Monday, March 30, 2015

Temperamental Parenting

My second born, my sweet little John Paul Francis, he just has the most wonderful cheeks. Top and bottom (too much? Probably. But it was 77 degrees here today and, as they say, sun's out, bun's out.)

He's my snuggler, the child ever in search of comforting arms and soothing words and a soft lap to land on. He also lets me kiss those soft cheeks over and over again, never once pushing me away or fighting the snuggle. He's never done hugging; he never pulls away first.

Not coincidentally, he was also my only "overdue" baby, preferring to hang out for an entire
month longer than his 37 week big brother and a good 3 weeks past his 38 week old little sis.

I'm telling you, this kid is devoted to me.

It's taken me a few years to come to appreciate how deep his little soul is. He thinks about crazy things, and hours later he's still thinking about them, reflecting on joys and ruminating on perceived injustices alike. I can't parent him the same way I parent the other two, which shouldn't be surprising but somehow is, anyway. I have a word for him now though: melancholic. I'll explain later.

It's surprising that each kid requires an entirely unique set of parenting parameters within which to operate, to some extent.

It's surprising to me that my kids don't think and act like I do. Never more so than, say, when I'm frantically herding sleep drunken cats out the door for preschool pickup (late! again!) and somebody is distraught because he didn't get to select his preferred pair of superhero briefs and oh the injustice of somebody else selecting and then helping you into your underwear.

(Honestly, when I write it out like that, it does seem rather troubling.)

And if I were the thinking type, I'd plan ahead to cut my nap time tap tapping short a good 10 minutes early each afternoon rather than burning it down to the wire, choleric style, and then expecting everyone else to jump when I bark "go!"

Yes, that's exactly what I'd do. I'd note my melancholic son's tendency to wake up slow and snuggly and in need of some time to ponder and recalibrate to the waking world, and I'd gently rouse him and rub his little back, waiting patiently for his conscious brain to come back online while not at all thinking about the load of laundry I could be finishing or the dishwasher I could be loading or the emails I could be sending. Then we'd calmly collect his sister from her nursery, process to the minivan in an orderly fashion, and drive at or near the speed limit all the way across town to collect our 4th musketeer.

Maybe tomorrow. Maybe after a good night's sleep and some careful reflection on the children I've actually been entrusted with and not the tiny clones of me that I was expecting to receive...maybe then I can manage a more humane afternoon routine.

I'm really glad they're all so different, even if it is at times completely confounding. And I'm dying to see what the latest addition's makeup will have to offer. So far we have, as near as I can tell, a choleric sanguine who is an impossible 100% extroverted, a mild mannered melancholic introvert, and a phlegmatic sanguine who seems fairly ambidextrous in terms of social preference. Happy in her room alone, happy in a crowd.

I love figuring out what each of my kids "are," temperamentally, and trying to learn ways to better engage them through understanding their unique set of strengths and weaknesses. My choleric sanguine eldest son is my biggest challenge by a long shot, and mostly because his need for human interaction is very literally limitless.

I explained to him the concept of introversion versus extroversion a couple months ago in language a 4 year old could appreciate, and he actually started to cry when I expounded on the traits of an introvert. Tears. I guess of disappointment? Disbelief that anyone could or would need downtime? (mommy raises hand to the ceiling)

Whatever the case, that moment crystalized for me the stark contrast between us, and the lifelong struggle I'll be engaged with (at least while he's under our roof) trying to balance my sanity, which is tenuous in the best of times, with his constant craving for companionship. God was so smart to put us together; I can't think of another relationship that has required more from me in terms of giving of self. Truly. And the days I won't give? Our worst. Hands down.

So all this long winded soliloquizing to say: read this book. I'm not much for parenting books because they all tend to contradict each other, know what I mean? But this isn't really a parenting book. It's more like a code cracking manual, or an instruction booklet (but the good kind, not the IKEA kind).

And if you happen to look up in disbelief at your polar opposite offspring sitting across from you at the breakfast table in a sudden rush of understanding when you're finished...well, you're welcome.


  1. Isn't it fun how different personalities grow and manifest?

    My oldest daughter is my sweet, nurturing snuggler. Even at 2-1/2 she was so helpful when her baby sister was born, and 8 years later all she wanted to do was hold her baby brother. I had to tell her at one point that as his mother, I get to hold him sometimes, too. Her personality is just so soft and sensitive.

    My younger daughter has always wanted to tackle the world. I have a picture of her at 6 days old scowling at her dad - and she still does that scowl in only the way she can. She is also my morbid child, and I would worry if I hadn't seen similar phases come and go over the years, although I have to admit I do enjoy my coworkers' reactions when they see her latest piece of artwork in my office: a glass of red wine and skulls with the text: "Death is coming."

    My 2-year-old is my mama's boy, which has been hard because I'm the breadwinner and he stays home with my husband. But every night, he lays down in bed with me and a bottle of warm milk, and right before he goes to sleep he hands me the bottle and positions himself so he is laying right alongside me. So sweet!

  2. Oh my, I can so relate to this post! My eldest (3-year old boy) is 100% extroverted, too, and wants/needs social interaction all day, while I'm an introvert. In fact, he just asked me, "Mom are we going somewhere today? Or is someone coming here? No?! This is not an exciting day!" He's just starting to play on his own or with his sister (yahoo!) and bedtime has always been difficult b/c he's on his own and that is obviously a tragedy. He's certainly far more challenging to parent than my little introverted daughter who loves having her own space. Thanks for the book recommendation!

  3. Nailed. It. If I had a blog and had written a post on this book, this is *exactly* what I would have said. I, too, was shocked that my children weren't just exactly the way I was. And I was certain my 5 year old was intentionally trying to make me lose my mind. And then I read this book, on the recommendation of her kindergarten teacher, and my mind. was. blown. I, too, am an introvert (phlegmatic melancholic) raising a 97% sanguine, 3% choleric daughter. She just has too much enthusiasm for life and can't possibly contain it all. I am clearly the most boring parent on the earth in her eyes. And somehow, just recognizing the differences in our temperaments, has made it SO much more tolerable. I regularly mutter "sanguine, sanguine" to myself when my head is about to implode from all the exuberance.

    And it is fun to look at my littles and try to figure them out. The book said a person skilled in the study of the temperaments can tell by 4 months old! Pretty sure my son (17 months) is phlegmatic. Such a dream child. And our youngest (8 months) is almost certainly choleric. She's not going to take any crap from either of her older siblings. Or her parents, for that matter!

    Thanks for recommending this book to your readers. I can't recommend it highly enough. I'm with you - pretty much the only "parenting" book I put any stock in.

    Ok - off to enjoy my phlegmatic/melancholic dream - nap time!!!


  4. I'm phlegmatic melancholic and my husband is choleric melancholic. We've been joking since before we got married that our kids will probably be sanguine and drive us both crazy :-b. We'll see. So far both our kids are saints. Literally. Which makes them remarkably easy to parent.

  5. Extroverted boys for introverted mommas-God laughs hard when he pairs those up. After a day packed fulllllll of playing and visiting people back to back, my son would ask on the way home, "can we do a project when we get home?" No, I am going to lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling for at least an hour. At least that's what I fantasized about doing. Thankfully at 8, he is more understanding. Seriously, get your boy some books on tape!

  6. Very cool post! If you like this awesome experience of figuring out your loved ones personality types I highly recommend The Enneagram. It sounds much like this but has a distinct set of personalities with a christian perspective. I have used it with much success in helping my relate to, and understand my loved ones. I love your blog - thanks for writing! -Jennifer

  7. This makes me miss your kids so incredibly much. John Paul does have the sweetest cheeks. Love him.

  8. Just finished this book recently myself. It is one thing to 'crack the code' of their temperaments, but it is an entirely different (and difficult) endeavor to LIVE with those temperaments. It'll be fun. ;)

  9. Another great one is Personality Plus for Parents. My husband is an introverted melancholic choleric and I am an ambivert (it's a thing!) choleric melancholic and we have TWO sanguine cholerics. TWO. I actually feel sorry for them sometimes because my others all have some version of melancholic in them. One of the most important things as a parent is to try and really appreciate the gifts that these children bring with their "opposite" personalities.

  10. I just had my first and I am curious to see how his personality turns out. He is a very content baby and loves, loves, loves to cuddle and be swaddled up to you. His favorite has to be tummy time on my chest or shoulder! John looks so beautiful and happy! I could just pinch his baby cheeks. :) That's my favorite part about my boy. I love having him on my chest and feeling his soft hair and baby skin on my chin or putting my cheek on his head. I'm curious to see how my next baby would be compared to his alert and calm attitude. If it is anything like my sister and I was we were night and day! I was independent and so happy as a baby. My sister wanted no one but my mother and cried all the time according to my mother. I've never heard of this book. I'll definitely have to check it out now!


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