Excepted from Please Understand Me II, by David Keirsey
Copyrighted 1998, all rights reserved
Let us beware and beware and beware...
of having an ideal for our children.
So doing, we damn them.
The Pygmalion Project, almost unavoidable in mating, is perhaps even more of a temptation in parenting. Most parents believe quite sincerely that their responsibility is to raise their children, to take an active part in guiding them, or perhaps in steering them, on their way to becoming mature adults. Even more than the husband-wife relationship, the parent-child relationship has this serious factor of interpersonal manipulation seemingly built into it, as though part of the job description of Mother or Father. Unfortunately, this hands-on model of parental responsibility -- well-intentioned though it may be -- all too often ends in struggle and rebellion. The truth is that kids of different temperament will develop in entirely different directions, no matter what the parents do to discourage one direction in favor of another. To manipulate growth is a risky business. In our natural zeal to discourage moral weeds from springing up we risk discouraging mental flowers from growing, our parental herbicides killing the good and the bad indiscriminately.
The root of the problem is that parents tend to assume that their children are pretty much the same as they are -- extensions of their own personality who will naturally follow in their footsteps. But the temperament hypothesis suggests that, in many cases, children are fundamentally different from their parents and need to develop in entirely different directions, so that their mature personalities can take their rightful form. Indeed, parents of other temperament who assume that they share their child's experience of life -- that they know what their child wants or needs, thinks or feels -- are usually quite wrong. Or worse. Acting on this assumption, well-meaning parents are very likely to disconfirm the different messages their children are sending, just as they are likely to attribute their own attitudes to their children, and perhaps even to intrude on the private space of their children with their own agendas. Such parents fail to realize that, from the beginning, their children are very much their own persons -- Artisans, Guardians, Idealists, Rationals -- and that no amount of disconfirmation, attribution, or intrusion can change their inborn structure.
How then are we to take up the task of parenting? We dare not make it a Pygmalion Project, giving in to our all-too-human desire to shape our loved ones in our own image. If our children were born to be like us -- chips off the old block -- then they need no shaping; if not, then shaping can only have disappointing results. No, our project ought not be that of Pygmalion, but of Mother Nature, which means we must allow our children to become actually what they are potentially; in other words, we must let nature take its course by giving our children ample room to grow into their true, mature character.
So: the first task of parents is to recognize the different characters of their children. But parents must also recognize the role their own character plays in their way of bringing up their children. All types of parents -- Artisans, Guardians, Idealists, Rational -- have a different view of the correct way to raise children, one that reflects their own personality, and one that is often unexamined and unquestioned.
Example Parent-Child Dyads
Artisan Parent -- Idealist Child: Although they can have some trouble understanding each other, Artisan parents can be valuable models for their Idealist children. NF kids tend to get lost in abstraction and a self-absorbed search for meanings and portents, and the SP's warm embrace of immediacy can be an important lesson for them. Artisans are in touch with reality, free in physical action, comfortable with their bodies, easy-going about moral absolutes, not worried about who they are -- they don't sweat the small stuff -- and all of these attitudes and actions can help give balance to the soulful, emotional, self-examining Idealist child. On the other hand, such differences can be a problem. Artisan parents tend not to value in their Idealist children such important traits as authenticity, empathy, and altruism, and in the worst case the parent might show impatience with the child for being so soul-searching, so head-in-the-clouds, or so lost in fantasy, and might want the child to toughen up and take hold of reality. In the main, though, Artisan parents are easygoing with people they don't understand, and so most often they model for their Idealist children lenience, tolerance, and a spirit of fun.
Guardian Parent -- Rational Child: Guardian parents admire their Rational children's seriousness and will-to-achieve, and this relationship works out quite well when SJ parents show regard for their little NTs' fierce sense of autonomy. However, discipline can be a knotty problem. If the SJ parent tries to admonish or punish the NT child into obedience, the child will feel personally violated and will likely respond with growing contempt. Remember that NTs, at any age, must have a reason for doing anything, and when a parent is not forthcoming with a rationale for action other than convention or authority, the little NTs will do what they are told only reluctantly and with little respect. More specifically, it is the tough-minded Administrator Guardian that the Rational child is most likely to run afoul of, the child wanting to be free to choose, and the parent conscientiously trying to arbitrate choice. The probing Engineer Rationals usually manage, like their Artisan cousins, to steer clear of an arbitrary parent most of the time, but the schedule-minded Coordinator Rationals tend to meet such a parent head on. In extreme cases, the effect of such a clash can be lasting estrangement. Fortunately, Guardians marry Artisans most frequently, and having this live-and-let-live parent in the mix often saves the Rational child from the worst consequences of the Guardian parent's authoritarian style.
Idealist Parent-Artisan Child: Idealist parents tend to be puzzled by the Artisan child's disinterest in fantasy and heart-to-heart sharing, and by the accompanying paucity of empathy for other members of the family. Wanting their relationship with their child to be deep and meaningful, they can be disappointed when the relationship does not grow in that direction, but continues to be what they regard as somewhat shallow and uninspiring. This as long as they persist in their Pygmalion Project, trying to turn the child into an Idealist like themselves. Once they see that their child is not like them at all, but is bent on racing from one concrete action to another, with hardly a trace of intuition or altruism, then they are quite able to give up their project and encourage the child's thrust toward artistry and optimism, if not the accompanying impulsivity, bravado, and tactical cleverness.
Rational Parent-Guardian Child: Rationals find their relationship to a Guardian child somewhat problematic and sometimes frustrating. They really don't know how to act, don't know what they might do to help their SJ child develop their ingenuity, become more independent, and increase their strength of will, none of which are of particular interest to the child. Rational parents are, in fact, bothered by their Guardian child's attempts to fit in socially. SJ children tend to go along with their social groups, and it can distress Rational parents to see little SJs doing things because the other kids are doing it. And Rational parents are disappointed by their Guardian child's wanting always to feel secure. Why can't their SJ child be bold or enthusiastic or curious like their SP, NF, or NT siblings? Why must their child report every pain, every disappointment, every wrong, every fear? Such children make Rational parents feel inadequate and helpless, because they cannot appeal to their children's reason, nor to their courage, nor to their hopes, nor to any desire to strike out on their own. Yet here are their SJ children trying in every way they can think of to please their baffled and uncertain NT parents, by being helpful, by serving, by doing good deeds, by conforming to all the social rules. It is well that Rational parents step aside and let their mate oversee the maturation of the Guardian child into the pillar of society he or she is meant to become.
Recommendations on understanding the role of Parenting
For much more detailed understanding the role of Parenting: Read Please Understand Me II and the new book on examining social contexts and role of Parents versus Peers: The Nuture Assumption, by Judith Rich Harris.
Other extremely valuable books on Parenting are
Children the Challenge
Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk