Years ago, I was chatting with another mom at a play group, who had daughters just a few months older than mine. She was talking about how much she adored her kids. Possibly, she loved them to the exclusion of everything else. She could not imagine how dull and pointless a person's life would be without them.
When I heard that, I laughed. I thought that she was joking in that, "oh my goodness, aren't we mothers so dramatic and ridiculous" kind of way. But she wasn't joking. She was serious. She honestly thought that life - her own and those of others - could not be complete without children; that having kids made existence more meaningful and the parent a better person. This hit me like a punch in the gut. I had never felt that way, not before I had kids and certainly not afterwards. Was I a terrible mother?
I was ambivalent about having children before I finally decided to give in to the biological clock and have one. The idea of having a baby had nothing to do with feeling "complete." I was already fulfilled by the life I had created, by the things I spent my time doing, by the career I'd forged, by the plans I had for the future, and by the people I loved. I wasn't looking for fulfillment. I just wanted to try parenting on for size. It seemed like it could be a fascinating adventure, like the time I ate guinea pig in Peru.
I gave birth to two daughters in two years, a fairly demanding age gap. I continued to work during this time, full-time at first, then reducing my hours to "just" 35 per week - the equivalent of half time for someone working in corporate law. At times, I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. Kids rob you of sleep, rob you of relaxation, and steal all your time for chores and personal development, no matter how well you organize things. Other times, I felt my heart swell. Who can resist the life-affirming tug of pride when their little one starts babbling phrases, or has her first joyous game of peekaboo?
Mostly, though, life trudged on. Parenting was OK, but I wasn't rampantly excited about the job. God knows I loved my little darlings, but sometimes I wished the day would speed up so I could get them into bed. I tried (and failed) to find something in common with the woman who thought that having babies was the most noble and fulfilling job that anyone could have. I tried (and failed) to connect with the mommy blogs that told warts-and-all truths about tantrums, tears and bodily fluids, all wrapped up an ethos of "parenting is oh-so amazing we created an entire blog just to celebrate it!" (Most parenting blogs are written by SF or NF types, who really do think this way). I could not figure out those parents who were sad when their child started school (I was elated). I felt underwhelmed and completely bored. I looked forward to work so I could have a decent conversation.
Don't get me wrong, I love my kids. In the world of celebrity moms, I'm Terminator's Sarah Connor, ready to wipe out the entire world to save my children.
But parenting? Let's be honest, it's mostly a bum deal.
Why Rationals Struggle with Parenting
It may seem blindingly obvious, but when you prefer in-depth, intelligent conversations, kids aren't exactly ideal. They're emotional and unpredictable. They put sentiment over reason ("I want it now, mommy!") They don't see the big picture and they don't have much common sense. Even the most Intuitive kid learns through repetition and having step-by-step guidance through a task. For Rationals, parenting small children is the equivalent of Groundhog Day. It's utterly relentless and boring.
Rationals are thinkers. We're invigorated by a good argument. We need intellectual stimulation to keep us motivated, and can feel trapped by being stuck at home. The slow, slow pace of parenting doesn't work for us. I've been known to throw a shoe at the wall in frustration while waiting for a kid to put her socks on. We're built to explore new possibilities, not waste time on the laundry and washing the dishes.
Emotions are another struggle. Rationals often don't immediately grasp what others are feeling, even when the other person is having a massive meltdown on the supermarket floor. Some of us (ENTJ, INTJ) might jump in quickly to solve problems so we can get those tricky emotions out of the way. Others (ENTP, INTP) may feel utterly bewildered about what to do with a fussy, needy child because they place such a high value on independence. However we handle the situation, being around intense emotions all day can make us feel unsettled and anxious.
For Rational Introverts, these problems are escalated tenfold. The hubbub of family life can be overwhelming to an Introvert who is utterly drained by the noise, intrusion, chatter, messes, arguments and disorder of parenting. It's hard to manage several children at once when your preference is for one-on-one time with each child individually.
For me, the hardest part of parenting was finding the right balance. I had a half-hour commute home from work, and in this short time I was expected to flick the switch from accomplished-corporate-achiever me to soft-and-homely-mommy me. I never could manage it, with the result that neither "me" got my full attention and focus.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
Rationals might feel disconnected from parenting, but we sure are good at it. That's my biased opinion, anyway. Here are some of the areas where I think we excel:
- We have a strong desire for our kids to be independent and self-sufficient, but we also set practical boundaries so that children feel safe and confident to explore their ambitions.
- We are thoughtful and insightful, and will always make time to listen to our children's unique questions, thoughts, hopes, and ideas.
- We love to help our kids expand their minds and work hard to create an environment of continuous learning. We get super-excited by the "why" questions and love helping our kids learn new things.
- We don't typically fit into molds ourselves, so we don't push our children to do so. We open-mindedly accept our children for who they are and respect them as unique individuals. (I silently cheer every time I catch my children quietly working around the rules.)
- We see the big picture and are great at putting problems into perspective.
- We're open and rational about our own mistakes. When we mess up, we reflect, we apologize, and we do things better next time. This is a great lesson to teach children, since it's pretty much how life works.
If I had to sum it up, I say that a Rational's greatest gift is her perspective. Our children are a huge part of our lives, but we understand where they fit into those lives. We would never burden them with being responsible for making us feel happy, or fulfilled, or accomplished, or complete. It's enough that they take responsibility for themselves.