How One INFP Mom Embraced Parenting Differently

I suppose it has become typical of social media. A stay-at-home mum (SAHM) wrote an article saying that although she was grateful to be a mother, being at home full-time was just awful at times. She wrote of the stress, the loneliness and the boredom. Another SAHM then wrote in reply. She slammed the first mum’s confessions as unnecessarily negative—even downright wrong. She claimed it was the biggest joy she’d known and loved every minute of it.

So the war was on.

A war of words, a war of perspectives, a war of personality and difference.

It didn’t need to be a war, however. Surely it could be an ‘agree to disagree’ situation, an openness to difference - differences in passions, struggles, and in how we handle our circumstances and our stress.

In my experience, this seems fairly indicative of the way we look at many things in life—and parenting is no different. Somebody else does it (or feels it) completely differently to us and we wonder whether one is right and the other wrong. We may feel tinges of superiority or anger, or to the contrary, insecurity or even self-loathing if we don’t feel that we measure up. If the majority of parents in your circle of friends see or do things differently to you, it is easy to feel misunderstood and on the outer.

During the 10 short years of my parenting career, I certainly haven’t been immune to these feelings. There have certainly been times during those 10 years that I have struggled to feel ‘normal’ and felt desperate just to fit in. As an INFP, those who share my personality type are only 4% of the population (based on US data) and I share the Intuitive trait with only about 30% of the population. On that basis, perhaps misunderstandings are inevitable.

The fitting in

Perhaps there is a vision of motherhood that we hold dear in our Western societies. I have to admit that as a new mother I didn’t feel I fit into that vision particularly well: the Martha Stewarts of the world, who seem to be able to juggle a beautiful home and a full schedule, and cook, craft, sew and mother to perfection. Perhaps they hold a job outside the home, perhaps not, but either way they seem to have just the right balance of discipline and care with their children yet still entertaining their friends and maintaining good social lives. Their lives seem well organized and appear to skip along with little effort.

This has not been my experience.

As a new mother, I found myself trying to figure out where I fit in this new world. I came off a stimulating full-time career in social work into a full-time parenting role that I delved deep into. I loved my new baby and I did everything in my ability to do parenting well. For me, this meant reading copious amounts of information about parenting and child development and trying to implement the ‘right’ things into our lives. I very quickly realized that there was no ‘one size fits all’ as I became frustrated, infuriated, exhausted and lacking in confidence when I couldn’t implement or maintain the ‘right’ things—especially when it required routines or disciplines that went against my INFP nature.

Although I was aware that other new mothers were struggling to maintain tidy houses and were also exhausted by the lack of sleep, there were aspects of parenting that they seemed to take in their stride that I just couldn’t get my head around. My housekeeping and organizational skills have never been my greatest asset (as I discussed in my last post) and cooking is just a necessity. I found that my chores became even more overwhelming as I juggled trying to devote my attention to my child and manage my time and household. It was disheartening at times to see other mums dealing with this in a more relaxed and efficient manner and unable to understand my struggles.

At times, my deeply introspective and emotional nature seemed heavy in comparison to other mothers and something I didn’t feel was particularly understood. My whole-hearted devotion to being a good mother came in the form of attempting to be fully in tune with my child and her physical and emotional needs. If my baby cried, I felt her emotion deeply and just wanted to make it better. I found it difficult to be rational about her tears, or switch off in the hope she would just go to sleep, and I hated waking her for an appointment or outing. Although being emotionally connected was natural and important to me, it was all-consuming and extremely exhausting. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional overload. I wanted to understand and work through what this meant for me, but it didn’t seem to be something other mother’s understood or wanted to discuss. Plus, although I wanted to be honest about my struggles, I felt insecure about my seeming inability to cope.

Meeting up with other mothers was invaluable in those early years, but I also felt at times that I didn’t quite fit in. It was a great source of support and encouragement and great to get out of the house for some sanity. I quickly found myself caught up in the social (and primarily extraverted) aspects like group exercise classes, play-dates, shopping and cafe’s. Having this social connection was important to me and I felt for a little while that perhaps I wasn’t so different and I could do what other mums were doing. I realize now, however, that being with my child all day (and a child that didn’t sleep very much) and then also connecting regularly with other mums, I was getting very little alone time. What I didn’t understand at the time was that as an INFP, although I enjoyed being with people, I needed more time to process my thoughts, to read, to write, and to seek out more one-on-one deep and meaningful conversations to energize my depleted resources. Exercise and group catch-ups, although enjoyable for me, were not my primary way of re-energizing.

Feeling like a ‘good’ mother has not always come naturally to me. In my attempts to fit in, at times I have compromised on what I really wanted or needed in order to feel accepted or ‘normal.’ I (like that SAHM blogger) feel that being at home full-time with the kids—although a joy in many ways—has at times been emotionally and intellectually draining - sapping more energy than it generates. I always felt it was important for me to be a SAHM while my children were young and I enjoy being creative, taking walks, building Lego and having good conversations with my children, but I have sometimes missed the intellectual stimulation of a career outside of the home. It has become important to me as my children get older, to find the right balance for me and for my family.

I believe that parenting is a learning journey for each of us. As we look around and see how other people parent, there is no doubt room for introspection and self-improvement. However, trying to emulate someone else’s parenting style in order to fit in or feel ‘okay’ is a recipe for disillusionment and frustration. I have found that understanding my personality type and coupling that with an understanding of my own upbringing has been invaluable. Knowing how I think as an INFP, recognizing and capitalizing on my strengths, but also accepting my weaknesses, has been an important part of being comfortable in my mothering skin. I’m not all there yet, but if this is an area you struggle with, I encourage you to do the same.

Esther Murray

Esther Murray is a Social Worker, a writer and a mum to three animated young daughters. Esther lives in sunny Perth, Western Australia, with her wonderfully logical and dependable ISTJ husband. Esther finds joy in creative pursuits (like making beauty out of old finds) and loves to escape into an inspirational biography or other hearty piece of literature. Esther is learning to live authentically as an INFP and has a heart for others to also live to their potential.

Comments

EmG (not verified) says...

I found your post to be so authentic & honest, thank you so much for highlighting this. I'm also an INFP mum & struggled to fit in at the baby groups. I had a wonderful circle of friends & we'd arrange coffee dates at each other's houses but I was always worried about whether my house was tidy enough or if I had the right clothes or baby equipment. I could never give my full attention to the social event or situation as I was constantly distracted which I found exhausting. I was so pre-occupied with how my children's behaviour would reflect on me that I avoided going out. I felt as if I was being judged if they started to cry at an inappropriate time or if I was feeding, hugging, kissing them too much i'd be accused of making them clingy. After having my second child I developed under-active thyroid & I was completely floored. I had no energy whatsoever & it was a really tough time. Looking back I wish I'd understood about my INFP personality too. I feel if I'd realised how important it was for me to have some alone time to think & reflect I would have been able to re-charge my batteries & could have managed a lot better. The way you described how you wanted to be fully in tune with your child's needs is exactly how I feel. I put my heart & soul into being a good mummy & want to connect on such a deep level with my beautiful children so that I can truly help & understand them. I feel in the early days I gave so much of myself to them that there wasn't anything left for me. If there are any INFP mummy's reading this I urge you to prioritise taking time for yourself whenever you can - for us "deep thinkers" it's a necessity, not a luxury! Sending lots of love to the INFP community xxx

Esther Murray says...

Hi EMG, thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. I am deeply encouraged to know that there are others that share/have shared similar struggles in their parenting. I actually felt quite emotional reading your comment and really hope other INFP's (or anyone else) are encouraged also. I think your statement about seeing time-out as a necessity not a luxury is spot-on! I have so often apologised for my 'deep thinking' (feeling that maybe I am being selfish indulging in it, or that I am being too complicated) yet it is so ingrained in who I am. I think we are much happier people (and have far more energy) when we take time to honour and process the complexities in our inner worlds. Thanks again, Esther.

A-Carol (not verified) says...

Really beautifully written text. I'm not a mum yet, but motherhood is definetely a dream to come true in a few years if all goes well - and my partner is also an ISTJ! Anyway, what I want to highlight is that you perfectly illustrated the fears that me (and probably many other INFP's) experience by even thinking of being a parent - specially a mother, we all know there is no connection like a motherly connection. Being overly protective and clingy, lacking organization or methodical approaches, feeling like we're missing out on so many other enjoyable things that keep us sane, like reading and writing and traveling... but reading about your experience makes me hopeful about my own, and really glad that you have been managing well. I'm sure your kids are lovely, just like you seem to be.

All the best!

Esther Murray says...

Thank you for your comment A-Carol. I'm so glad this encouraged you even prior to having children...it really is so valuable understanding who you are and the wonderful qualities you will bring to motherhood before you begin! All the best!  

Prue (not verified) says...

Thank you for sharing this very honest wonderful thought. Ever and often been there. I'm SAH-infp-M with 4 kids. 

It's like lose my sanity everyday. But i realize that no place like home. Home is the best place ever my husband give to me as a woman. From home i could grow the great humans for their future.

And due to all my weakness. The more strunggle, the more tiredness, the more value you could reach. It's not about "because i'm an infp so i comfort here in my ideal zone" but because i know well i'm an infp, i'm peace with my self, then i could go one step ahead to give my best effort.

Keep writing and sharing :)

STAHM (not verified) says...

Thank you so much for your post. I am also an INFP, very close to INTP, but also very much have had difficulty in being at ease in the mommy groups and all the extroverted socializing of relocating and settling down in a new location, due to my INTJ hubby's career. It's tough, and feels lonely, eventhough I'm busier than ever, and actually quite drained. I'm going to limit my playdates and commitments to twice a week. I felt like something was wrong with me, and I wasn't being the best mom if I didn't do it all. I'm pregnant, and tired, (with an amazing extroverted toddler at home), and need to find a balanc that is healthy for me. I do write every Sunday morning, so that provides a regular creative outlet. Big hug to all the dedicated infp mommies out there! I do feel that our intuitive nature helps us be keenly aware of our babies ever changing, multi-dimensional needs. 

Annali (not verified) says...

God, I'm so glad I stumbled across this article. Many thanks for this! :)

I thought I was so out of this world with my need for alone time, nobody seems to understand (and accept) it. I'm a single INFP mum with ADD and when I'm not able to process my thoughts (usually after waking up) I become very grumpy. Sometimes not that easy with my early morning birdy :) 

i have to say I found it very difficult to bond with my son for the first 6 years and know that feeling of 'doing everything wrong' and feeling inadequate too well. I also stopped socialising because of that. My son was/is quite outspoken and can be very rude and I find it difficult to discipline him. I always try to figure out what lies behind his feelings which seems to make it worse haha. But we're on a good way and yes, it is key to look after oneself, although that can be quite difficult for an infp.

But we always have to remember we are good (and important) the way we are, we should follow our values and try to leave world's opinion aside and follow our own (mother) way! :)

d_mauer (not verified) says...

I'm a little late to the game here, but it's crazy how much I relate to what you're saying here. I am an INFP, and have been married for 3 years (also to a "wonderfully logical and dependable ISTJ husband"), and I've really been wanting a baby. I actually just finished my first semester in social work, and I'm unsure if I will continue. Anyways, it just sounds like we're very similar :)  Everything you say about mothering as an INFP (as opposed to the many guardian mothers out there) mirror what I've been processing lately as I consider kids. I appreciate your thoughts and advice on all this. So much luck to you and your beautiful family. 

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