Published in ‘Parenting’ Magazine, Issue 31, Summer 2007/8

Mothering StylesAs mothers we are all unique individuals. But in spite of knowing this we seldom celebrate our differences. We mothers often feel that we are less than we should be. We think that we could be doing more, our coping strategies are failing us or that “We would be so much better if only we were…….”

I was delighted to recently discover a book which addresses this very subject. Janet Penley’s book ‘Mother Styles’, takes an insightful look at motherhood through the lens of ‘personality type’.

For many of us mothering our children is our toughest assignment. Before any dads reading this get too up in arms – yes, you have a tough time too, but it’s different. Janet has run parenting workshops in the US for over twenty years. When asked why her book is on ‘Mothers’ specifically and not parents generally, she explains that when dads reflect on their parenting style they compare themselves to their own fathers. Given the turn around in the increased involvement dads have with their children over recent years, they tend to see themselves as doing rather well. On the other hand, mums compare themselves with other mums and they come up rather short of their own high expectations. So, as a group, we need to re-think how we view our achievements as mothers. Mothering is a life changing experience and we need to co-operate with the process of learning rather than become frustrated with our short comings.

As mothering can be often hard and draining, Janet believes that mothers are particularly receptive to new ideas. She likens becoming a mother to going through adolescence, becoming someone new and experimenting with different options.

I share Janet Penley’s enthusiasm for helping parents understand personality type. The knowledge is a gift which I invite you to unwrap and see what’s hidden beneath. So often we look at what is happening within our family, but asking why it is happening is a far more interesting question. Understanding the personality dynamics in your home, including your own style as a mother, can help you answer the all important ‘why’ questions. When you are attuned to the personality differences in your family it is possible to explain some of the simple things which can so easily be misunderstood and cause conflict – those interactions can even begin to make you smile rather than ‘lose it’ when they happen.

With my own children I remember one Christmas when they both had new scooters. We went down to the park for their first test run, armed with orange cones to teach them some steering skills. My daughter shares my practical approach and love of systems and rules. We quickly devised a plan to set up cones in a straight course and weave in and out of them in order to time each other and measure our improvement. We were happy.

But my son was not impressed. When his turn came he sailed past the first cone and he was off! From his perspective the game was dull and far too restricting. Recognising what was going on, I gave him the option to set up his own game. He scattered the cones randomly and set off on a mission to knock them all over as he passed them on the scooter. He still learned how to steer, he just did it his way – and I’ve learned his style of doing things – so that’s fine with me.

When I first became a mother I saw my key role as that of a teacher. “I’m going to teach this beautiful, special child everything I know to help her lead a good and fulfilling life.” What I have learned is that the flow of learning is actually in completely the opposite direction. What I have learned about myself through the act of mothering has been way more than I ever imagined possible. It is a journey which continues to challenge and delight me and it is one that has been significantly assisted by understanding personality type.

Research tells us that many mothers struggle usually because they want to do this job well. But we need to believe that our own style of parenting is good enough. Yes – we can learn some new skills by watching other parents yet still be aware of the natural strengths that we bring to our family. We would be wise to focus on not just surviving but enjoying motherhood in a style that can be all our own; equally valuable, equally successful – just different.

Thankfully, we now have a book to encourage us in our pursuit to be the mothers we were destined to be – and then be happy about it!

Times to compromise

Your child is a dreamer while you value practicality and common sense.

You are eager to get out of the house but your child prefers to stay at home.

Your child has a meltdown over unexpected changes, while you love surprises.

You want to lay down the rules your child wants to make them with you.

Your child needs a plan for the day you want to just see what comes up.

You want to praise and nurture, your child wants respect and independence.

“If you understand your children now you save them a lifetime of searching for what they never had as a child.” From ‘Personality Plus’ by Florence Littauer

Mother Strength

You may be a mother who has high energy, wants to get out and give your children different experiences, role model social skills and connect with the community around you. And that’s OK.

Or you may be a mother who observes and reflects on your children’s needs, provides time and space for down time, is a calming presence and focuses in depth on one thing at a time. And that’s OK too.

You may be a hands-on, practical mother, who shows love by taking care of the details, creates a comfortable home, values family traditions and keeps everyone grounded. And that’s OK.

Or you may be a mother who encourages each child’s unique potential, takes a novel approach to the ordinary and routine, looks for possibilities and new ideas to inspire and keeps sight of the big picture. And that’s OK too.

You may be a mother who encourages independence and competence, helps your child to pursue knowledge, problem solve using critical thinking skills and value fairness. And that’s OK.

Or you may be a mother who prioritises nurturing and creating harmony in the home; who responds to the emotional needs of your child, shares and confides personal information and offers warmth and affection. And that’s OK too.

You may be a mother who structures and organises day-to-day living, runs an orderly household; shows you care by setting secure boundaries, has clear goals and role models following through and completion. And that’s OK.

Or you may be a mother who enjoys spontaneity and exploration, responds easily to your child’s interruptions, is relaxed about clutter and is tolerant and accepting of your child’s unique timetable for development. And that’s OK too.

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