The Curious Case of the Rational Mother

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. 

Jayne Thompson

Jayne spent sixteen years working (slaving away) as a lawyer before quitting the rat race (burning out) to become a freelance writer. Now she tells stories for clients in all sorts of industries with a focus on small business development, finance and HR. Despite being an INTJ, she is very keen on the human side of business. She lives in Yorkshire, UK with her ENTJ husband and two baffling children. Find Jayne at White Rose Copywriting.

Comments

Sylvia Ziemann (not verified) says...

Thank you for these wonderful insights. I am an entp married to an intp. My husband and I are both artists and have one girl aged 18  istj and one transgender intp age 21. We have parented in all the ways you have pointed out allowing our kids to grow and be themselves.

I was exhausted and still am sometimes with the complexities requiring me to set my needs aside to attend to them as a parent. But I do believe we have done a great job and not burdened them with our own issues. They have grown into fascinating beings. Now that they are moving into adulthood it's still challenging but much more interesting and more free time for us to be ourselves. 

Thanks again for the clarity.

 

Claire Edwards (not verified) says...

From my first encounter with a child--I was 4 yrs. old--I knew that I did not want one involved in my life. Someone came to visit my family and brought this alternately boring and obnoxious little blob with them. Stowed in MY nursey for the duration of the visit--oh, lucky me!--it was either asleep, boring;  or spitting up, yelling, and smelling; obnoxious. I suggested that it should first be "turned off" and then placed in the box in the back of the closet with my unwanted toys. When I was informed that a baby did not have an "off switch" nor could it be ignored when one did not wish to be bothered with it, any nascent primeval maternal instinct that I might have possessed evaported never to return.  I have always known what I wanted--and didn't want--for myself; INTJs are born that way.
 

TamaraLH (not verified) says...

I love this, "...alternately boring and obnoxious little blob..." That's exactly why I didn't make friends easily, I did not want to be friends with these things! No thanks, I'll go back to classifying my penny collection by year and mint locstion, making zoo cages for my plastic wildlife figurines, and looking for interesting fossils in the KY limestone.

Cristina (not verified) says...

I feel like you took the words out of my head. Reading this brought me so much peace! I've struggled with the fact that I don't feel about parenthood the way all off my friends and family do. Thank you for showing me I'm not weird, and I'm not alone.

TamaraLH (not verified) says...

Great article Jayne! Perfectly said, perspective. I'm 37 and an INTP and have no intentions of having children, I told my hubby that if the occasion should arise that I *need* to rear a young one that we could adopt - and he would need to be the sole earner at least until grade school. I know that I cannot do the juggle you did with career and children. 

Jessica Justice (not verified) says...

I love that you get me! I'm INTP through & through!

I have 2 kids, 11 & 8, and this article is almost exactly what I go through being a mom! Every article you write is like you know my innermost thoughts! So cool! Thank you for making me feel normal! :p

-Jessica

Holly W (not verified) says...

I am a 30yo ENTP, and except for being in a different industry than you this could literally be about me - though I've never been able to put it into words like you did! Thank you!! My fiance and I don't have kids and do want them eventually, but I've often wondered it it makes me a bad person that I don't have the "call" that motherhood is my purpose in life. So glad you said what so many of us are thinking! 

Mathilda A Dock (not verified) says...

ENTP - always enjoyed my children, they are so much more interesting than most people and now that they are adults, they are my closest friends - my ex husband and I were unconventional in our parenting style mostly because of me - I'm typical ENTP, and recently my so actually thanked me for exposing him to comedy and other interesting experiences. Being an NT doesn't mean you can't be nurturing. My kids were hilarious.

ENTJ Mama (not verified) says...

Thanks for the article.  It really resonated with our family (me=ENTJ, husband= INTP).  We waited into our late thirties before trying to have a kid and now we have a 2 year old.  We knew we could have one kid or none and still be fullfilled and happy.  I also felt, like you wrote,  "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." Sure, people told us that having kids would be the hardest and best thing you did.  I would disagree with that:  it's not the hardest, but it is indeed intense.  And the best thing?  Parenting has it sweet moments, and we certainly love our child in abundance, but being a parent is not exactly stimulating, or fulfilling all of the time.  You sure give up a lot of your free time, discretionary income, and energy, not to mention all the wiping of noses, bums and other constantly damp body parts of young children!

Thank goodness for childcare outside the home because I could not fathom the slow pace, constant low-grade stress, and unstimulating (intellectually) environment of staying at home full or part-time.  It's not in my personality make-up to be a stay at home a parent, although many of my mom friends seem to enjoy it and is the right choice for them.

And my poor INTP husband feels exactly like you described:  "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"

We know we are very sound parents, and we will undoubtedly raise a child who will feel respected and supported for who s/he is and hopefully will be independent, resilient and not a feeler . .. just kidding, we have a plan to deal with that too, haha!

Writeroby (not verified) says...

Thank you! I am a 31-year-old ENTP who has no children, however, your post moved me to tears! I told my father when I was 23 that I want children after 30. He thought that was unusual and against the societal norm. I see myself as a rational mother with views that challenge the standard 'my-children-are-my-life' paradigm. I saw myself in your shoes, Jayne, which quickly began to tug at my heart. So, cheers to My Future Self and thank you for sharing!

VenlaT (not verified) says...

Am I the only INTJ who loves children? I don't know why, as they are so bright and curious. I was baby-sitting a 6-year-old a few months ago and, after engaging her in the Socratic method and embarking on a research journey, we learned to distinguish between similar-looking animals and how to pick locks. Without her suggestion, I would never have learned those things. I also created boardgame to get her to do her math homework, which amazed her parents. As far as social interactions go, baby-sitting 2-3 children is much more enjoyable than most adult activities. As for care-heavy, sleep-depriving babies, they possess a truly magical ability to melt the ice my heart is imprisoned in. 

The main difference between my parenting style (though I do not have children yet) and other types is that I treat children as supervised adults. I think that many children misbehave because they are bored, relegated to appropriate "childlike" activities rather than given enough freedom. (Anecdotal evidence: Children rarely misbehave when I watch them, even if they are considered unruly by their parents.) Parents are a child's guide on their journey of self-exploration, ensuring they reach certain milestones and keeping them from danger, but letting them direct their own path. 

JM (not verified) says...

I am somewhere between you and the author. I have three kids and they are all very interesting to me. I enjoy watching them grow as people and I have much-enjoyed some of the previously mundane adventures in seeing life; discovery through their eyes. At the same time, dealing with the bodily fluids and the laundry was not so fun. However, I feel the good generally outweighs the negative. I can see now why I had so much trouble fitting in with the other moms. I was honest about parenting and I would probably be completely confusedand shocked speechless if a mom gushed about how fulfilled she was by motherhood. It's hard, and it sucks. And you crave alone time and peace and intellectual stimulation. There is nothing wrong with feeling that way, though. And I am glad this blog is saying it.

Rijke (not verified) says...

I enjoy children, too, although I have grown into this more and more with age.  I find their minds interesting and I like to treat them with respect that I think, as you described, makes them cooperate with me quite well.  My mother, who is an educator, said, "children like you because they can tell you respect them."  In my work as a clinician I must sometimes work with children and get them to cooperate for some tests.  I find that I can do this quite readily, using my analytical skills to fine-tune my approach and charm and entertain the child into doing exactly what is needed.  In the process of getting what I need so I can help them, I can also help them to feel good about themselves and their accomplishment of cooperating and doing whatever tasks are needed.  I find that being an analytical, rational person lets me do a good job with people of all stripes and types, many of whom would be upsetting or annoying to others.  I agree with what you said about freedom, but I think it's freedom to think, to be themselves, to be honest, to create, not blanket freedom.  I think without realizing it, you are conveying your values and your boundaries and the children are respecting your boundaries as you are respecting them.  They are not wanting to cross you or abuse you because the appreciate the intellectual freedom you offer/convey/model.  I think kids respond beautifully to boundaries where there is also freedom and that is what works for you and what works for me as we do so well with them.

kellyblack (not verified) says...

INTJ -  Thank you for making me feel less like an outlier.  I have two daughters who I love passionately, but I have to say their early childhool years did seem like the slow-moving groundhog day you describe.  Now they are teenagers and I greatly enjoy finding tools to help them become their best selves.  That's a great project for an INTJ.

Jenn, INTJ (not verified) says...

How can you not be thrilled with the ultimate complex problem solving experience of helping a new being learn how to be an adult?  What are they experiencing?  What are they seeing?  How are they interpreting this particular moment in time?  Pay attention, watch and learn with them.  Why do children have tantrums in the middle of the grocery store?  Observe, solve the problem, put your theory into action and do it differently.  If your child doesn't provide you with a lifetime of intellectual stimulation, you are not honoring your own gift.

Michelle, INTJ (not verified) says...

Thank you for this article.  I agree wholeheartedly with this.  You put my thoughts into print.  I did view parenting as another adventure.  Boy, was I wrong. And boy do I want a new adventure.  I love my kids and happy that they have lives but I want to reclaim my own after 20 years of this. As an INTJ I  NEED time with myself to think and just be happy. 

Someone else (not verified) says...

My mum is intj and was never particularly affectionate or homemaker-ish, she has never acted as if we children where the center of her world. I feel I was lucky to have a mother like her growing up, she modelled for us what it was like to be an independant, free thinking, self respecting person.

Being a mother isn't about fulfilling a social role, it's an intimate relationship of love and responsibility between you and the people who are your kids, your children are going to love you and learn from you no matter how poorly you comform to social expectations :p

You guys just keep on being yourselves and there's no reason why you can't make wonderful mothers. I always secretly felt like my mum was so much better than everyone elses.

Rijke (not verified) says...

I relate to this.  I am an INTP mother of two.  I will confess I didn't want children.  I didn't dislike them but didn't think it was a good idea for me.  I became pregnant accidentally as high fertility runs in my family and birth control is not perfect in spite of what people want to believe.  This was an unexpected blessing!  I rose to the occasion each time in my rational, logical way and learned and grew and adapted myself one day at a time to be the best parent I could be.  Each of them had different needs as babies, toddlers, young children, as teens.  My kids are two entirely different people and I think it is a fascinating study in nature and nurture that as a parent you can watch up close and personal.  I am a scientist at heart and I love psychology, biology, human anatomy & physiology, pathophysiology and the art and science of medicine.  Being a parent gives such a unique lens to study these topics.  I am capable of love and empathy and I have tender emotions (just not that often or that strongly all the time) and I don't think being a rational, analytical, logical scientist-type precludes these things.  I have sometimes felt odd-woman-out when hearing others gush on about motherhood or babies and the like, as the author described.  I think the author nailed it when listing all the strengths that she brings to parenting.  Bravo!  I agree completely.  My kids are better off for my rational style of parenting.  I don't live through them and they don't have to meet my emotional needs; I accept them for the people they are; they can share anything with me as a result and they tell me they feel accepted and free to be themselves.  I can level with them and set boundaries and give them feedback but I don't have to douse them with my emotions every time I am unhappy with their choices or worried about them.  I have also been able to teach them to be circumspect and think about how they think (metacognition).  There are plenty of gifts a more rational type of parent can proffer and I don't want to apologize that I am not emotional and gushy.  My kids and husband know they have my heart and I am always rooting for them even if I don't show it exactly like 90% or more of the female population.  I think the article is incredibly normalizing and I'm glad for this perspective to be spelled out like this so we know we are not alone.  Thankfully I accepted myself the way I am a long time ago.  I learned the motto, "identify, don't compare" which refers to the idea of noticing what you may have in common with fellow human beings and not worrying about what separates us. I came to believe that it is fine to have my strengths instead of someone else's and be my best version of me rather than trying to fit into the more common paradigms of what womanhood and motherhood and personhood "usually" looks like.  I would like to know more people who are like us because I know very few and I do feel alone plenty of the time.  In my work I am surrounded by people who are not "NT" and maybe not even "N" or "T" at all.  This article was refreshing as it felt like I was hearing from my "sister" who is like me and we can understand each other's perspective.  Thanks for that!

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