Beyond the surface

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Among Myers-Briggs types, INTPs are probably the type least likely to have children and the type least suited to stay-at-home-parenthood, and it’s not hard to figure out why. You constantly have a little person in your face and never get a moment of silence or solitude, which is draining for I’s. You deal mostly with basic physical needs of a person who (as an infant and toddler) isn’t capable of abstraction, which is boring for N’s. You need a lot of patience, empathy, and emotional responsiveness because young children are irrational by nature, which is challenging for T’s. And you need an ability to self-regulate and an organized system to counter the chaos, which is not an easy task for P’s. All of this leaves me utterly exhausted, mentally starved, and emotionally drained at the end of the day.

Then there are all the extraneous activities that typical SAHMs spend a lot of time on: crafting, baking, sewing, knitting, decorating, S-type activities ad nauseum. I completely avoid those activities, as I can’t think of anything less interesting.

But if you look beyond all that surface stuff, I think being an INTP mom is awesome, and I think INTPs (and NTs in general) are exceptionally well-suited to parenthood. Why? Exactly because it’s easy for us to look beyond the surface stuff.

When I worked in K-12 education, I was the only one among several women in my department who wanted to have children. All of my coworkers declared constantly that their job was the best birth control they could imagine. We worked with kindergarteners who were rambunctious and couldn’t wipe their noses, kids who picked their scabs and ate them during class, tweens who talked back, teens who blew off school, and everything in between. These reasons and more—diapers, tantrums, middle-of-the-night wakeups, anyone?—are cited by a lot of people as the reasons they don’t want children. But they never bothered me, because I could see past them.

As a mom of a 15-month-old, there are more times than I can count when I have spent over two hours a day cleaning up poop. But it bothers me less to be up to my elbows in poop than it amuses me to know that AJ learned how to take off her own clothes and diaper. INTPs aren’t grossed out (as much) by these sensory things because we know that what’s on the surface doesn’t matter, because we live in the world of the mind.

Watching my daughter learn something new, or invite me to play a game that she invented for the first time, or give me a kiss goodnight, or put her arm around another crying child—those moments are the real essence of having a child. In those moments, I glimpse into the miracle that’s happening inside her little head. The person that is becoming, discovering, creating, and loving. It easily eclipses all the times I’ve been vomited on or had peaceful slumber interrupted.

That’s not to say that I’m unfazed by crying or undaunted by the prospect of raising a teenage girl. I’m usually not a “focus on the positive” type of person, but it’s easier for me to do so with my daughter because the happy moments with her shine so much brighter than the bad ones. It’s easy for INTPs to live in the present and to remember the unseen things in the face of the ephemeral.

On the surface, parenting is extremely incompatible with INTPs, who need a lot of autonomy, unstructured time, and solitude to pursue their interests. I no longer have the freedom to spend hours reading about the history of mathematics, creating works of art, or taking long walks while observing nature and contemplating the meaning of the universe. If I try to sit down and read a book, AJ will rip it out of my hands and demand that I read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” instead. But motherhood is teaching me new ways of being an INTP. Parenting is a different sort of intellectual exercise. AJ is a fascinating study subject with a strange language and culture; there are many complex systems to understand and interpret. And what is essential to INTPs is not what we do, but what we think. Even within the confines of my more domesticated life, my mind is free.

I’m sure that the endeavor of parenting will become less S-oriented and more N-oriented as my daughter grows and becomes an independent person able to have abstract conversations and interests. I’m sure it will be more fun and use more of my natural abilities as an INTP. Still, I relish these baby and toddler days as the most sweet and pure phase of personhood.

Earlier this week I was having a very bad day. I was so frustrated that I sat down on the kitchen floor and cried. AJ walked over to me with a very concerned expression. Then she sat down on my lap, put her arms around me, and gave me several kisses on my lips. And everything was instantly better.

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7 thoughts on “Beyond the surface”

  1. This was great and I totally identify. You asked me earlier what I enjoyed about being a SAHM (other than the fact that I love spending time with my son), and what I meant to respond with but kept getting distracted from doing so was that, as someone whose brain is constantly working, I tend to seek out calm environments and repetitive tasks. I find this life perfect for me. I was thinking about writing another post about my feelings on SAHM-itude, too.

    1. Well, maybe I should have said that I actually hate everything about being a SAHM except for spending time with my daughter. But that’s enough to make it worthwhile for me. Although I can’t say that my days with AJ are at all calm!

  2. I love this post! I am an INTP mom of a 5-year-old and can also identify exactly. I love how you describe the thoughts that go through the mind during a normal (if I can say so) day with a child. I stumbled across your blog while I was looking for information about INTP and Im glad I found this.

  3. Another intp mom here. I don’t think I would have made it as a SAHM, for all the reasons you mentioned. It is my hope that things will only get better as my very extroverted son gets older and we can share more experiences.

  4. Thank you for this. I’m a SAHM of two very active boys. As an INTP myself, this has been a challenge. I feel the same way you do and this article has brought tears to my eyes (someone gets me! I’m not alone!). I love being with them every single day but it’s so draining and I have so little (=none) alone time thay sometimes I just think I’m a mess… then I look at them and it’s all woth it. And you get me! Thanks.

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