People love to give moms advice. Sometimes it seems like the whole world wants to weigh in on what makes a "good mother" ... and why you're not measuring up. But the truth is, good mothers come in many styles. Each one of us has different strengths, interests and values that make us great moms. So don't get down on yourself when you see that mom in the park playing peekaboo with her baby for two hours straight just because you prefer a more hands-off approach (watching your little guy explore on his own, say). That mom has a mothering style that works for her, and you have one that works for you—one that's just as good. Once you recognize and embrace your own personal parenting style, you can stop trying to live up to everyone else's expectations and get on with the business of enjoying being a mom!
The new book MotherStyles: Using Personality Types to Learn to Parent From Your Strengths, by Janet Penley with Diane Eble, helps you do just that. The book outlines 16 different styles of mothering, based on the 16 personality types defined by the classic Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. You may already know your Myers-Briggs type (many people take the test in college or at their job); if you don't, take the quiz below to get a sense or go to www.MotherStyles.com for a sample test. Then, find your type on the following list (adapted from the book) and read about all the special qualities you have to offer your child and how you can capitalize on them.
You no longer have to covet your neighbor's mothering style!
The mom-style quiz
Pick which side you better relate to on each of these four main personality dichotomies:
Extroversion (E) vs. Introversion (I)
Extroverts derive their energy by turning outward to other people, going to parties, working with others and meeting new people. They learn by doing and tend to think out loud. They prefer being a part of the action.
Introverts are energized by turning inward to the world of ideas and reflection. They like to think things through and emphasize reflection rather than action. It's not that Introverts don't like or need other people; they do. But many relate best with friends and coworkers one-on-one.
Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N)
Sensing types trust, primarily, the kind of information they get from their five senses—what they can see, feel, taste, hear and smell. They focus on the facts, and pay more attention to "what is" rather than "what could be."
Intuitive types consider their five senses only as a jumping-off point, instead placing their trust in information that comes from hunches and reading between the lines for hidden meanings and patterns. They focus on the future, anticipating "what could be" rather than "what is."
Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)
Thinking types base their decisions on logic and objective analysis, trusting their head to make a good choice. Words like logic, objectivity, competence, justice and fairness resonate with Thinking types.
Feeling types base their decisions on more personal and subjective criteria, giving primary consideration to the impact their decisions have on people, including themselves. They tend to trust their heart.
Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)
Judging types like an orderly lifestyle with schedules and structure. They like to follow organized plans and check things off their to-do list.
Perceiving types prefer to go with the flow and keep their options open. They may start the day with a to-do list, but it's more of a backup plan in case nothing else comes up.
From responsible to happy moms
The super-responsible mother (ISTJ)
Whether she's overseeing daily baths or, years later, insisting on a 10 p.m. curfew, the ISTJ mom's efforts are largely focused on offering her kids order and routine. She wants them to be able to count on her and the structure she provides. She is organized and detail-oriented, and gives her children practical guidance on being productive, responsible individuals. Still, with all her seriousness, she may delight the family with her quick wit and observations on the details of life.
Stay-sane tip: The best gift an ISTJ mom can give herself is uninterrupted quiet time each day. Find someone who can take the baby to the park for an hour or two while you turn off the phone and savor the stillness.
The action-adventure mother (ESTP)
Active and spontaneous, the ESTP mother can turn ordinary life into a fun-filled adventure, making dull routines exciting. Full of energy and enthusiasm, the ESTP mom gives her children every opportunity to experience all that life has to offer.
The ESTP mother is also matter-of-fact—what you see is what you get. She parents without hidden agendas and accepts things as they are. Her children know where they stand, and she develops close relationships with them based on honesty.
Stay-sane tip: Stop comparing yourself to other moms—the ones who keep a smooth-running household, have dinner on the table at 6 p.m. each night and do laundry on Mondays—and appreciate your spontaneity.
The give-'em-their-space mother (ISTP)
Nonintrusive and respectful of differences, the ISTP mother gives her children the personal space they need to develop as separate, self-sufficient individuals. She seeks to accept and honor each child's interests and choices, and doesn't believe in authority or control for its own sake (yet she has high expectations for each child's self-discipline). She wants to be there for her kids, to meet their basic needs and keep them safe, but her goal is to help her children think for themselves.
Stay-sane tip: Allow yourself a break from day-to-day household routines. Go see a movie by yourself or visit a bookstore. Hire a housekeeper every once in a while, if you can afford it.
The how-to mother (ESTJ)
Organized and comfortable being in charge, the ESTJ mom knows how to get things done and make things happen for her kids. Upbeat and straight-forward, she's intent that her kids have the best; she puts her skills and talents to work to this end, from planning trips to raising funds for a new playground. As a result, her kids learn what it takes to succeed. She also runs a tight household with consistent routines and well-defined boundaries, which help her children feel safe and secure.
Stay-sane tip: Find a project that can be totally under your control and can act as an outlet for your need for structure. That way, you may find it easier to be flexible and spontaneous when it's called for.
The tender-loving-care mother (ISFJ)
Gentle and kind, the ISFJ mom provides her kids with lots of affection and the comfort of daily routine. She is sensitive to their feelings, offering closeness and support. The ISFJ has a strong sense of duty and consistently puts her kids' needs first. She delights in taking care of the little things that matter to a child, making each one feel special. Aiming for a smooth-running, attractive home, she tends to the practical and domestic. She believes strongly in family traditions.
Stay-sane tip: Try to cultivate your own interests, and put your needs first every so often. Your baby may appreciate your unwavering attention, but in a few years, she'll need more independence.
The totally-there mother (ESFP)
Energetic and people-oriented, the ESFP mom lives in the moment. She enjoys being with her kids and can respond to their needs on the spot, ensuring that they feel loved. Out-going, she engages her kids in a wide variety of experiences; they can count on her to strike up a conversation with just about anyone, introducing them to the joys of meeting different people. She's also attentive to her kids' feelings and is deeply touched by every joy or hurt they experience.
Stay-sane tip: Join a group of mothers with children around the same age as yours. The other moms can offer support (by letting you know that you're "not the only one") and show you different perspectives and ways of doing things.
The giving mother (ISFP)
Unassuming and devoted, the ISFP mom is responsive to her kids' needs, offering behind-the-scenes love and support. She takes pleasure in physically caring for them. Her best times might be doing little things with each child one-on-one because, more than anything, the ISFP mom wants her children to know they are loved. And she enjoys being needed in return. Dedicated to raising caring kids, she instills values by setting a good example. She may be a strong role model for community service.
Stay-sane tip: You may benefit from outside help in learning how to say "no" and assert yourself. A supportive partner, a good friend or a professional counselor can encourage you to stand up for yourself.
The happy-together mother (ESFJ)
The ESFJ mom strives to create a happy family where togetherness and harmony flourish. Whether she's taking her children to the park or putting on a holiday feast, her efforts are directed toward having everyone get along. To many, the ESFJ mom personifies motherhood: She's domestic, promotes traditional values, provides familial order, and is very involved in her kids' daily lives. People-oriented, she's drawn to community and the social scene. he helps her kids discover the joys of groups.
Stay-sane tip: Remember that a certain amount of conflict is part of any healthy family. Don't let it get to you.
From family-focused to executive moms
The know-thyself mother (INFJ)
Sensitive and family-focused, the INFJ mother encourages the unique potential of each child. Her aim is to help her kids develop a sense of identity, and she seeks a free exchange of feelings and thoughts to that end. In fact, she may value the mothering experience as a catalyst to her own personal growth. She is conscientious and intense, as well. Probably no one takes child-raising more seriously than the INFJ. She approaches it as a profession requiring her best self.
Stay-sane tip: Make time for yourself, try to live in the moment, and take life a little less seriously. Instead of trying to make life what it "should be," enjoy it for what it is.
The kids-r-fun mother (ENFP)
Playful and energetic, the ENFP mom finds her kids to be good company. In fact, she says being with them justifies her own being a kid again. She loves introducing her children to the joys of life and is something of a free spirit, less concerned with rules and routines, and more inclined to give her kids plenty of free time to play and explore. She's an empathetic supporter of her children (as well as her mate and many friends), and encourages their individuality through a great variety of experiences.
Stay-sane tip: You need a release for your own emotional stress. Weepy movies and books and heart-to-hearts with friends can do you a lot of good.
The tuned-in mother (INFP)
Aware, astute and understanding, the INFP mom is sensitive to her kids' feelings and needs. Responsive and helpful, she tends patiently to those needs as they arise. But she's comfortable letting her kids follow their own course and make their own choices, offering insight to head off trouble along the way. The INFP takes vicarious pleasure in watching her kids enjoy childhood and is happiest creating pleasant, memorable times for them.
Stay-sane tip: You function at your best when you have long blocks of unstructured time—time to deal with the unexpected, loll around with your baby and pursue creative projects.
The heart-to-heart mother (ENFJ)
Expressive and warm, this mom is adept at talking about feelings, both her kids' and her own. Tuned in to each child as a unique person, she nurtures them through praise and encouragement. An efficient family manager, the ENFJ provides day-to-day structure and direction. She's also socially adept, and strives to keep her kids connected to family, neighborhood and the larger community.
Stay-sane tip: Use humor to temper your natural intensity. Harmony can be restored quickly if irritations are turned into family jokes.
The individual-integrity mother (INTJ)
This mom is introspective, defining her own success from within and is generally confident in her decisions. She's unlikely to be persuaded by her kids' saying "But all the other moms are doing it." She's competent in providing for her kids' basic needs, but she's likely more focused on building their confidence. She puts great importance on independent thinking and self-sufficiency. This mom works hard and takes life seriously; she lives for those moments when she can impart knowledge and offer her kids new perspectives on life.
Stay-sane tip: It's essential for you to have a project to call your own. If you don't have a job, try volunteering to meet your need for mental stimulation and adult conversation.
The independence mother (ENTP)
Energetic and self-assured, the ENTP mom encourages her children to be independent and confident. A big-picture person, she points out options and possibilities along the way, but wants them to learn the consequences of their own decisions. The ENTP is also action-oriented. She likes going places and doing things with her kids, exploring all life has to offer. She's less concerned with rules and routines, and more interested in challenging her kids with new activities.
Stay-sane tip: You need stimulation and variety. Paid or volunteer work is often a necessity for you, but if that's not possible, make plenty of social plans with friends.
The love-of-learning mother (INTP)
Intellectually curious and patient, the INTP mom loves to learn things together with her kids. Whether they're at the zoo or a store, she answers their "whys" with in-depth responses. She considers their questions and ideas as she would those of a peer, fostering self-esteem. This avid reader allows kids the freedom to do for themselves and quietly encourages them to believe they can.
Stay-sane tip: Allow yourself lots of time to lose yourself in reading and reflection. It may feel like you're doing nothing, but that "mind time" is very important for you.
The executive mother (ENTJ)
This mom organizes the needs and schedules of the whole family. Within her system, she provides her kids with direction and limits, but also gives them space to develop independence. A problem-solver, she listens to her kids' concerns and then strategizes with them about how to improve the situation—either by intervening on their behalf or letting them do it on their own.
Stay-sane tip: You need to realistically examine—and then reject—the myth of the Supermom. Accept your vulnerabilities, and you'll enjoy parenting more.
Excerpted from MotherStyles: Using Personality Types to Learn to Parent From Your Strengths, by Janet Penley with Diane Eble (May, Da Capo Press).