Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
This week, I neglected my mountain of reading for the fall semester in favor of several books relating to temperament. One standout is called Mother Styles: Using Personality Type to Discover Your Parenting Strengths. Written by Janet Penley and Diane Eble and published in 2006, the text applies the Myers-Briggs method to parenthood and family dynamics. Despite the title, my family found it equally enlightening with regard to fathers, as well as our families of origin.
This text in particular, and my readings on temperament and the Myers-Briggs assessment generally, remind me of studying Psalm 139 during my pregnancy. In the context of morning sickness, line 13 (“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”) conveyed new meaning for me. I did not yet know my child, but God created her and knew her in the womb more intimately than I will ever know another person—even my own treasured child. I recalled the sentiments of this Psalm again and again during my daughter’s infancy, when her behavior baffled me and when my joy and trepidation at being entrusted with her overwhelmed me.
Temperament theory speaks to this individuality of each human as well as the frustrations that families sometimes face in harmonizing persons who interact with the world in fundamentally different ways. Mother Styles takes up these themes with compassion and wisdom; the authors bypass the cheap “it’s natural so it must be good” argument and assert that all children need discipline—but it won’t be as effective or loving if delivered to each child in the same way. The authors also advocate forgiving families of origin for the ways that type-differences sometimes alienate and oppress difference. At the same time, they offer practical strategies about balancing the needs of each individual with the stability and happiness of the whole family.
While the authors do not put their arguments within a theological framework, for me, the connections to Psalm 139 are evident. Mother Styles helps me see how God made me and my husband and our daughter fearfully and wonderfully, but not the same. Understanding our own strengths as parents helps us to be the people God made us to be, to foster our strengths and find support for our weaknesses, not so that we can become perfect but so we can become most ourselves. This text underscores the importance of community (since no human parent can be all things to all people) and the mission of guiding children along God’s path—not ours. As Psalm 139 expresses: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” That’s not a knowledge I can ever attain, but Mother Styles shows me how to get a little closer to God’s plan for my family.