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You’re crouched near your front door, eye-to-eye with your toddler, locked in a standoff. You’re already running late for school drop-off and work. It’s rainy and cold outside, but your child is insisting they wear sandals today. How do you respond?
• By imagining how uncomfortable they’ll feel with wet toes and how likely it is they’ll get sick.
• By giving up the fight. If their feet get cold or wet, they might listen better to your shoe advice next time.
• By worrying about their discomfort and the judgment of others who might deem you an unfit parent should your child show up in sandals.
These gut-level distinctions in our reactions differentiate the three parenting personalities at the heart of a framework I developed with my business partner and best friend, Sarah Davis. The framework illuminates three competing factors familiar to most parents: the child’s comfort and wishes, our own boundaries, and the perceived needs of the community. '
Why does this matter? Because our instinctive motivation drives our interactions with our children, family, friends, and society at large. And investigating our motivation allows for self-reflection and growth as we strive to find greater balance, calm, and enjoyment in parenting.
This framework grew out of the work Sarah and I did in the years leading up to the publication of our book, Modern Manners for Moms & Dads (2020). We built a website, podcast, and broad social media following by tackling questions about sticky social situations from parents, in our signature best-friend banter. What should you do about a crying baby during an airplane’s takeoff? How do you ask your mother-in-law to take down naked baby bathtime photos from Facebook?
One afternoon, while outlining the chapters of Modern Manners for Moms & Dads, we had a lightbulb moment: Parents don’t make decisions in a vacuum. Instead, we each find our own balance of the child’s needs, our own needs, and the community’s needs.
Take the example of packing a snack for your toddler to enjoy during your grocery run:
Some parents are motivated to pack a snack to make the experience more comfortable for their child. We call these parents Crescents. Some parents are motivated to keep their child occupied so they can focus their attention on shopping. We call these parents Fireballs. Some parents are motivated to avoid an embarrassing and disruptive toddler meltdown. We call these parents Constellations.
Similar behavior (snack-packing), different rationale. Of course, there are other times when our motives result in different choices. And understanding the instinct at the heart of the choice can provide clarity and grace in close relationships, from marriages and partnerships to friendships.
Why does your partner insist on hosting party guests well past your 4-year-old’s bedtime when it makes you crazy? Perhaps your partner is a Constellation, driven by the instinct to consider the needs of the group over the individual. In their eyes, it’s okay for your child to learn flexibility in being hospitable.
Teaching parents around the globe about the framework in our private online community, the Neighborhood, we emphasize how our parenting personality not only offers an understanding of why we make the decisions we do but also highlights areas for personal growth. Lean too far into any one of these motivations and you risk overlooking the other two.
Take Crescent parents. They can be extremely empathetic, patient, and attuned to their children. However, ask them to set a firm boundary and they usually struggle. Ask Crescents about self-care and they often realize they’re “pouring from an empty cup.”
In the past year, we partnered with pediatrician Dr. Molly O’Shea to conduct a formal research study to ensure the quiz accurately identifies whether you’re a Crescent, Constellation, or Fireball parent. You can discover your own parenting personality at evieandsarah.com/quiz. Your quiz results offer a detailed analysis of how strongly you identify with each parenting personality as well as the strengths and struggles of each. Understanding when your natural instincts are helping you shine or holding you back can take you on a journey of self-discovery to build your parenting skills and your confidence.
Evie Granville ’04 is a parenting thought-leader, author, educator, and community builder. She earned an M.A. in secondary education from George Mason University. Her book, Modern Manners for Moms & Dads (2020), was an Amazon #1 New Release in two categories and an Amazon Book Pick for Expecting Mothers. She lives with her husband and two daughters outside Boston.