I think my personality is incompatible with motherhood
October 20, 2011 8:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to be a mother in about two months. I'm concerned about what kind of mother I'll be. How can I reconcile the fact that my personality type might be at odds with being a great mom?

I'm an INTJ. I know some people have issues with the Myers-Brigg, but I really do draw a lot of my identity and self-knowledge from that label. Sometimes (oftentimes) I feel like I'm a genuinely cold person. I hold people to incredibly high standards, and I get frustrated if they fail to meet them. Especially with children, I often compare their behavior and progress to my experience at their age. I was incredibly calm, behaved, and self-sufficient as a child--and I have trouble giving leeway to kids in my life that I feel are poorly behaved, or not self-sufficient enough.

I know part of this is my own hangup. I was not a typical child. Due both to my family's finances and to the culture in which I was brought up, I had a spartan childhood. I was so quiet as a baby that my parents thought I was deaf. But because of how my personality's developed, and probably also because I'm the youngest in my family, I have a hard time relating to children. I am not warm and fuzzy. I am impatient, high-strung, and often unforgiving.

I'm terrified of being too hard on my son, and of not showing him enough love. How can I work on being a loving, attentive, fantastic mother in spite of my personality defects?
posted by litnerd to Human Relations (52 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
My first instinct would be to say that you will love your child no matter what, so I wouldn't overthink it. You know how parents say having a first kid "changed them"?
posted by wolfr at 8:36 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Alice Miller, Alice Miller, Alice Miller.

If you only read one, read the first.
posted by stuck on an island at 8:37 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm assuming you are having a child with a partner for this answer (apologies if not accurate) but how do you act towards your partner? My guess is that, whilst you might demand high standards from them, you also have the capacity to be incredibly compassionate and supportive towards them, drawing on your love for them. You may not even realise it, but I'd bet you do.

Having a child is, so we're told, the most powerful, consuming, devastating love you can ever feel. It changes people in all sorts of ways. I'd guess it might allow you to further tap into your reserves of compassion and supportiveness in ways you can't currently imagine. Love can make us behave in all sorts of funny ways, but if we channel it unselfishly towards the people in our lives, it can only develop us into better versions of ourselves.

Sorry if that's a bit waffly for you. But my money is on you being an absolutely brilliant mom. The fact that you care enough to write this post gives the game away from the off :)
posted by greenish at 8:38 AM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

So the secret of parenting is this: Every decision you make as a parent will either screw your kid up for life, or be the best thing that ever happened to them, and you have no way of knowing which it will be. Look at people who were raised in horrible situations of abuse and deprivation. Many of them are truly harmed and damaged by those events, but others use them to rise above and work towards eliminating those evils from the world. Many children of divorced parents blame that divorce for their own struggles in love, but my parents divorced when I was twelve, and I have been very happily married to my high school sweetheart for almost 15 years now.

Love your kids the best you know how, in the best way you know how, and that is really all that you can do as a parent. For better or worse, you are not going to be able to change your personality in 9 months, so just do the best you can with what you've already got.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:39 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a pretty good dad, I think. I didn't dwell on it too much beforehand, but if I had to guess, I'd say I'm a better parent now than I would have supposed then. I'm with wolfr, try not to overthink it.

Also, are you going to be a single mother or will the father be in the picture? I only ask because I myself am repressive and logical while my wife is very emotional and talkative. She's the Kirk to my Spock. I'd have a hell of a time raising my kids without her and I like to think she feels the same way. You two may be better parents than you will be a mother, if that makes sense.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 8:39 AM on October 20, 2011

Your kids will turn out like you. Think about what's good about you. Then go read about the other 15 Myers-Briggs types and their flaws -- nobody is a perfect parent.
posted by michaelh at 8:41 AM on October 20, 2011

Sorry, yes, I'm married and my husband and I are having this child together. Thank you everyone so far.
posted by litnerd at 8:41 AM on October 20, 2011

I really do draw a lot of my identity and self-knowledge from that label.

For what it's worth, you're identity is about to undergo a major revision.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:41 AM on October 20, 2011 [9 favorites]

regarding the culture you were brought up in: if I'm not wrong, we're both in our mid-20s and immigrants from the Soviet Union. I don't want to get into a whole Thing on how regressive Soviet social psychology is w/r/t children, but basically take the example of how you were raised as what not to do. I'm not saying that every move our parents made was a permanently damaging mistake; obviously young émigrés are not a large group of maladjusted pariahs. However, the general milieu of Soviet child-rearing is not compatible with American culture. Look at what your parents did, listen to their advice, consider it, and then don't do most of it. Avoid your instincts. Fake it.
posted by griphus at 8:41 AM on October 20, 2011

It may help to read about developmental psychology. That will give you a better idea of what is "normal" for an infant/toddler/child than remembering your own childhood. I don't have any particular book to recommend, unfortunately, but I'd look for the kind of book that might be used as a college textbook for a developmental psych class.

I have very high standards too-- I found that learning about development allowed me to have more reasonable expectations about my son's behavior.
posted by tuesdayschild at 8:44 AM on October 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

(Also, take the example of the well-adjustedness of said well-adjusted émigrés as an example as to how generally difficult it is to really screw up a kid if you're not aiming to.)
posted by griphus at 8:44 AM on October 20, 2011

Well, you haven't described any personality defects.

I honestly think that you have no way of knowing how you'll act until you have your kid. You may well find that there is nothing to adjust.
posted by OmieWise at 8:44 AM on October 20, 2011

My younger sister is an INTJ who has never been known for her patience. She has a four-month-old and watching her with this baby is unlike anything I've ever seen from her before. Obviously, the child is still very young, but my sister truly delights in every single thing about her. I think, if anything, her high expectations will help her encourage her daughter to do the best she can.

I really think the fact that you're aware that this might be a concern is a great sign that you'll self-assess often enough to not do any damage to the child.
posted by SeedStitch at 8:47 AM on October 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

It's a trust thing. I hold people to very high standards because I try to protect myself from being hurt by people who don't treat me like I need or want to be treated. Consequently, I don't have a lot of close friends :P This is mostly due to my crackpot mom, who a) holds people to impossible standards and b) changes these standards all the damn time.

So you basically need to learn how to trust yourself more, or at least let go of the need to be on top of everything at all times. The reality is that you will NEVER EVER EVER be able to meet that standard. And, really, that knowledge is kind of freeing. If you start from

I am not a mom (so take my advice with a grain of salt), but a big reason for that is having some of the same feelings you seem to have. I still haven't made up my mind, but I try to put myself in the situation of caring for kids (e.g. babysitting for friends, etc.) so I can challenge my assumptions and get more experience. I've gotten a little more comfortable with letting kids just do their thang over time. I am so much more scared of myself than they are of themselves, or of me, or of life.

My crackpot mom has impossible standards because it covers up her deep shame at her own failure. Woe is her. But if you start on the other end of the spectrum -- keep the kid fed and clothed and warm and all, and give whatever love you can give whenever you are able to give it -- anything more than that is icing on the cake.

And do not under any circumstances discount faking it 'til you make it. If you get in the habit of doing something, regardless of why, it's easier to do. My very smart friend (who is now a MeFite, but I will keep her anonymous for now) uses the "what would a robot nanny do?" scenario to get her through the tough times. That kind of thinking can help take the focus off of you and your own endless personal beanplating and put it back onto the basics of what needs to be done. "Child need food. Give child food. Hug child. Enjoy smelling head. Beep bork."
posted by Madamina at 8:50 AM on October 20, 2011 [9 favorites]

Ah, crap. Take out that "If you start from..." part, because i basically covered it in the fourth paragraph.
posted by Madamina at 8:51 AM on October 20, 2011

Being a parent is tough. However, you will make allowances for your child. You will also need to make allowances for your expectations of the child's abilities and of your own expectations. You may have to remind yourself from time to time that your child is only 4 years old, for example, and it is natural for a 4 year old to bounce off the walls.

Will you love your child? Yes, I suspect you will. It may not be the rush of emotions that many parents describe. It may not be that instant falling in love that is so idealized. It may take time for you to realize that you love this child deeply. If that happens, it is OK. You're normal.

One thing to keep in mind is that your husband brings a different perspective to this new relationship than you do. He will do things differently than you do. Let him. It is not wrong. It is just different. Let his skills help balance yours. Raising your son is very much a joint effort and you're not faced with doing this alone.

Good luck and allow yourself to enjoy your child and your birth experience even if it turns out differently than you planned for or expected.
posted by onhazier at 8:53 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

If it makes you feel any better, I have many of the same traits as you, and while I do likely get more frustrated with my son when he does things wrong, I also very much appreciate when he does things and tries to do things. And as such, for the most part, he has turned into a 2 year old that his daycare teacher wishes her other kids were like. He's fun loving, and while he has his 2 year old moments, is generally well behaved. Sometimes I have to stop myself and remind myself that he's just 2, or that I need to be happier or make sure he knows I love him more, but then I do that and he seems to be doing just fine with it. Also I found it easier to show my son love than I do with other people partially because he's my baby, and partially because I've been able to get him interested in the things I like, which is endearing to me.

So just make sure you are being realistic with your child for their age and catch yourself when you are being too critical, and I think you will be fine. And remember, you don't remember what you were like as an infant/toddler, so for the first couple years, you won't be able to compare him to yourself and you will be learning about what is and isn't age appropriate through trial and experience.

And if you are still really worried about it, talk with your husband about this and make sure you come up with a system where he can tell you (in a constructive way) when you are acting too critical. You are a team and he can help balance you out in many ways.
posted by katers890 at 8:53 AM on October 20, 2011

A new baby is difficult for every first-time parent. You will be exhausted for months. Babies are never perfect and parents are never perfect. There will be behaviors you cannot control. Learn to relax and go with the flow. Take up yoga or some other stress-reducing practice. Do you have nearby friends or family who are young parents? Ask for help when you feel overwhelmed. Are there any parenting classes in your area? If there aren't, reading about child development will help, as tuesdayschild suggested above. Perhaps some younger parents here (my youngest child is 35!) can suggest some good books for you.

You sound a lot like one of my sisters, she's a perfectionist, and always behaved perfectly as a child. Her first child had terrrible colic and cried for months. It loosened my sister up considerably. She also came to realize that her husband was better at dealing with young children than she was and let him be the primary parent. They have been happily married for nearly 40 years.
posted by mareli at 8:54 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

previously (sort of) wherein this blog post is discussed, containing a book you may find helpful.
posted by 100kb at 8:56 AM on October 20, 2011

This is a very interesting question to me as my boyfriend is also in his mid-twenties and grew up in the former Soviet Union and is an INTJ. However I've noted that while he holds his work colleagues and friends to pretty high standards, he's quite different around loved ones, including me. He was, like you seem to have been, an intelligent, quiet, well-behaved kid, who had to grow up pretty fast.

On the other hand, FWIW, I'm an ENTP, and I find that our strengths are complementary -- I can take care of some of the social stuff he doesn't much care for, help him with appropriate social behavior and he in turn is immensely helpful to me because of his core reliability and responsibility. I think what makes it work for us is that he understands that I am different from him -- for example, I don't much like waking up early in the morning and am grouchy and will laze about interminably. He kills me with kindness though, getting out of bed without waking me, taking the car to the shop and walking back and then wakes me up with a cup of tea. I have absolutely no doubts that he's going to be a fantastic father. He some practice with small kids -- his niece and nephew -- and while he complains that they're extremely hard to handle, I think this is good practice for when he needs to raise his own. Perhaps you could try being around small children more, get used to not having everyone behave as you'd like them to?

I think the key to this question will be working with your partner and finding out what your respective strengths and weaknesses are, and what the best style of parenting for you both is. You both don't need to do everything. My dad is not quite and INTJ, an INTP, and while he's not as organized as you probably are, I found his reliable, calming, soothing presence very comforting in my childhood, as compared to my mother's upswings and downswings of affection and anger. I think I grew up ok. Your child will be fine.
posted by peacheater at 8:58 AM on October 20, 2011

I'm pretty INTJ too.

Please don't stress. While I am not a typical mom, I think that I'm a pretty damn good one.

Your kid is going to be YOUR kid. So while you might judge OTHER kids, your kid is going to biologically/emotionally be so different from anything that you've ever experienced...

And with my own kid, I'm very physical with him while I'm not with most other human beings.

As far as behavior, thankfully my child is pretty well behaved. We are pretty strict and try hard to be as consistent as possible though and I think that this has helped mold his behavior. We help him to be as independent as possible - feeding himself since very early and always picking up after himself.

(I also get annoyed with naughty children.)

But again, don't stress. You'll ease into motherhood and do it your way. You won't screw him up.

MeMail me if you want to talk more.
posted by k8t at 9:03 AM on October 20, 2011

It might also help if you were a little more skeptical of your own memories of what you were like as a child. If your NT temperament is accurate, you should be knowledge-seeking and open to new ideas. The science surrounding human memory has changed a lot in recent years, to the point where most experts believe that it's possible to have very clear memories of things that are radically different from the way they actually happened. These false memories can be shared among family members or friends, because they're reinforced by social dynamics, and children are particularly susceptible to creating false memories, which then persist into adulthood.

In other words, your memories of yourself as a self-sufficient child who behaved well may not be accurate. It's possible (perhaps even likely, given that you were a kid) that you threw temper tantrums and misbehaved and needed your mommy sometimes. It's possible that this happened even if you don't remember it and your parents and others who knew you then swear that it didn't happen. So basically, it's possible that the standard by which you judge children is based on a view of yourself that is entirely false, and there's no accurate way for you to find out whether or not it's true.

If you find this idea at all interesting, there's a ton of literature out there about suggestibility and false memories and how they affect us. But the bottom line is that whenever you hear yourself saying "Kids shouldn't do X, because I never did X," you should remember that you actually have no way of knowing whether you did X, so it's unfair of you to expect others to live up to that standard.
posted by decathecting at 9:06 AM on October 20, 2011 [8 favorites]

I'm an INTJ with a reserved personality, and was regularly lauded for my behavior as a child . I'm also a relatively new parent, and I had some similar if not quite identical concerns. My kiddo is 10 months old, so not presenting the sorts of challenges that, say, a mouthy 5-year-old does, but I can say that he is by far the best thing that has ever happened to me and I (mostly) genuinely enjoy being around him in a way that I had not expected to happen for years. I am far from physically demonstrative, even with my family, but I can't stop cuddling and smooching my kid.

One thing you will have going for you is that you will be watching your child grow, so your expectations for behavior, etc. will have context--you will know whether your six-year-old can reasonably be expected to behave in specific ways. This is unlike your current experiences with children, in which the only comparison you have is your memory of yourself at that age--which, no matter how well-behaved you were, is probably eliding certain memories. It's good to think about how your personality is going to affect your parenting and to make a mental note that perfectionism/high expectations are something t watch out for, but I wouldn't be overly worried.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:16 AM on October 20, 2011

Fellow INTJ mother at this end. One of the strengths of this temperament is its analytical drive toward order and ever-better systems...which will probably go straight to hell for a while because newborns and babies are just so much work, and because they are more important work than, say, the dirty kitchen floor or disorganized closet. For better or worse, you'll probably be monitoring yourself and your actions, and that level of self-awareness is not a bad thing. But please also work on preparing to forgive yourself for the inevitable slide into material disorder.

As far as your child goes, *you will figure out what your particular child needs.* Whether or not that corresponds to the culture's idea of perfect mothering is beside the point, so don't beat yourself up for not looking like the warm and fuzzy models on the covers of parenting magazines. You're going to be able work it out, even if you can't see the way clearly from this particular moment.

Good luck. Fingers crossed for healthy baby and healthy mom.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:17 AM on October 20, 2011

You're totally overthinking this. The intent of Myers-Briggs is to help you understand how to deal with folks different from yourself, not so much to tell you that you'll be bad at something as encompassing as raising kids. There are many ways to be a great parent. Have you considered that encouraging self-sufficiency and discipline could be a strength of your (future) parenting style?

Anecdotally, I was raised by an INTJ and an INTP. I love them / get along with them / think they did a good job raising me / had a good childhood. The things I wish were different don't relate to their personality types.
posted by momus_window at 9:18 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

On the one hand the fact that you're concerned about it probably shows you're going to be an OK parent.

On the other, don't stress about it. I really believe that being relaxed and being yourself, whatever your personality type, will give both you and your child a better experience than efforts to conform to any 'warm and fuzzy' type.
posted by Segundus at 9:25 AM on October 20, 2011

Definitely check out the linkage posted by 100kb above -- that was exactly what I came in to recommend.
posted by somanyamys at 9:29 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm an INTJ and you sound just like me. I had the same worries before he was born about a year ago, but I'm just completely in love with the little dude. No lack of affection or snuggles or playtime here, he's just so inquisitive and smiley. My non-INTJ husband is chiming in to tell me he was worried about the same thing but has been really impressed with how I've done. Being a mom changes you even if you don't want it to, but it's okay because it makes you better. You will do absolutely fine. :)
posted by agress at 9:49 AM on October 20, 2011

I know a woman who is cold as ice/high achiever/type A personality and her daughter is wonderful - you know why, because her mother loves her. The fact that you are concerned is a good sign.
posted by any major dude at 9:52 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Child of an ISTJ & INTP here - not so far from INTJ for either of them. I think having parents like that has actually been a huge asset for me, because from a young age they taught me to think things through and see both sides of an argument/story. There are great skills you have (maybe not the exact same ones but I'd guess you're pretty analytical) that you can model and teach for your kids. I know that TV and some parenting books/magazines say it's all about support and cookies and hugs. But don't underestimate the value of giving them a good model and good methods for solving problems. (In the same vein, I'm really glad that both my parents worked; I love having the model that you can raise happy & healthy & successful kids without having to give up everything else in your life).

Reading some books on child development might help or it might hurt by giving you a target the kid might or might not reach ('average' kid does X by 18 months, then half of normal kids aren't doing it yet then). I'd just try to keep in mind that people who've had multiple kids usually say that the later kids are so much less worrying because they now understand that phases are temporary and kids develop at their own pace.
posted by Lady Li at 10:01 AM on October 20, 2011

We are, I think, similar in personality. I am not the warmest or fuzziest of individuals and my lack of patience and high-strung tendencies are legendary in my family.

One of the key things have learned in the almost 2 years since having Toddler theBRKP is learning how to be in the moment with him. Teaching myself to experience the moment has been enormously helpful in lowering my expectations about how he should behave and where he should be in terms of development.

I learned by practice. By consciously slowing myself down and taking time to be mindful of how he was experiencing the world. It was hard work at first, but it is something you can teach yourself. The key is to be patient with him, but more importantly be patient with yourself. My love for my son did not develop overnight, my patience did note develop overnight either, but it did come.

As others have said, the fact that you are asking these questions is an excellent indicator of the kind of mom you will be. Please Memail me if you need more support.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 10:01 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wrote this question last year and now I'm ten months in with my daughter and, well, it has been a bucket of fun and lots of wonderful. And I'm also finding myself laughing at her personality and thinking, yeah, I was probably like this! And knowing my own mother, I can see how this would be frustrating! My mom continues to have fantastical thinking about the ideal family and how everyone ought to behave and I did not live up to that. I'm so okay with that.

However, I do see that the way I respond to my daughter is under my control. I have been short with her and then I have thought long and hard about my reaction. I think it's okay to be short with your kid once in awhile but it's not okay to not think about it. So, here's what people were pointing out to me then and is my saving grace now: you're thinking about it. That's half the battle right there. Right now, my girls is going through highs and lows. She's joyful and laughing one second and literally throwing herself to the floor in a frustrated fit the next. (And then she hits her head on something and then she cries and then there's cuddles and then she's laughing again and... whoa. Some days are a little crazy.) However, things only get bad when I find myself mirroring her reactions. Because, it's hard to be a baby. Clearly. And it's hard to be a mom but it's not that hard.

You can do this. You will continue to reassess and recognize behavior you don't like in yourself and you'll do fine. But, here's my big wisdom from this experiment in life and parenting: The most important relationship is the one between you and your spouse. Kids are tough on a relationship and it's important that the two of you focus on supporting, loving and cheering on one another. The only days that have been truly awful have been ones where my spouse and I are not on the same page. Communication. Communication. Communication. Forgiveness and loving. Your spouse will help you stay on an even keel. They must! Talk over your fears with your spouse. Again and again and get their support.

You can do this!
posted by amanda at 10:13 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Some of it will come down to a match between your personality and the child's personality--some kids would thrive under someone with your personality. I have a friend in particular who has two parents like this and she has deep respect and love for them and has been extremely successful in life (and she's a great friend, who can be cold at times, but it takes all sorts). Then again, there might be a personality mismatch, which will take more effort from both of you.

Some of this will be your husband and other family members/friends who can provide more warmth and easiness. Grandparents often fit into this role (you hear jokes about people "spoiling" their grandkids).

Don't underestimate the difference you'll have in responding to your own kid. I say stuff like "he's so smart!" about my 3 week old on a regular basis. Recently he was smart because the sun came out when we went outside. This makes no sense, obviously, but it comes from somewhere besides logic.

Finally, you choose your behavior and you can choose to be less critical, more affectionate, and the like. You might want to let go of your strong identification with a "type".
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:17 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

(As a nanny I have been intimately involved with all kinds of parents and kids really do well with all sorts of interaction styles, discipline techniques, schools...kids are able to thrive in a lot more environments than we give them credit for.)
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:20 AM on October 20, 2011

I almost forgot--some people do much better with older kids/teenagers. My father in law was not great until everyone was potty trained, speaking in full sentences, and somewhat rational, but at that point he was the Best Dad Ever. He was even more skilled at dealing with middle schoolers, teenagers and now that my partner is an adult he is an amazing resource and source of strength and guidance. Parenting doesn't end in kindergarten!

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:29 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Read the books, do the thinking suggested above. Be conscious of your attitudes and be ready to second-guess everything you do.

Then give birth, and smell your baby's head.

I have seen hardened individualists that demand perfection from themselves and everyone around them who have laser-like sarcasm that could cut titanium melt into puddles of love when they smell their baby's head.

Becoming a parent doesn't make you less who you are, but it does unlock parts of your brain that you might never have experienced before.

Be thoughtful, but recognize that thought isn't everything that parenting is.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:34 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was like this. I had a daughter (who is now 8) and I went through law school while she was a toddler. The anal side of my personality bloomed in law school. The time with my daughter gave that side a rest. In my view, she was my secret weapon in law school, because I was able to chillax when I wasn't in class or studying -- I was playing with her, snuggling, tasting flowers, whatever. That gave my brain a chance to absorb what I was learning passively, and made me more able to focus when I was in school. And because I was able to be intense, demanding, and focused in school, I didn't take that tack with her.

My suggestion, therefore, would be to have a specific outlet for that side of your personality, so that you aren't fighting yourself trying to be soft and fuzzy all the time if you just don't feel like it. I continue to find outlets for that side of myself -- being a lawyer, being on non-profit boards, taking language classes, etc. -- and that means that I don't apply that to my daughter (much -- just enough to get her going, I hope).
posted by Capri at 10:34 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are so many things that I could write, and there are many good suggestions above (and I think the Robot Nanny is a great one - honestly, you can sometimes just phone it in and it will turn out fine).

But aside from doing important things, like making sure you're taking care of yourself, respecting your own person, and "putting on the oxygen mask first", it may help to read the writing of others who had conflicting feelings about motherhood, and who are frank about things not being all cheery and glowy all the time, regardless of their upbringing or type:

This one was particularly helpful and is more "heavy" and sciencey: The Birth Of A Mother: How The Motherhood Experience Changes You Forever

These are warm, deep, truthful and often just humorous enough (and, we can thank a mefi for them): Mothershock, It's a Girl and It's a Boy

At the time, I also loved Mothers Talk Back.

Those books, along with various unvarnished blogs, and with the experience of having a child, helped me to know that motherhood is a process. It doesn't come along with the insemination, it comes with time. To be told the truth was comforting, because I am not always a great mom, and I am in VERY good company. You don't have to be great the minute your son comes out - you have to meet his needs as he grows, and as you get to know him. In fact, you only have to be great sometimes, if that's comforting, because they do not remember every single minute of their lives.

You can also know that hormones will kick in, and they help. Oxytocin, FTW! Huff that baby's head every chance you get. Or, you may find that you will need to talk to you doctor and get help if it really is bad. My kid's entire second year was brought to you by Effexor, which kept me from being "that screaming mom" and running off to become a waitress in a truckstop in Texas.

You don't have personality defects - you are yourself, and he will love you because you're you.

You have a world of advice here on the green, and support galore, but I do hope you have a friend or mentor in your daily life, maybe with motherhood experience, with whom you can let it all hang out. This morning I had coffee with the mom I know who is most like me, and whose slightly-older kid is my daughter's bestie. In one hour, we covered mean girls, puberty, self-esteem, skating lessons and tempers and even had time to talk about our own work and family issues. I felt like I'd been wrapped in a soft blanket and had a tummy full of pie when I left. Okay, well, I did have pie - but I had that conversation wrapped around my churning brain, containing the mess that's been burbling in there, and I still feel comforted by it now. I've digested thoughts on some of her issues too, and am about to send her a note, because I had a brainstorm and I care about her. It's what we do. Husbands are great, but I do hope you have a friend you can treat as a confessional.
posted by peagood at 10:58 AM on October 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm an INTJ...I really do draw a lot of my identity and self-knowledge from that label. Sometimes (oftentimes) I feel like I'm a genuinely cold person. I hold people to incredibly high standards, and I get frustrated if they fail to meet them.
How can I reconcile the fact that my personality type might be at odds with being a great mom?

Well, I don't think this is because of your personality type. I've taken the Myers-Briggs a few times over the years and always come out as an INTJ or an INTP. And I don't feel like I am cold at all, and definitely know that I don't hold people to super high standards.

I think the way you feel not because of your Myers-Briggs personality type but because of this:

Due both to my family's finances and to the culture in which I was brought up, I had a spartan childhood.

I think you think and operate the way you learned to think operate during your childhood. I say this because I think you can change. I think the way you are might not be some pre-set thing entirely determined before birth by the wiring of your brain. It sounds learned to me, and I think you can un-learn it.
posted by cairdeas at 11:20 AM on October 20, 2011

One of my favorite memories of my mom is the day I decided to rearrange the furniture in my room. I must have been like ten at most. She knew that all the heavy lifting was going to fall to her or to my dad. Thinking back now, she was probably just thinking that she didn't want to do all that work if I was only going to change my mind again. But so what she did was, she showed me how to use a measuring tape, and we made a map of the room and to-scale paper cutouts for all the furniture, so I could try out different arrangements and find the perfect one before we started moving anything.

That's a total INTJ move. But at the time, all that mattered was that it was fun — and also that she took this silly little whim of mine totally seriously and came up with A Plan to make it happen. (And then she told me she'd learned the make-a-map-first trick from her dad, who's a fellow INTJ and a naval architect. She explained that what we were doing was a little like making a blueprint, and that just blew my mind. We were using a Professional Technique! That had been Handed Down Through The Generations! Just to rearrange my bedroom! Whoa!)

Mom was also a librarian at the right moment in the 70s and 80s when it was turning into "library science" and then "information science," and she had intense geek cred. She taught me my first UNIX shell commands. She set me up an account on the Cleveland Freenet, and later on a local dialup BBS, back in the Dark Ages before the web took off. I was a big nerd, and seriously unpopular in school, and thanks to her big fancy INTJ brain I still ended up with a pretty nice social life through the people I met online.

And she made totally badass Halloween costumes when we were little. She showed up like clockwork to soccer games and piano recitals and whatever. She always asked us how our day at school was — and was really interested in the answer, because kids are interesting puzzles and she wanted to know what made us tick.

None of this is touchy-feely stuff. She is absolutely not a touchy-feely person, and strangers find her pretty intimidating. But god damn if she wasn't a fantastic mother anyway. You don't need to be huggy, extraverted or infinitely patient. You just need to be paying attention and using the skills you've got.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:26 AM on October 20, 2011 [20 favorites]

I was incredibly calm, behaved, and self-sufficient as a child--and I have trouble giving leeway to kids in my life that I feel are poorly behaved, or not self-sufficient enough.

I'd spend some time reflecting on your (implicit?) belief that all kids SHOULD be well-behaved and self-sufficient to your particular standard, like it's some kind of objective truth. It's really just your preference, isn't it?
posted by callmejay at 11:33 AM on October 20, 2011

INTP here, and not the touchy-feely type at all. In high school, one of my nicknames was "Charmin" -- as in, "please don't squeeze the" -- because I was so physically unaffectionate.

But oh, holy crap, do I ever love my weird little Boo, and I am more huggy and tickly and silly with her than I ever thought it was possible for me to be. I think you're going to be just fine.
posted by Gianna at 11:40 AM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

You don't need to be huggy, extraverted or infinitely patient. You just need to be paying attention and using the skills you've got.

Quoted for truth. Wish I could favorite this more than once.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:28 PM on October 20, 2011

My mom's an INTJ. I'm an INFP. I actually think INTJs & INTPs are great parents, especially (I'll admit) to introverted intuitive kids (but since it's your kid, it's likely enough). I realize you're not my mom and INTJs are all different, but still... my mom isn't not a 'kid person'... at all. She cares for me because I'm me, not (simply) because I'm her daughter. She's always treated me as a person, even when I was a wee little one. What Gianna says about being silly and touchy & tickly is definitely true for my mom and me... actually, though, I think both INTPs and INTJs are really both silly & affectionate but rarely express it or relax enough. When it's your kid... yeah, you relax enough. It probably helped that I was a smart kid, but since it's your child, it's likely to be pretty close to you, and regardless you're likely to project endless capacity onto them anyway. Well, this has its plusses and minuses.

My mom definitely had (and has) very high standards for me, and this definitely drove me up the wall as a lazy (and ADD) kid who just wanted to daydream all the time. While my mom loves to have fun (her way-- at the theater, taking me fun places for vacation, at the library), she definitely pushed me to work, to go to appointments, to school and after-school activities, etc etc. My childhood life was full of educational and sports activities she didn't have a chance to do herself, or thought were useful, or healthy, or just necessary for my growth. She was always trying to cram everything into me that she possibly could, and my life was very rich-- and yeah, full of constant conflict and compromise and discussion about all sorts of things. I do not take direction lying down, and I've always had my own desires and opinions, which my mom frequently got frustrated with (like, ever since I was a toddler).

So anyway, I don't want to promise you you'll be a perfect mom-- my mom wasn't perfect, and we fought a lot (though we were always very close), even though I'm another introverted intuitive. But I think this friction has been very fruitful and productive, and both of us changed for the better-- she's softened a lot, I've hardened a lot. Your child will change you as much (or more) than you change them. They are nothing like a blank slate. They can take your opinions and desires and raise you their opinions and desires, since they're very young. The things that are your strengths: listening closely, having intelligent conversations, pushing people to do their best, understanding both feelings and ideas well, never giving up, never accepting a half-assed attitude once you've started something-- all these are awesome life lessons to pass onto others. I can't say I've become the exact kind of person my mom would've wanted me to be (sorry mom), but I could never have been half the person I am now without her.

I appreciate the fact that she takes me as I am the most-- she never had to be "a mother", if anything because that's got too many preconceptions. She can't have been my mother if she thought she just had to be a mother. Sometimes-- a lot of times-- what seems to be a strength in traditional thinking is actually a weakness in practice (and vice versa). My mom's mother was an ENFJ (a much more traditional idea of a 'motherly' personality, though that's not actually true of my grandma), and she was pretty unhappy and couldn't connect to her mom. My grandma never quite saw my mom as she was, never paid attention honestly and directly. I believe INTJs are great at this sort of courage-- perceiving the reality even of their children, no matter how difficult that is-- and that is very difficult for almost any parent. As much as she's always pushed me and driven me insane with demands and to-do lists and unwanted structure, she's always simply been there to listen to me, to tell me what's on her mind (she even complained to me about me since I was very little). She was very light-hearted and silly when I was little-- actually, I think she's sillier and more childish than I am, even now that she's way over 50. She was totally on my level even when I was little, and I had a lot of fun with her. My mom was my best friend, growing up. Even now, I call her for her opinion on any decision I'm wondering about because she's so clear-thinking and though she tries to bullshit me, she can't. We keep each other on our toes. I think having me is both her biggest headache and her biggest adventure.

Prepare to have your world stand on its head. But, you know, in a good way.
posted by reenka at 12:49 PM on October 20, 2011

I think the way you feel not because of your Myers-Briggs personality type but because of this:

Due both to my family's finances and to the culture in which I was brought up, I had a spartan childhood.

I think you think and operate the way you learned to think operate during your childhood. I say this because I think you can change. I think the way you are might not be some pre-set thing entirely determined before birth by the wiring of your brain. It sounds learned to me, and I think you can un-learn it.
posted by cairdeas at 11:20 AM on October 20 [+] [!]

This is my thinking too. You have some agency here.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:08 PM on October 20, 2011

Sheila Kitzinger is a great resource on babies.
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk
Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children
The Mother's and Father's Almanacs

If you are a demanding person and/or a very critical person, it might already be hard on other people you love. If so, you can learn to change the way you behave. Kids do fine with high standards, but criticism is hard on people, kids included. Think of how you like to be treated - with respect, honesty, kindness - and treat your child that way. You don't need to meet a standard from tv shows or other fictionalized versions of parenting. Children are pretty adaptable and resilient, esp. when they know they're loved.

A healthy marriage helps a lot. When your child is old enough to understand, once in a while ask him "How am I doing?" The answers are interesting. Do your best, keep reading books(or use your preferred training mode) that are well-regarded, check in with your spouse and family doctor, and you and your family will be fine.
posted by theora55 at 2:22 PM on October 20, 2011

I am not a mother, and I am REALLY not an INTJ, but I just wanted to add a datapoint - a good friend of mine is an INTJ and the mother of 2 children (currently aged 4 and 8 IIRC). I think she's a great mother and I really admire the connection she has with her kids - if I had kids I would be asking her advice for sure. The kids are gorgeous, vibrant, confident, clever individuals, and I'm pretty sure they know how much they are loved. I suspect they are held to high standards, but I'm thinking that this is not bad in itself - it's all about how these expectations are communicated (with gentleness rather than harshness, and with encouragement rather than condemnation). I suspect that the tenacity that my friend and her husband bring to parenting their children consistently is a huge strength - the kids' boundaries are consistently enforced, and this promotes a secure sense of self and also means they have much better awareness of manners than kids of comparable ages (and while rigid codes of behaviour could be confining, the lesson of how much co-operation a polite request can elicit is one worth learning!) Of course they are still little kids, and they get out of hand from time to time, and my friend acknowledges that she sometimes feels frustrated - but surely this is true of all parents. So in summary: while I can see there are potential pitfalls in being in INTJ parent, I think there are also significant benefits as well.

(My mum introduced me to the paper cutouts for mapping furniture too! [And I still use this method when the need arises!])
posted by Cheese Monster at 3:23 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

You say you hold people to incredibly high standards. So you should have no problem holding yourself to standards as high or higher. I would say a good standard for motherhood would include letting children develop at their own rate (within medically accepted norms), remembering that children need to act like children -- and not like little adults -- in order to develop properly, supporting children's interests and efforts ... I think you probably know good ways to raise a child. I've found the hardest part of childraising, for me, was not that I didn't know what to do, but remembering it at times when my emotions threatened to take over. So based on what you wrote about yourself, I would recommend focusing less on the standard to which you want to hold your child, and more on the standard to which you hold yourself.

As for loving your child, nthing the others who don't think that will be any kind of problem. I will say that in my case (I'm a dad, not a mom), I was less affected than my wife was in the first hours and days of life, but fell in line very soon after that. So if you're not feeling the overwhelming unconditional love the day your child is born, don't assume this is your new reality; getting to know your baby likely will change everything, just as everyone says.

Also, while I have no thoughts on children's self-suffiency, we have high standards for our child's behavior, and it hasn't seemed to affect him negatively, only positively.
posted by troywestfield at 7:03 AM on October 21, 2011

You sound a lot like my INTJ mom tells me she was 33 years ago, and my brother and I both turned out fairly well-adjusted. Between the two of us, there was enough hell-raising to really piss my parents off, but at no time--from either of them--was there any abuse, neglect, or anything that otherwise made us feel like damaged goods. In fact, I'd say that we both have better (if not closer) relationships with our parents than most of our friends, to the point that said friends will comment on it. And although I haven't had kids yet, from the many friends that do, I can tell that it will be very hard not to be "loving, attentive, [and] fantastic" to your kid(s). In fact, quite the opposite, even if they are little hellions. Just remember that you can tell all their friends about the crazy stuff they did as little kids to embarrass them when they're teenagers.

TL;DR, you don't have "personality defects," you have a personality that is fine with having kids.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:57 AM on October 21, 2011

I'm INTJ too and just thought I'd add a data point. I really dislike kids. I find myself doing the same comparing and criticizing that you do...except with my SO's niece and nephew. I love them to pieces even when they do really terrible things like throw rocks at me. Know that the bond you feel with your kids will be stronger than any personality trait. I was really akward and terrible around kids until I met these two. I'll admit I still strongly dislike the neighbor kids but love is a crazy force that knows no bounds.
posted by boobjob at 3:26 PM on October 21, 2011

One more thought:

I'm an INTJ. I know some people have issues with the Myers-Brigg, but I really do draw a lot of my identity and self-knowledge from that label.

I don't know if this is true or not, but one thing to maybe consider. Is is possible that you draw so much of your identity from that label, and are so invested in that label, because it legitimizes certain things about you that might be problematic? (Holding people to possibly unrealistic standards, becoming easily frustrated, comparing others unfavorably to yourself.) Is it possible that you are invested in the INTJ label because it means that those things are innate to you and unchangeable, and therefore you don't have to try to change them? That because those things are innate to you and unchangeable, they're okay and should be accepted?

Those traits of yours (comparing people unfavorably to yourself/unrealistic standards, being easily frustrated, etc.) *can* and perhaps *should* be changed/worked on. INTJ or not. Just something to consider if you think what I've said above could be a possibility.
posted by cairdeas at 12:37 PM on October 22, 2011

Relax! Keirsey and Bates wrote in "Please Understand Me" (4th Ed 1984):

As parents, INTJs are dedicated and single-minded in their devotion. Their children are a major focus in life. They are supportive of their children and tend to allow them to develop in directions of their own choosing. INTJs usually are firm and consistent in their discipline and rarely care to repeat directions given to children — or others.
posted by exphysicist345 at 8:32 PM on October 23, 2011

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