The most important job of parenting comes with no rulebook. No diploma, certification, or licensing is necessary to bring another human being into the world. But our doll babies eventually learn to stand on their own two feet, and before we know it, we're facing another legitimate person with a will of their own.
Unless we're prepared to meet other unique spirits on their own terms, we might be all too tempted to try to mold them into our own images. As Don Riso and Russ Hudson write in The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types, "The whole of our culture and education constantly reminds us of how we can be more successful, desirable, secure, or spiritual if we were only to change in some way or other. In short, we have learned that we need to be different from how we actually are according to some formula the mind has received. The idea that we simply need to discover and accept who we actually are is contrary to almost everything we have been taught."
Luckily, both Temperament Theory and the Enneagram of Personality Types remind us that there isn't only one legitimate way to be. While there may be more popular ways of being in any one time and place, we all in fact bring our own little special piece to the great puzzle of humanity. Some are more colorful, some more subdued. Some are edgier, some come with softer sides. Fit us all together, and you've got the bigger picture.
Parents and other caregivers may not always be able to provide mirroring, but they can at least affirm a child's way of being in the world is okay. When neither of these happen, we run the risk of contributing to the development of defensive egocentric instincts, feelings, and thoughts in our next generation. Riso and Hudson explain, "Our personalities draw upon the capacities of our inborn temperament to develop defenses and compensations for where we have been hurt in childhood. In order to survive whatever difficulties we encountered at that time, we unwittingly mastered a limited repertoire of strategies, self-images, and behaviors that allowed us to cope with and survive in our early environment. Each of us therefore has become an 'expert' at a particular form of coping which, if used excessively, also becomes the core of the dysfunctional area of our personality."
Personalities stand a greater chance of being anchored in the healthier range of our capacities, if along with having our basic survival needs taken care of as children, we are accepted and loved for who we are. This begins with parenting. And it depends on parents who accept and love themselves for who they are. "Deep down, all of us just want to be understood and accepted for who we are," write Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger in Nurture by Nature: How to Raise Happy, Healthy, Responsible Children Through the Insights of Personality Type. "This understanding is the greatest gift we can give our children. It's the real essence of self esteem."
Knowledge of personality differences, along with Compassionate Communication, can help us nurture health in both our offspring and society at large. Anchored in ancient wisdom traditions, neuroscience, and modern psychology, all of these tools can help us create an overall culture in which the very serious job of parenting might be made just a little bit easier.