Here’s How To Use Your Personality Type To Be The Parent You Want To Be

Every person (and parent) is different. Janet Penley, author of MotherStyles: Using Personality Type To Discover Your Parenting Strengths, shows how you can be a better, more aligned (and even happier) parent just be being exactly who you are. Here’s how.

Janet, why did you write MotherStyles: Using Personality Type To Discover Your Parenting Strengths?

The idea and need for this book originated from my own struggles as a mother. I so wanted to do mothering “right” so I went to all kinds of parenting lectures and read all the books. But instead of feeling empowered and more confident, I ended up being more confused and self-doubting. The experts contradicted themselves, so it was hard to make sense of all their advice. And some of it didn’t seem to fit my child or me. I believed that I had to be perfect to be a good mother and I was prone to comparing myself to other mothers and coming up short. By the time my children were 6 and 3, I was emotionally and physically depleted from trying to be all things to all people. Then, one Saturday morning, I had an “Aha!” moment. While I was carefully arranging the matching plates and napkins for my six-year-old son’s birthday party, he bounced in to inspect the decorations, upsetting my beautiful work.

“Get out of here!” I shrieked. “Can’t you see I’m trying to make a nice birthday for you?”

The irony of my words hit me immediately. I had tried to do everything right, yet instead of moving closer to being the ideal mother I wanted to be, the gap seemed to be widening. I decided I had to stop turning outward for answers, start tuning into who I was as a person, and muster the courage to raise my children in my own very personal and human way. And if this was the answer for me, I believed it was probably right for other mothers as well.

Thus, began the 18-year development of the information in this book, with thousands of mothers. My son is 25 now, his sister, 22. I know from first-hand experience how helpful the MotherStyles information has been to many mothers, including myself. Its message remains unique. It fills an important gap on the parenting shelf. I thought it was time to take it to a wider sphere.

How is this book different from other parenting books?

There are hundreds of books about how to understand and nurture a child, but very few, if any, about how a mother can understand and nurture herself. MotherStyles is unique among parenting books in that it focuses primarily on the mother and stresses self awareness as the key to success in parenting. It affirms her strengths, what she’s doing right, rather than judging her or telling her what’s she doing wrong. It uses a popular framework of personality type to help her to understand, develop and trust her unique mothering style, rather than trying to be “perfect” or comparing herself with her next door neighbor. It’s a self-esteem boost for mothers.

What’s the main message of your book?

There are three main ideas–

  • Good mothers come in many styles
    Every mother brings natural strengths to the mothering experience. Strengths she does as naturally as breathing. Strengths that make her children lucky to have her as a mother.
  • No mother is a perfect mother.
    Every mother is human, with wonderful strengths but also limitations, needs and vulnerabilities. The good news is kids don’t need perfect mothers; they need human mothers because they’re human too.
  • Self-knowledge is key to successful parenting. Self-awareness is key to success in any job or any relationship, and in mothering it is doubly important – because the mother’s role is both job and relationship.

What exactly is personality type?

MotherStyles uses a system of personality type developed by Carl Jung and Isabel Myers. It has been popularized by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Instrument®, and used by over 25 million people in career counseling, leadership development and team building, and even marriage counseling. It is based on the idea that people are born with innate mindsets on four dichotomies, and these mindsets combine to produce 16 different types of people. The theory says that although an individual’s characteristics may seem random and unrelated, they really aren’t and can be understood and explained by their personality type. MotherStyles uses this information to help mothers identify their parenting strengths, understand and make the most of their natural mothering style, and strengthen their family relationships. There are 16 personality types and 16 distinct mothering styles.

Where did the information for the book come from?

MotherStyles was developed by moms for moms from 18 years of observation and study. Since 1988 I have led more than 550 personality type and parenting workshops and listened to thousands of mothers tell their stories. To develop the mothering style profiles I conducted in-depth interviews with more than 125 mothers and fathers. I’ve also conducted quantitative research with more than 600 mothers on various personality type and parenting issues.

Does this book apply more to mothers of young children or older children?

I have found that most mothers who are interested in this information have at least one child 5 or under. When we become a mother, our identity is transformed. There is a natural loss of self. This book can be especially helpful to less experienced mothers who are reclaiming their identity as mothers and could use a confidence boost. However, as children age, their personalities become more developed and distinct, and therefore a more important factor to consider in parent-child relationships. I believe this book is equally valuable for parents of older children who are looking for new tools and positive new perspectives to strengthen family relationships and smooth out parent-child misunderstandings.

In dealing with so many mothering types, have you discovered what type mother you are?

My personality preferences are Introversion (I get energy from solitude and am drained by too much people.), Intuition (I like to focus on possibilities and patterns rather than details and practicalities.), Feeling (I trust my heart instead of my head.) and Judging (I need order and structure to function at my best.) These combine to make me the “Know Thy Self” mother. For me, the joy of parenting is self-discovery – both for my children and myself. I struggle with clutter, disorder, and over-accommodating.

What are examples of other type mothers?

Diane Eble, my writing collaborator, is similar to me on the first three aspects of personality type, but she is a more go-with-the-flow type mother, Perceiving. Her type is the “Tuned In” mother. Even women who are different on just one dimension of personality type have different mothering styles

My dear friend’s type is Extraversion (She gets energy from getting out into the world and interacting), Intuition (Like me, big picture vs. specifics), Thinking (Deciding based on logic and objectivity) and Perceiving (go with the flow). This makes her the “Independence” Mother. She helps children gain confidence being on their own in the world, but clingy children and daily routines can drive her up the wall.

My sister-in-law’s type is Extraversion- Sensing (practical and concrete) –Feeling and Judging. Her type mother is the “Happy Together” mother. She loves when her children are happy on their own, but nothing is better than the whole family being happy together. She provides her children with warmth and practical wisdom, but family conflicts can be very upsetting.

There’s also the How-to Mother, the Action-Adventure Mother and the Love of Learning Mother, as well as nine others.

How old are your children?

I have a 25-year-old son who is my exact opposite personality type, and a 22-year-old daughter who shares two aspects of my personality type. Knowing personality type has been my greatest gift in parenting and it gives me great pleasure to pass on the information to others. It taught me that a challenging child may really be a gift and sometimes we think a child is misbehaving when it’s really just a personality type difference.

Are your experiences of using personality type in parenting included in the book?

Oh yes, both of my children were good sports in letting me tell lots of stories about them that illustrated our type differences and how to use type in parent-child relationships day-to-day. In fact, several readers say the stories about my son were especially helpful. But the book isn’t just about my personality experiences. The voices and stories of hundreds of other mothers, of many different styles, are scattered through out the book. My collaborator, Diane Eble, has a 9 and 13 year-old and has used this information throughout her mothering, and many of her stories are also in the book.

What do you hope readers will get from your book?

Most importantly I’d like every mother to come away learning more good things about herself as a mother. Too often we focus on our shortcomings rather than our strengths, our mistakes rather than our successes. I’d like mothers to come away feeling understood and validated for who they are, and to pass on that gift to their children, and our society. I believe that anything you can do to nurture and support a mother for who she is, listen to her, validate her, directly impacts the well being of the child. Psychologists call this the physic connection. We all know that when a mother is breast-feeding, what she eats and drinks determines what she is able to feed her child. But on an emotional and spiritual level, this connection continues beyond breastfeeding. Accepting and appreciating herself helps her accept and appreciate her children. Continuing on her own journey of individuation, wholeness, and integrity, opens doors to greater potential for her children as well. I think the greatest gift you can give a child is a mother who is strong, sane and appreciative of her child’s uniqueness.

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