Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Myers-Briggs Analysis of Motherhood

Another two months gone by...A blogging phenom I am not.  An increasingly dumb and inarticulate mother of two I am.

I started off majoring in psychology in college.  Unlike most people who go into the field, however, I was able to admit to myself that my interest was based less on philanthropy and more on figuring out why I had a panic attack every time I shopped for cereal (it turns out I am NOT crazy, there are just too many kinds of cereal.  And, OK, I am a wee bit crazy).   So I became a historian instead, because there is nothing self-serving in that, trust me.

But I remained fascinated by myself, and why wouldn't I be.  And my neuroses. And my personality.  And others' by extension.  And in time I became a full-fledged pop-psychology geek.  And there is nothing more pop-psychological-geeky than the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  Rejected by real psychological professionals, it is nonetheless peddled to the employees of almost any organization or corporation worth its salt, usually in the context of an off-site-team-building-ice-breaker-leadership-extravaganza, right after the trust falls and donuts and just before the distribution of the Stephen Covey swag.  I am not mocking, I actually LOVE THIS CRAP.  Just like I love Oprah, even though objectively speaking I know she is a cult leader, albeit a benevolent one in my opinion.  The only danger from drinking her Kool-Aid is living your best life, and if that is not for you, well, I can understand that.  Some people just prefer to wallow in misery.  Incidentally, I have the same personality type as Oprah (and Bono and Nelson Mandela and all the best people--ENFJ), and whole-heartedly believe that I, too, could have a cult.  But while grandiose, I am also lazy, and running a cult is a lot of work.

After yet another round of Myers-Briggs analysis at work, I got to thinking about what personality type is best suited for motherhood (short answer: not mine) and the particular challenges different personalities face as mothers.  This is a real issue.  In other realms, you can choose jobs and relationships and hobbies and activities that are best suited to your natural personality tendencies, and you can maximize your joy and effectiveness in life.  But most women become mothers, and quite frankly, some our personalities dictate that we will either suck at it or be really stressed out while trying to not suck. This is a problem.

So let us apply the wisdom of the Meyers-Briggs to motherhood and see what we come up with.

1.  Extroversion-Introversion
In the context of modern, nuclear-family mothering, I think you are screwed either way on this one.  If you are an extrovert, that is, you get your energy from interacting with people, the good news is you will be interacting with people ALL THE TIME.  The bad news is they are really poorly behaved, selfish, and dependent people who are not the best conversationalists, unless you have an intense interest in the finer points of Disney mythology.  Also, unless you make herculean efforts or seek outside employment, these are the only people you will be interacting with FOR SEVERAL YEARS.  On the other hand, if you are an introvert, who gets her energy from being alone, while you may enjoy never leaving your home, you will probably be less than enthused by children bursting in on you in, shall we say, compromising positions and private moments, nor will you care for the layers of noise that accompanies kids and their demon-possessed toys.  So Es and Is are both in bad shape here, but on balance, I think it's probably be better to be an E, because as a mother, "alone time" is about as rare as a moderate in the House of Representatives.

2. Intuition-Sensing
This one is very clear cut and is in fact the basis for my inadequacies as a mother.  Those who are Ns prefer to exist in the world of imagination and ideas and find the details and logistics of life rather boring.  Well, guess what?  Motherhood is ALL DETAILS ALL THE TIME.  Add to your own personal details, which quickly go by the way side (who needs to shave one's legs when there are pants?), those of multiple other people, and you have one frazzled N-mama.  While my N-husband can spend his days solving Europe's economic problems and thinking about how a 3rd party could be successful in American politics, my head is filled with What will the children eat, what will they wear, when is their music class, which Little Gym is that birthday party at, when is their doctor's appointment, when did they poop last, What will I do with all these toys so that we aren't smothered in the night, Who can we have over for brunch so that I will still have friends in 10 years, when/what/who/where/how.  While the S can adeptly handle the moving parts and even relishes managing them, the N is likely to roll into a catatonic ball.  Not a best practice.

3. Feeling-Thinking
There are pros and cons on both sides here.  If you are a child, you definitely want an F mom, because Fs are probably more easily manipulated, are more empathetic, are more conflict-averse, and really want people, including their children, to like them.  On the other hand, Ts probably are better disciplinarians, which is a key component of parenting, unless you just enjoy being run over by a 2 year old terrorist and don't mind subjecting the world to a spoiled brat.  However, Ts can verge into the authoritarian and inapproachable, which is a problem particularly when parenting teens.  Those girls on TV who get pregnant, have the baby and rear him to age 10 before their parents know about it--methinks those girls have T moms.  I like to think I strike the right balance here.  I am an F, so deep down I am a sweetheart, but a complex mix of lazyness, selfishness, impatience and aversion to disorder makes me not that nice in most circumstances.  Especially ones involving small children.

4. Perception-Judgment
It's probably good to have somewhat of a balance here.  All things being equal, the planning, organizational, and decision-making skills of a J certainly come in handy as a mom.  The family of a J mom is less likely to be suffocated under a pile of children's art work because she just can't decide if that piece of construction paper with 2 stickers on it is trash or a crucial piece of Susie memorabilia in 25 years' time.  On the other hand, we would also have to vote the J-mom Most Likely to End Up in a Mental Ward, as the constant barrage of disorder and clap-trap that children bring is more than any human J can withstand.  Particularly if she is also an N, like I am.  The N-J combination is most unfortunate indeed.  I can't stand disorder, yet I am bored by having to manage it.  So I basically spend my life running between poles of panic and depression.  It's really fun.  The P-mom will live in squallor, yes, but she will probably not care.

In conclusion, I would suggest that the "perfect mom" is probably an ESFJ.  She loves people, including little people with no real ideas, and organizing all their crap is both her joy and her forte.  Hopefully the J side of her that loves order will rein in the F side that wants everyone to be happy, because I would argue that you cannot make a 2 year old happy and still have a stable existence.  If you try, you are living in Idi Amin's Uganda without the weaponry.  Not good.

If you are not an ESFJ, well, may God have mercy on your soul and those of your children.  Get you some Zoloft and do the best you can.

4 comments:

  1. Hahahahaha oh MAN this is SO up my alley. I am also a Myers-Briggs geek (INFJ/P) and yes, I have often said that my type is SO not the motherhood type. Especially the introversion thing, and throw in an extremely extraverted 5 year-old and KABOOM. This is a riot.

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  2. This is up my myers-briggs loving alley too!

    I am an I/E-N-F-J...was a P but then had twins and was changed forever.

    I have never had the courage to write a post about this but have often felt it is ironic that I, an introvert, am constantly in a crowd (have 3 small children) So I secretly long to be swaddled in a dark room with a sound machine playing ocean almost every minute of my new mothering life.

    On the other hand - while I think we might not be the best-suited mothers of little people.... we might be really good at the complex personalities of teenagers that other moms are so exhausted by?

    I think I enjoy mine the older they get. So that's what I'm hoping anyway...

    Anyway, bravo for having the courage to name this. I think my sister is an ESFJ and she thrives with all things babies cannot imagine her house without an infant in it...

    (((.....crickets.....)))

    Thanks for this post, so fun! You are on to something!

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  3. Funny you should mention Myers-Briggs.... Andy happened upon a website the other night that had a page for each type, full of famous people with that type. Andy's type - INFP - was full of all your favorite authors and actors and founding fathers and such. Mine - INFJ - had a couple of decent authors, a couple of relatively dour, cranky philosophers, and pretty much every evil dictator and/or terrorist mastermind you can think of. Literally, the worst of the worst. All of them. Sigh...

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