Like Mother, Like Daughter

Anyone who knows me (or even just talks to me for five minutes) knows of my deep, undying love for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) personality assessment. However, there are so many other people and things I love as well, and my mom is definitely up at the top of that list.

Admiring My Mother’s Abilities

As the youngest of four children, I spent the first few years of my life following her around everywhere she went—the grocery store, doctor's appointments, volunteering at my siblings' school. Everyone she met in any sort of line became a new friend. Long before Facebook "Mutual Friends" were ever a thing, she was always able to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with them in a way that inevitably resulted in the discovery of multiple connections between the two of them. "John, you wouldn't believe whom I met today!" she would tell my Dad, usually followed up with something that sounded to me like, "The second cousin of the hairdresser of the wife of that friend of yours from law school!"

Yet, even with all of the chats she would have with friends and perfect strangers alike, she accomplished so much in a day. Between the time she would drop my siblings off at school in the morning and then pick them up in the afternoon, she would have already completed the grocery shopping, folded all the laundry, deposited checks at the bank, caught up with her mother or one of her sisters, and solved about 15 problems over the phone with regards to bills, house maintenance, or some other random, unforeseen issue life always likes to throw at us.

She handled conflict with ease, always resolving issues with the perfect combination of kindness, composure, and confidence. She was a badass. She was perfect in my eyes. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.

Discovering My Personality Type

When I was 13, my dad introduced our family to the MBTI®, and we spent hours sitting around the table trying to figure out which of the 16 possible personality types we all were. The way the personality assessment works is that it determines your preferences for one thing or another on four different factors, resulting in 16 possible combinations:

  • Whether you get energized spending time alone or with others: Introversion or Extraversion
  • Through what means you take in information from the world around you: Sensing or Intuition
  • How you make decisions (focusing on objectivity or subjectivity/empathy): Thinking or Feeling
  • How you orient yourself to the world (organized/decided or open to possibilities): Judging or Perceiving

For years, it has been abundantly clear to me that I have preferences for Extraversion (being energized by being around others), Intuition (focusing on the big picture possibilities and listening to my gut/intuition), Feeling (focusing on how people are affected when making a decision), and Perceiving (wanting to take in all possible options and remain open to all of them). I have taken the assessment probably 20 times over the course of my educational career, and I have almost never wavered significantly from these preferences. I am an ENFP through and through.

Solving the Mystery of My Mother’s Type

Over the last 18 years, I have spent countless hours with friends and family discussing who we are and where we land among these personality types. My friends and coworkers would often tease me about how I could accurately predict others' results because I had spent way too much of my time and energy reading about the MBTI® and all of the characteristics of each type. And yet the one person I could not pinpoint for the life of me was the one woman I had known from my very first moments of existence—my mother.

Whenever I would try to figure out her preferences, she would grow frustrated with the lingo and acronyms. I would explain to her how a lot of the value in the assessment lies in its ability to help people understand one another. Seeing as how she has always been the type of person to make friends everywhere she goes, I thought that might pique her interest and make her want to learn more about it. "I don't need an assessment to understand people!" she would laugh. "I understand people just fine without some test telling me who they are." I can't say she was wrong. She is extraordinary at reading people.

Several months ago, however, I finally convinced her to take it. As I anxiously waited for the PDF with her results to load, I felt like a detective finally solving a lifelong mystery that had haunted me in my sleep. When I saw her results on the screen, I was simultaneously shocked but also not surprised in the least. She was an ISTJ—my exact opposite. ​​

Making Sense of Our Differences

Suddenly it became clear why I had somehow not inherited her get-it-done attitude or her simple, straightforward approach to dealing with difficult dilemmas. I understood why I would get sidetracked by my emotions in the kinds of tough situations in which she would use logic to maneuver her way out of them. I was obviously not my mother. In fact, I was not only not my mother, but I was almost nothing like her at all.

For a long time, I beat myself up for not being more like her. She always seemed to have everything together. She raised four kids 400 miles away from the rest of her family, and we're all pretty decent humans if I do say so myself. She was always such a dutiful parent—preparing balanced meals for us every night, making our lunches the night before school each day, dropping us off, and picking us up (except for that one time she forgot me at Girl Scouts, but that was an aberration, and I forgive you, Mom). Meanwhile, I can barely manage the laundry in a household of two or make spaghetti to save my life.

She is planned and scheduled; I am spontaneous. She is realistic; I am a dreamer. She is orderly and organized; I am chaos in human form. She is logical and analytical; I am the type of person who feels bad for stuffed animals if they're face down because it makes me feel like they can't breathe. We're very different.

Learning to Love Our Opposing Preferences

For a while after I realized this, there were times I (and she, I'm sure) found it frustrating. I would want to stop by unexpectedly for an impromptu chat, and she would want to follow the schedule she had laid out for the day. I would want to eat cake on the couch and cry about something that was upsetting me, and she would want to lovingly remind me to please not get any chocolate on the new couch pillows.

We started noticing these little things and discussing them together. We'd come to little compromises. For example, we realized that we'd both feel so much more fulfilled if we were to schedule things like coffee and lunch dates so we could give each other our undivided attention. I started to understand and appreciate why she had preferences for how to feel comfortable and at her best that were in contrast to mine.

And I saw how selfish I had been to come over unexpectedly and expect her to drop everything for me just because she's my mom! Moms are people, too—and have their own lives—as I have learned. I started respecting her need for alone time now and then, and she saw how important it was for me to talk things out with someone when I was grappling with a dilemma.

I valued the order she brought to things, and she valued the spontaneity and carefree approach that I would offer as needed. We realized that neither of us was right or wrong—just different. And we started to see "different" as a good thing, a complementary thing. We were just two very different people with two very different approaches to life who also happened to love each other very much.

Realizing How Similar Even Opposites Can Be

And yet somehow I find myself making friends with people who are in line with me at the grocery store...and sitting next to me on airplanes...and renting out Airbnb rooms to me in Paris. I learn people's life stories the same way she always has, and then I come home to report back to her about them as she excitedly asks follow-up questions like:

"And what does his father do?" "Oh, interesting! How did he get into that?" "And how did his mother start up that photography business? Maybe we could hire her to make a slideshow someday!"

We love people. We love stories. But mostly, we love each other. We are so very different and yet also very much the same.

Mom, I love you.

I love you for everything you are and everything you are not—because not only do I desperately need everything that you are, but you also need me since I have a lot of the "everything you are not" stuff. And I like to hold that over you because it means I get to hang out with you more. At scheduled times. And with lots and lots of chocolate.

Caitlin Hawekotte

Caitlin is a freelance writer, MBTI® Certified Practitioner, and Gallup®-Certified Strengths Coach. Using her educational background in psychology, counseling, and leadership development, her mission in life is to help people understand themselves and others more fully. She also loves traveling, learning French, and solving genealogical mysteries. She is an ENFP who lives in Orange County, California, with her ISTP husband and their infant son, whose personality she loves getting to know more each day!

Connect with her at caitlinhawekotte.com or on Instagram: @caitlinhawekotte

Comments

Jennifer D. (not verified) says...

Oh my goodness, this is one of the best MBTI related articles I have read! I love the storytelling and surprise of her mother being the opposite! I think the opposite MBTI types in relationships are often the most fascinating to experience. My own mother is nearly the opposite type of me!

Caitlin Hawekotte says...

Thank you so much! I’m so glad you could relate! I agree that relationships with opposite types are fascinating. It’s like everything is a fun mystery to uncover!

Sarah Elayna (not verified) says...

This was so beautiful. It’s lovely to see the ways you were able to appreciate each other’s differences and to see how the MBTI helped you discover them! I relate to your mom a lot as an INFJ and I always admire other people’s ability to be spontaneous (such as yourself)! 

Caitlin Hawekotte says...

Thank you so much! And I so admire people like you and my mom who are able to be organized and stick to a schedule or plan. I try so hard, and yet it doesn’t always work out for me! That’s why I’m so glad to have lots of friends and family with a J preference to learn from by their example. : )

Jen L. (not verified) says...

I loved this!! Such a great read that was not only relatable but also very touching. Thank you for opening up and sharing such a wonderful message! 

Caitlin Hawekotte says...

Thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoyed it and could relate! : )

Abbey (not verified) says...

Tearing up after reading this...what a beautiful and loving way to understand each other. Now, if only we could all look at each other through such gentle and curious eyes! 

Caitlin Hawekotte says...

Thank you so much for your kind words! If only it were always easy to do. However, I think the effort and the work that we put into understanding our loved ones is so beautiful, even if we all may get frustrated with one another’s differences from time to time. : )

T. Berg (not verified) says...

Beautiful!

Caitlin Hawekotte says...

Thank you! It means a lot to me that you enjoyed it!

handlingemotions says...

thanks for sharing

Caitlin Hawekotte says...

Of course! Thank you so much for reading!

Jaime (not verified) says...

Great article! I really resonate with this! Thank you :)

Caitlin Hawekotte says...

Thank you so much, Jaime! I’m so glad you could relate! : )

Krista Haug (not verified) says...

I also loved this. As an INFP I could relate to much of what you said (except that I obviously prefer alone time over time with others). I often feel like the black sheep of my family since they are all so outgoing, organized, and logical about everything while I am in my highly emotional, spur-of-the-moment, daydreamy world most of the time. Sometimes I feel like my dad was the only one I could relate to in our family. He passed away 20 years ago when I was 18. I miss having a family member who really "gets me." On a lighter note, I had to lol at the face-down stuffed animal comment. That is so me! :) 

Caitlin Hawekotte says...

Thank you so much, Krista! I’m so glad this resonated with you. I often relate very much with INFPs because the older I get, the more I understand that deep need for alone time. I’m so sorry about your father’s passing. That must have been especially difficult given that you related to him so much. My dad is an INFP, so I feel the same way about feeling that kind of bond with him. I hope your fond memories of him continue to help you whenever you may feel alone. <3 And I’m so glad I’m not the only one who worries about stuffed animals’ feelings! : )

Elizabeth Taylor (not verified) says...

 I TOO, felt badly for stuffed animals, unable to breath!! I thought I was the ONLY one!!! :)

Caitlin Hawekotte says...

Haha, I love that!! I’m so glad neither of us is alone! : )

Lori Milner (not verified) says...

Thank you, Caitlin!   I’m glad you and your mom have such a great relationship and that she’s still around for you to keep enjoying each other.  MBTI has been so useful for me to better understand and accept myself as well as others.  As an introvert in a “fast paced” world I often felt like a square peg in a round hole.  Funny, your mom and I are alike in this:  I chat up strangers when waiting in line, too!  Who says introverts can’t be outgoing!  LOL. P.S.  I have a large collection of stuffed bears and have to rotate them on display.  Guess I better check on the stored ones and make sure they can breathe!  

Caitlin Hawekotte says...

Thank you so much, Lori! I love that the MBTI has helped you to better understand and accept yourself. That is my absolute favorite thing about it because it can be truly transformative! I have so much compassion for how it must feel to be an introvert in a world that feels a bit overwhelming sometimes. I love that you also chat up strangers! When giving presentations, I am always very sure to be clear that extraverts can be quiet and introverts can be more outgoing. I know so many very sociable people who prefer introversion and also get absolute joy out of connecting with others. : ) Haha, your collection sounds amazing, and I thank you kindly for checking that all of your stuffed bears are receiving enough oxygen!

Lori Milner (not verified) says...

Caitlin, I opened each box and every bear was still breathing, LOL!  (The Christmas ones just got put away so I knew they were fine.). I changed the display on my bed while I was at it.  LOL!  I’m in my second childhood.   Growing up is over rated.  😸

Caitlin Hawekotte says...

Haha, I love that, Lori!! I agree that growing up is definitely overrated! Now you've inspired me to go through my box of childhood stuffed animals to bring some out for my son. : )

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