type because in my research with mothers the 4 IJ types do seem to struggle the most with the demands of mothering - myself included. It's the four Extraverted-Perceiving types that seem to stuggle less with the spontaneous, interactive nature of parenting.

    Ladies, please don't be afraid of reading this book out of fear of finding out that you are a bad mother. My goal with the book was to use a "scientific" framework to "prove" that good mothers come in many styles and for every woman to close the book knowing more good things about herself as a mother. You can also go to my website www.motherstyles.com to register for my (free) monthly e-mail newsletter on timely personality type and family issues. Lastly, I will be speaking in St. Lake City at the Successful Mothering Convention on Feb. 24, 2007. If any of you live close by, I'd love to say hello in person!
    posted by Anonymous Janet Penley at 10/05/2006 10:29:00 AM  

  • Hi, I'm the person who helped Janet write MotherStyles, Diane Eble. I related to so many of the posts here. I delayed motherhood for 10 years because I didn't seem to be naturally disposed to it.

    I first met Janet in 1993 when she spoke at a mothering seminar. I bought her self-published M.O.M.S. Handbook and I'll tell you, this material drastically affected my mothering. (Fortunately, I discovered Janet's work early in my mothering career.) Understanding personality type-especially my own, my husband's, and my children's--has enabled me to appreciate and build on the strengths of each of our types. I also know now where we need outside help or perspective to shore up our weaknesses. I grasp our family dynamics better--particularly the greatest source of my ongoing frustration. Because my husband and I are the same types, I am often stretched in opposite directions, just to provide the balance that every family system needs.

    Helping Janet expand this information into a full-size book has only deepened my understanding of personality type and mothering, and convinced me of its great value. I draw from the material in this book--about energy management, family dynamics, self-care and more--literally every day.

    I highly recommend this to EVERY mom who wants to not only become a better mother, but to enjoy the experience more.
    posted by Anonymous Diane Eble at 10/05/2006 11:00:00 AM  

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