There’s something so liberating about taking a personality test and getting your results, a certain satisfaction in knowing that you have a ‘type.’ In knowing that all your eccentricities don’t make you weird–they’re par for the course with your personality type! More satisfying still is the ability to apply that knowledge to improve your relationships, particularly those with your children. Jill E. McCormick offers amazing insight into Enneagram parenting, with healthy habits you can adopt, no matter what type of person (or parent) you are.
Parenting is completely out of my comfort zone. I’m in love with efficiency, strategy, metrics, annual reviews, and sleep. You know, all the things that motherhood is not. When I first became a parent, I felt like I was constantly questioning myself: Why couldn’t I be more nurturing? And why did I care so much about efficiency and achieving goals? Why did it seem like all the other moms were better at this than me?
It wasn’t until I learned about the Enneagram, an ancient personality typing system designed to help people understand who they are and what makes them tick, that I understood why. Suddenly it was clear: I wasn’t ill-suited for motherhood, I was just suited differently than other mothers.
Learning my Personality
I’m an Enneagram Type 3 (The Achiever), which means that I love work, checking tasks off the to-do list, and getting projects completed as efficiently as possible. These talents and gifts (as they are truly gifts!) didn’t seem to mesh well with motherhood, especially when our girls were both toddlers.
I became frustrated when I couldn’t complete a chore quickly because I had to stop and help a toddler with her shoelaces. My agenda for the day never panned out between sleep deprivation, changing diapers, and playing dolls. (Playing and having fun can be hard for Type 3s because it just doesn’t seem to be a productive use of time.)
Not having a free minute to myself wore me out. Why in the world had God chosen to make me a mother? I felt both heartbroken that I wasn’t doing a good job, and frustrated that I couldn’t complete the shortest of to-do lists.
My best friend is a Type 7 (The Enthusiast), so I often see her doing the most creative activities with her boys. She’s out chasing the fun while I’m chasing the productivity.
I find myself wondering why I can’t be more fun, and if my girls are missing out because they don’t have such a joyful mother. And yet, when I step back, I remember that God wired Jill to be Jill because there’s a need to be Jill to my kids.
I couldn’t escape the truth that I was God’s intentional, sovereign choice for a mother to my unique children. Understanding our wiring makes us less likely to compare and more likely to connect.
If you’re struggling in motherhood too, or if you’re jealous of the parenting styles of your friends, understanding the different personality types God wired us with can be a great help!
But personality doesn’t just affect our relationships with other mamas, it affects our relationships with our kids as well. One of the toughest parts of motherhood comes from fostering relationships with our children, who inevitably are also wired differently than we are! So before we plunge into our own types, let’s take a minute to talk about how we, with our own unique personality type, parent kids with their own personality types.
How do you parent your child with grace when you have different personality types?
In our family, there are four McCormicks and four distinctly different personality types. Our two girls are different from each other and both daughters are different from my husband and me. This can lead to clashes, frustrations, and miscommunication, because we all believe that everyone should think and see situations exactly as we do.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Navigating Personality Types with Grace
While I’m not a parenting expert, I’ve discovered four best practices to help us navigate how to parent with grace all the personality types in the mix.
1. Remember God’s Purpose
God specifically selected these children to be your children. God didn’t haphazardly put your family together; He carefully chose each person to be in your family. You are on the same team even when you seem at odds with each other, even when you don’t understand each other, even when your kids act in ways that make no sense. These are your people, and they are gifts to you from God Himself.
2. Become an expert on your children
Take the time to understand how your child works, thinks, acts, behaves. What gets her scared? Excited? Angry? Does he play well alone or does he prefer the interaction with others? Maybe she works best when given plenty of time or when there’s a deadline looming? Does your child love hugs and high-fives, a thank-you note, or time just hanging out with you? Learn what makes your child tick.
3. Love them no matter what
As you observe your child and learn his rhythms and preferences, it may be easy to pass judgment on how your child is wired. Her personality may drive you crazy. You may wish that his personality was more like your personality. But love your child no matter what. God didn’t give us children to create and mold them into our own image, but so that we would teach them to love and honor the One in whose image they are most divinely made. And when you’re all out of patience, remember Best Practice #1.
4. Trust God’s Sovereignty
Remember that your role as a parent is crucial, but only God is responsible for how your children turn out. So as a mama, you’ll love them. You will mess up. You’ll do your best and you’ll fail completely. And through your entire parenting journey, God alone is responsible for your children and their future. Rest in the truth that no matter how well you parent or how terribly you mess up, God is sovereign over you, your kids, and the future.
Learning Personality Types
Lest you feel compelled to question rather than celebrate your uniqueness, let’s dig in to discover the various Enneagram types—where each shines, where each struggles, and what healthy habits you and your mama friends can implement today.
[Disclaimer: Please know that I’m not an Enneagram expert, merely an enthusiastic student of it. What I present to you is based on my own research, feedback from moms, and peer review. If you are not yet familiar with your Enneagram type, I highly recommend learning more in the book “The Road Back to You” by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile or at yourenneagramcoach.com.]
Type 1: The Perfectionist
Ones are ethical and principled, and serve with integrity. You get upset with yourself for not measuring up and become resentful when you feel you could have done better. Your inner critic is the loudest of all the types.
Where you shine: As a mama, you’re organized, consistent, and fair. You instill a sense of right, wrong, and moral duty into your children. You’re on the constant search for goodness.
Where you struggle: Because you want everything to be ‘just right’, you have a hard time handling imperfections, including all those LEGO pieces left out on the floor. To handle the external chaos, you lean toward rules as a way to control your circumstances as well as the behavior of others. Learning to extend grace to yourself and others will help you tame those perfectionist tendencies.
1. Remind yourself daily that you’re not designed to be perfect but to know Perfect. God delights in you and sings over you, even in your less-than-perfect moments (Zechariah 3:17).
2. Take 10 minutes each day for fun and play with your kids. Take a walk around the block, have a dance party in the living room, or play basketball in the driveway. Embrace your playful side!
3. Practice extending grace to little ones who leave big messes and allow grace for yourself as you navigate days that don’t go as planned.
Type 2: The Helper
Twos are gracious and generous, and easily give of themselves. As a two, you possess an intuitive ability to recognize the needs of those around you. However, you have a hard time naming your own needs because acknowledging them can trigger shame that you have needs at all.
Where you shine: As a mama, you’re kind, warm, and empathetic. There is no doubt in your child’s mind that he is loved, heard, and valued. Of all the Enneagram types, you form the strongest connections with people, which means that you know your kids inside and out.
Where you struggle: Because you want to help and do All The Things, you can become overwhelmed and exhausted. You also have a hard time taking stock of your own needs, so you may find yourself feeling deflated and resentful when others don’t appreciate all you’re doing for them. Lastly, your kids may interpret all your attention as smothering, which can cause you to double down and tighten the reins even more.
1. Take time each day to remember that God designed us to have needs, not to be self-sufficient or constantly giving (Acts 17:24-25).
2. Review all the things you’re doing. What can be cut out? Or what will you not say ‘yes’ to in the future? What current request can you say ‘no’ to? When are you spending time with God? If you’re not setting aside time to be alone with God, make it a priority to schedule that time and block it off on your calendar.
3. Spend time with a safe person in your life to talk about what needs you have. Outline a plan to ensure you are not ignoring the things that will help you maintain a healthy balance between giving and receiving.
Type 3: The Achiever
Threes are all about productivity and efficiency. Your competitive nature allows you to achieve nearly anything you set your mind to. However, you believe that achievement equals worth, so you’re always on the hunt to validate your importance through your accomplishments.
Where you shine: As a mama, you’re consistent, optimistic, dependable, organized, and responsible. As a three, you excel at knowing the end result you want to achieve (like what kind of children you want to raise), and you’ll strategize ways to move your kids in that direction. You also instill a sense of hard work in your children.
Where you struggle: Because you have an inner drive to make progress, you can push your kids to the limit by creating an over-committed schedule. The term ‘Tiger Mom’ may have been created for you. Threes often struggle with viewing the needs of their children as unwelcome interruptions impeding their focus on achieving and accomplishing tasks. If you work outside the home, you may find yourself disengaging with your kids because work can give you the recognition and approval you crave.
1. Remember that God doesn’t value you for your achievements but for the fact that you’re His daughter. Nothing you can do will add to His love for you (Ephesians 3:16-18).
2. Take time to have fun! It’s so easy to obsess about the checklist, so relax and enjoy your people as God’s gifts to you.
3. Ease up on the pressure you put yourself under to accomplish everything on your to-do list.
Type 4: The Individualist
Fours are all about individuality, emotions, and expression. You are constantly on the lookout for beauty, and you can see it wherever you look. However, you ache to be understood and can over-identify with your flaws, so you often feel like you don’t fit in.
Where you shine: As a mama, you are empathetic, honest, and eager to show physical affection. You instill a love of creativity and imagination in your children. You’re not afraid of a mess or a hard conversation, and you love to help your children navigate their emotions.
Where you struggle: Because you feel things so deeply, your children may be overwhelmed by your emotional displays. You also cannot stand being interrupted. Your children’s busy schedules pitted against a disdain for routine, can lead you to feeling overwhelmed, which can often result in you shutting down completely.
1. Learn how to experience your God-given emotions while you’re tethered to Him so you can discern whether what you’re feeling is truth or not (Malachi 2:15-16).
2. Be present with your kids, and stay curious about who they are.
3. Since your children don’t need to see you express every emotion you’re feeling, find a friend, counselor, or listening ear to talk things through with.
Type 5: The Investigator
Fives are all about information, knowledge, and wisdom. You love understanding reality and how things work. You’re a minimalist by nature, but your brain is filled with problem-solving and analytical thoughts.
Where you shine: As a mama, you critically think through your children’s problems, and you’re a wonderful teacher. You instill in your child a love for learning and how to think outside the box. You’re great at connecting with older kids.
Where you struggle: Because your mind is always going at warp speed, you struggle to make connecting with your kids a priority. You also feel protective of your energy, which may manifest itself in withdrawing from others and social commitments. It’s easy for you to feel drained by the demands on your time, space, and energy, so parenting littles is especially hard for you.
1. Take time each day to remember that God is the only One who is omniscient, and He has every answer you need (Psalm 139).
2. Prioritize pockets of time for you to recharge. If possible, build alone time into your daily routine. This could look like getting up early or using your kids’ existing quiet time as a time for ‘you time’ .
3. Remember that when things don’t go as you planned or you can’t figure out a solution, it’s good to give yourself grace, ask for help, or set the problem aside for a while.
Type 6: The Loyalist
Sixes are all about determination, strength, and support. You are constantly on the lookout for threats, so you prepare and develop support systems to feel safe.
Where you shine: As a mama, you’re nurturing, sensitive, and compassionate. You instill in your children the ability to think through a problem from all sides. Your decisions are never capricious, and your children know how much they’re cared for.
Where you struggle: Because you are prone to fearfulness, you have a hard time allowing your children to fail. The term ‘Helicopter Parent’ may have been created for you. You struggle managing the tension between your desire for control and your understanding that failing is how kids learn.
1. Remember daily that God is your ultimate Protector and that you can cast every care on Him (1 Peter 5:6-7).
2. Allow your children to fail, and help them learn how to navigate failure while they still live at home with you.
3. Trust that God alone is responsible for the outcome of your child’s life and that they are never out of His reach.
Type 7: The Enthusiast
Sevens are all about imagination, hope, freedom, and joy. You’re the most energetic of all nine Enneagram Types. You keep yourself very busy, which has roots in your desire to avoid pain, and you tend to dislike endings and commitment.
Where you shine: As a mama, you love planning fun adventures for your kids. You instill in your children a sense of whimsy and joy. More than any other type, you remember what it’s like to be a kid.
Where you struggle: Because you seek to avoid pain, you choose to have adventures and stay busy. You may overreach your children’s ability to keep up with you. Your children may also find you unavailable because you’re always on the go or ready for the next thing. You have a hard time setting boundaries because you never want to see your kids hurt or disappointed.
1. Remember daily that you don’t have to run from your pain because God is always available to take care of you (Psalm 50:7-12).
2. Take some time to reflect on your schedule. What are you involved in? Are these activities life-giving to all the different personality types in your family? Is there an area where you could cut back?
3. Learn how to set boundaries with consequences—that’s how kids learn grit and how they feel safe. Consequences help equip your children for adult life.
Type 8: The Challenger
Eights are all about strength, justice, and protecting others. You’re a force to be reckoned with. You test the trustworthiness of others by pushing back to determine what they’re made of. It’s hard for you to not be in control, and you’re not shy about expressing your displeasure or anger.
Where you shine: As a mama, you’re passionate about your kids and have a strong desire to advocate for their needs. You instill in your children a sense of safety. The term ‘Mama Bear’ may have been created for you. You love to train up your kids, and you’re consistent in your parenting.
Where you struggle: Because your personality is so big, you may overshadow your children and bulldoze them into doing what you want. You have a low tolerance for whining or incompetence, which is a difficult place to be when you have toddlers. Your powerhouse style may prevent your children from expressing their own emotions.
1. Take time every day to remember that only God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, so you don’t have to be (1 Kings 8:27).
2. Ask yourself if you view your children as projects or gifts. If it’s the former, ask God for the grace to accept them where they are and to love them as they are.
3. Learn how to be okay with others disagreeing with you and with not being in control. If you find that you’re prone to angry outbursts, talk to a trusted friend or counselor for solutions.
Type 9: The Peacemaker
Nines are all about being calm, understanding, and gentle. You’re an excellent referee, but you’d prefer to leave discipline to your spouse. Below your cool exterior is anger that unexpectedly rises to the surface, leaving you embarrassed and prone to stuffing your emotions. You have an incredible ability to see where each side of a situation is coming from, which causes difficulty in forming your own opinion.
Where you shine: As a mama, you are tender, loving, and fun. You instill in your children a sense of safety because you strive for a peaceful home and are very attentive. You’re an excellent listener.
Where you struggle: Because you love peace, you easily overlook offenses and behaviors that actually need to be addressed. You have a low tolerance for chaos, and you’re prone to anger. Enforcing boundaries is difficult for you because you want your children to be peaceful and happy, but they resist when consequences are put in place which creates discord.
1. Take time to remember every day that you are fully known and loved by God (John 4:1-38).
2. Take a course or read a book about conflict resolution so your fear of chaos and discipline is assuaged by practical information.
3. Learn to be okay with the fact that not everyone will be—or needs to be—happy all the time. It’s okay for your children to get upset when you enforce a consequence or confront them on behavior you won’t tolerate.
If you are struggling to understand how God uniquely equipped you for motherhood, I encourage you to dig more deeply into the Enneagram. This complex and layered system may be just the tool you need to celebrate where you shine, sharpen where you struggle, and develop healthy habits so you can flourish as the mom God created you to be.
What is your personal experience of the Enneagram? How has having greater knowledge of your personality type (or those of your children) impacted your relationship and parenting experience?
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