why i gave my kids a myers briggs personality test

To know me is to know my Myers Briggs personality type. Ever since I discovered, in my early thirties, that I am an INTJ—and test after test has confirmed it—I wear those four letters as a badge of honor. Not necessarily because I am proud of the particular preferences the letters represent (Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judging), but because, taken together, they do a wonderful job of explaining why I am the way I am and why I do the things I do. For “thinking” types (T) such as myself, this sort of explanatory power is high on the list of life’s priorities.

It’s not surprising, then, that as a mother I am—as most of us are, in one shape or form—constantly trying to understand my children. Their predilections, their quirks, the roots of their behavior. And the ribbon that binds these aspects together: their personalities.

In the early years, “personality” and “behavior” are not so easily distinguishable. Some traits tend to manifest at a given stage of development, despite the inborn temperament of the individual child. Defiance in toddlerhood is a good example. Often this quality will abate over time, because it has stemmed from a temporary storm: a two or three year old’s inability, for instance, to communicate effectively. But for some kids it simply evolves, hinging as it must on a deeper element of a “strong-willed” personality.

Certain features of my own children’s personalities have been evident to me from the moment they were born. My first son lay in my husband’s arms as serene and still as a Buddha for the 40 minutes it took the doctor to stitch me up. My second son emerged from the womb red and angry-looking; he didn’t stop screaming for at least half an hour. My first son was a cautious toddler, a conscientious observer. My second son was active and daring and made friends wherever he went.

In the loosest terms, it has long been clear that son number one is an introvert and son number two an extrovert. That son number one is reserved, detail-oriented, thrives on routine, while son number two is more impulsive, imaginative and go-with-the-flow. But recently I’ve wanted to know more. As someone obsessed with my own Myers Briggs letters, and who has made almost everybody in my immediate circle take this test, I wondered what kind of personality testing was available for children. Google did not disappoint. I quickly located a questionnaire for kids, based on the same Jungian principles as the Myers Briggs itself, and suitable for ages seven to twelve.

You can read the rest of the piece here, at Brain, Child Magazine.


Leave a comment

Filed under parenting

prioritizing a woman’s choice in the breast vs bottle debate

Another day, another heated discussion on Facebook about breastfeeding. This one in response to a somewhat provocatively titled New York Times article, “Overselling Breastfeeding,” by Courtney Jung.

Like Jung, I’ve spent years of my life breastfeeding. I’ve cried tears of pain because it hurt so damn much, tears of anguish because all I wanted to do was roll over and sleep when the baby was demanding to be fed yet again. And I’ve been absolutely high on the beauty and power of sustaining life from an elixir of my own making. In other words, my experience with breastfeeding has run the gamut and, in hindsight, I can say with confidence that my decision to feed my children in this way was, on balance, the best one for me.

Ah, but there’s that pesky word: best. The albatross around the breast-versus-bottle debate’s neck, the thorn in its side. For as soon as you introduce a superlative into a conversation about parenting—particularly a superlative with no qualifier, a la “breast is best”—in rushes Obligation and her trusted handmaiden, Guilt, following swiftly in its wake.

Now, I am very prepared to say that breast milk is a better food than formula, in that it is perfectly tailored to a growing baby and has properties that we haven’t been, and might never be, able to replicate in a synthetic product. And yet, semantically and conceptually speaking, “better” doesn’t always equal “best.” Nor is the internal quality of the milk given—and the hypothetical outcomes it might generate as a result—the only factor in the equation of baby’s overarching happiness or health. Especially when, as we are fully aware by this stage, a mother’s well-being and her baby’s are intricately entwined. Such is old news.

What’s newer, and this is a focal point of Jung’s essay, is that breast milk isn’t quite as superior to formula as we once thought. Babies who are formula-fed grow into adults who can be smart and healthy and, according to the latest research, rather indistinguishable from their breastfed counterparts. What we have now, it would seem, are simply two good feeding options available for infants.

You can read the rest of the piece here, at Ms. Magazine.


Leave a comment

Filed under parenting

part-time mother

I was a stay-at-home mom for eight years. For eight years, I had no employment outside of raising my own children. I made no money, I had no career obligations. I was a classic “opt-out,” a woman who traded in a potentially high-powered job for the hearty mix of wonder, boredom and mess that is being a full-time caregiver to small humans. I didn’t choose to stay home because I thought it was best for my kids, that daycare or working mothers are somehow lacking. I chose it because it felt right at the time and I am well aware it was a privilege to do so.

Two years ago, I chose something different. I got a job, a part-time job as a writer, that has taken up increasing amounts of my day, that has colored increasing amounts of my identity. Now when people ask me what I “do,” the answer is more complicated. It is a Venn diagram rather than a simple circle. I am half of one thing and half of another, and because both halves happen mainly in my home, there is an intersection, a blurry middle ground in which I find myself crafting sentences and macaroni and cheese at the same time.

Half of one thing and half of another. That’s not entirely accurate, though, is it? You can be a part-time worker, but can you be a part-time mother? It makes me think of the Stevie Wonder song, “Part-Time Lover,” I hum it to myself, changing the words for effect. Because yes, compared to the past, when my children were all of the phases of the moon to me, sometimes I feel like a part-timer indeed.

You can read the rest of the essay here, at Brain, Child Magazine.



Filed under parenting

don’t beat yourselves up about how much tv your kids watch

Every year the same meme circulates in my newsfeed and every time I see it I shake my head: Kids Don’t Remember Their Best Day of Television. The picture is of two small children standing at the foot of a lake, the water sparkling before them, the seats of their pants just dirty enough to imply a good romp in the woods. It’s an idyllic scene, to be sure, but the fact remains: I doremember my best days of television.

Who of a certain age doesn’t remember Winnie and Kevin’s first kiss in The Wonder Years? Or has no recollection of snuggling up on the couch to enjoy Tony and Angela’s antics in Who’s the Boss? The Olsen twins cute as buttons in Full House? One of my strongest childhood memories is of watching Moonlightingwith my father, the plot lines and romantic tension between Maddie and David a sliver beyond me, but boy did I feel mature in the attempt to follow along.

Screen time is a major parenting issue for our generation. Warnings abound about the perils inherent in its excess and there is much to be heeded in them, especially because the rise of hand-held, personal electronic devices has made screen time something more isolating and opaque than it used to be.

Kids these days are often looking down. Allison Slater Tate has written convincingly about the new terrain we are navigating as parents in this regard. How will we deal with it when our children routinely ignore the simple pleasures around them – a river, a bird – in order to send emojis to their friends or catch the latest installment of some YouTuber playing Minecraft in Australia?

And yet, I have long wondered if we are taking the screen time backlash a little too far…

You can read the rest of the piece here, at The Guardian.



Oh but I do!

1 Comment

Filed under parenting

facebook ‘memories’ a double-edged sword for parents

It’s the first thing I see when I log onto Facebook: “5 years ago today.” There he is, my oldest son, now all long limbs and tween angst, looking cherubic on his first day of school. He’s smiling for the camera. I remember it well: smoothing his hair down, bursting with pride. And though I know the timescale to be accurate, I’m still taken aback by it. Five years ago? Five years that have whipped by me like scraps of paper in a westerly wind.

I remember my son’s first day of school, but what I remember most about that day, which Facebook prompted me unexpectedly to revisit, is what’s not in the picture. It is lying on the obstetrician’s table hours after I sent my firstborn on his maiden voyage through the school gates, craning my neck to get a better view of the ultrasound screen. There was the sound of a second baby’s heartbeat and the sensation of stumbling out of the doctor’s office, numb with the realization that I would be moving from two children to four.

The tag-team effect of those two moments made August 11th, 2010 a remarkable day. But the truth is I hadn’t thought about either event in a good long while or considered, with the advantage of hindsight, the way in which they had entwined themselves in my mind. Not until Facebook jogged the memory for me. So I re-posted the picture, adding an updated caption about the discovery of my twin pregnancy, which was something, due to shock or superstition or both, I hadn’t gone public with at the time. Sharing the “memory” in my newsfeed felt a bit like reliving history. It also felt a bit like re-writing it.

You can read the rest of the essay here, at The Washington Post.



1 Comment

Filed under parenting

the haircut

The woman standing over my daughter is about to work a miracle. She’s swivelling the chair from side to side, assessing the damage and using a tone perfectly calibrated to keep us both from panicking. I’ve sunk into a strange calm by this point, anyway. Now that I’ve gotten us here, now that it’s out of my hands.

“Well,” she says, “it looks like somebody’s had an adventure this morning!” And my daughter does that thing with her face—eyes to the side, lips curled at the corners—the thing she does when she’s half embarrassed by, but half revelling in, the attention she’s drawing.

They were expecting us at the salon, I didn’t have to explain it again. A small mercy. We were ushered towards the back, as several different people, at several points on the short walk, smiled smiles somewhere between pity and been-there-done-that.“It’s going to be fine!” They said. “It’s only hair!” They said. Of course it’s only hair, I thought, but that didn’t stop my stomach from filling with lead when I saw the great big wad of it balled in the dresser drawer, dead and mousy-looking where once it had shimmered with light as it swung from my daughter’s head.

They hid the evidence, the two of them together. This is how I discovered my daughter was herself complicit, that it wasn’t just her twin brother wreaking the havoc. She was the one who showed me where it was. “Where’s the hair,” I kept yelling, “where is it?” Because for several moments I couldn’t quite process what had happened, and without the physical product of their little escapade, the whole thing seemed vaguely impossible. An optical illusion: half of the hair hanging straight, as I remembered it, on one side of her head, and half of it missing, chopped into haphazardly, stair-stepped in a way that made her resemble a victim of extreme circumstance or the fashion trends of the eighties.

You can read the rest of the post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.



double trouble


Filed under parenting

no comments

“The comments are a shitshow.” This from a friend on Facebook, a warning perhaps or an expression of vicarious disappointment. “I read the first one and threw my phone across the room.” This from a friend of a friend, a name I don’t recognize. They are commenting on a thread of an article I wrote, one in which I’ve been tagged.

Whenever I publish an essay on a popular website, I share the link on social media. Then I click on the little notification icon—on Twitter, on Facebook—and amidst the outpour of support, which I drink up like a warm cup of cocoa, there is almost always some mention of how dire, how diabolically offensive the on-site comments are. I tackle topics such as my marriage heaving under the weight of small children, or my failure, at 37, to have achieved financial independence—the sort of topics, in other words, that tend to elicit a more unforgiving breed of response.

I wouldn’t know how bad the responses are myself, because I don’t read them. I have a policy, put firmly in place the day my first New York Times piece went live, which boils down to one simple, non-negotiable rule: never read the comments. No matter how tempted you become in the flush of the moment, no matter how thrilled you are with the finished product. No matter how loudly curiosity scratches at the door.

I didn’t create this policy based on personal experience; I hadn’t been spooked by the ghost of comments past. In fact, that New York Times essay was one of the first I had ever published. The placement was a coup for me, a writer still wet behind the ears. I was trying to start over in my mid-thirties after years of being a stay-at-home mother.

The policy instead arose from watching others. Weeks earlier I had seen a blogging acquaintance of mine skewered in the same column. 277 comments, the majority of which revolved around what a selfish, suspect person she was. Her crime? Wanting more kids than her husband and daring to say so out loud. It was a glaring red flag for me: I could relate entirely to this woman’s plight. I had lived it myself, except while her situation remained unresolved, mine had already come to its conclusion (twins), which was the very subject of the essay due to appear.

You can read the rest of the essay here, at Vela Magazine.



1 Comment

Filed under parenting

the virtual aunt

I’m putting my daughter to bed, but her twin brother is still in the next room, waiting. I hear him chattering away, as he dances a toy elephant across the floor. He’s not talking to himself, though, my sister is with him. Well, technically, she’s some four thousand miles away in Vancouver, Canada, while we are in Glasgow, Scotland, but, virtually, she’s right there. My phone is propped against the bookshelf, the perfect angle for surveying the scene. My son is interacting with her as if she is sitting, flesh and bones, in the very same room.

We are regular partakers, my sister and I, in the phenomenon of the FaceTime babysitter. For me this kind of video messaging hasn’t just been a luxury, a vehicle for allowing an aunt to bond with her nephews and niece across an otherwise vast ocean. There have been moments, periods of time, where my sister’s virtual presence has been nothing short of a lifeline. Such is the way when you have two babies and only one pair of hands, only one set of eyes.

Back when their afternoon nap was the fulcrum of our day, we used to speak to her several times a week. I would put the twins in their high chairs at around noon; my sister would be getting ready for work, dawn breaking in Washington, D.C. They would choose the jewelry that best suited her outfit, oohing and ahhing over the various bracelets on display, as I cut crusts off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, my laptop offering a comprehensive view of the kitchen. And then I would haul one toddler up to bed, while she would occupy the other, bound safely in his seat, and nap time would proceed smoothly, a staggered affair, instead of the manic free-for-all it became when I was on my own.

My sister has been heavily involved in my children’s lives from the beginning. She is a devoted aunt, to say the least, but she is also a woman with a job that takes her all over the world. The two of us have not lived in the same town, in the same country even, since 1999. Our relationship has been conducted through the channels of whatever technological means have been in the ascendency. Hours-long phone calls via special long-distance plans, Skype, when it was a novelty, and now the holy grail of instant visual access: FaceTime.

You can read the rest of the post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.



all eyes on auntie g


Filed under parenting

evolution of a reader

You start when he is two months old, you know it is important. All the experts say so, all the articles. Read to them, read to them incessantly. Do it early, the earlier the better. He seems like an alert baby, this one, wide-eyed and curious. The way he bats at his toys, the way he tracks your movements with a searching, soulful expression. Maybe all babies are like this, you aren’t sure. He is your first. You project onto him constantly—thoughts, feelings, skills—as if projecting will make it so.

Your mother sat with him when he was one week old, just home from the hospital, a sliver of a thing, and read him Pat the Bunny in that special sing-song voice you remember well from your own childhood. “Judy can pat the bunny,” she said, as your son stared into the middle distance, head lolling. “Now YOU pat the bunny.” She took the baby’s starfish hand, the nails still peeling from the wetness of the womb, and rubbed it purposefully against the fluffy bunny. And you couldn’t tell if it was ridiculous or adorable to be reading to a baby so new.

All the same, a couple of months later, you decide it is time to begin. Every night, every night without fail. Your husband gives the baby a bath, and then you coo at him, a steady stream of chatter as you stuff limbs into a sleepsuit covered with teddybears or rockets or stripes. You prop him up against you on the bed and read two books. Always two. Sometimes Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Sometimes Here Are My Hands. Sometimes you channel your mother and read Pat the Bunny with just the right intonations. You take it for granted that your son sits still at this age, that he tolerates the books without crying, when what he really wants is his milk. None of your other children will be so patient.

By the time he is one, he can pat the bunny on his own. He seems to understand you now, he has words himself, a bevy of animal sounds and an assortment of other babbles that mean something, finally. The floodgates of communication have opened; reading has become blissfully interactive. Your son loves books. You tell your family, your friends, anybody who will listen: “He loves books!” This makes you proud, as if it is evidence of an impressive feat of parenting or genetics. But of course he loves books, the shelves are lined with them, the house is strewn with them. Reading is your go-to childcare activity.

You can read the rest of the post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.


reading at one


reading at nine

Leave a comment

Filed under parenting

the hands-off grandma

My mother recently came to visit me and my family for ten days. Here is a list of the things she did vis-a-vis my four children:

Played with them, if asked.

Gave them snacks and sweets.

Talked to them.

Bought them gifts.

Hugged and kissed them.


And here is a list of the things she didn’t do:

Bathe them.

Dress them.

Prepare or serve any of their meals.

Help them with their homework.

Put them to bed.


Based on these lists, my mom is what you might call a “hands-off” Grandma—or Bubbe, as she is affectionately referred to. She loves her grandkids. She enjoys spending time with them, in small doses. She cares about their well-being and what is happening in their lives. But she is not interested in participating in the grunt work of raising them: the tasks that include bodily fluids and flailing limbs, tears and stall tactics and four outfit changes in as many minutes. In so far as it is possible to engineer, my mother, at 70, is looking to experience the good bits associated with young children, the fun bits, and not the slog.

For her, this is the line between what it is to be a grandparent and what it is to be a parent. This is the privilege you earn with the prefix “Grand.” “I’ve done my time,” she says, and she certainly has. She is the mother of three children, across eight years and two marriages. She did everything for us as we grew up—playdates, parties, projects—everything. She watches some of her friends “grandparent” in a way she finds unappealing, women, she says, who are attempting motherhood all over again. “I have my own life,” she reminds me, with perfect kindness and accuracy. “I don’t need to re-live having children through yours.”

You can read the rest of the post here, at Brain, Child Magazine.



1 Comment

Filed under parenting