What makes any parent happy?

Recently someone sent me this question:

From your research, what makes ENFP mothers happy? What do happy ENFP mothers do? Do they have a part-time job and a messy house? How do they reconcile the need for outside stimulation to fuel their intuition with the need to attend to boring but necessary daily chores?

You always take the example of xxFJ mothers but you never talk about ENTP and ENFP mothers, and you know they are the types that suffer from boredom the most. So how do ENxP women ever deal with the housewife life?

The more I think of my future, the more gloomy it seems. It feels like I will become an unhappy woman from my thirties onward and that I will never find a job after my future kids grow up…

This question got me to thinking that there is sort of a formula that you can use to figure out what makes a parent happy. Each personality type has a core need that must be addressed in order for that type to be fulfilled. (If you don’t know your personality type, here’s a fast, free test you can take.)

When we talk about career, we say that you don’t need to be addressing that need every second of the workday, but you need to be addressing the need at some point. The same is true of parenting.

So, let’s say we are talking about career (always easier for me to talk about than parenting!) When we say, for example, that an ISTJ needs to have structure, this doesn’t mean they need to be in a straight jacket. It means that the part of the day where there is structure is refueling to the ISTJ and the part of the day that is chaos saps the energy of the ISTJ.

The photo up top  is my friend Cassie, who is an ENTP. She needs lots of time to explore ideas and tell people her ideas, and believe me, these are not the type of ideas that kids care about. So she gets energized from being on her computer, and she uses us that store of energy when she’s parenting her son.

The goal – whether it’s at an office or at home with kids — is to find yourself at the end of the day with a positive level of energy instead of a negative level of energy. So, do things that feel replenishing to you. If you feel drained and exhausted at the end of your day, it’s because you are not spending enough time on nourishing activities.

You don’t need to get a job, or quit a job, or move, or remarry, or whatever. You simply need to make time to collect energy by doing the type of activity that refuels you.

Here’s how that looks for each type:

Needs to create order and structure from theoretical abstraction.

Needs to visualize where an organization is headed.

Needs to generate new theories or to prove or disprove existing theories.

Needs to understand the world they live in.

Needs to understand the way things work.

Needs to take action and get the job done.

Needs to feel immersed in the world of senses.

Needs to feel excitement and drama.

Needs to fulfill their duty.

Needs to enforce rules and/or traditions.

Needs to create harmony and cooperation.

Needs to make people feel good about themselves.

Needs to see the world of hidden meanings and possibilities.

Needs to bring out the best in others.

Needs to make the world a better place.

Needs to inspire and motivate others.

So let’s take the ENFP we started with. Daily tasks will be depleting for an ENFP. So part of each day needs to be marked off for the ENFP to trade in big ideas. This does not necessarily mean being with adults, or getting paid, but it means motivating people to be their very best: Totally different than, say, making peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches.

Think in terms of blocks of time instead of titles and roles. And think in terms of energy levels instead of financial renumeration. Because how you frame the questions is often the path to getting to the answer, and that is definitely true in the case of parental fulfillment.

35 replies
  1. stephanie
    stephanie says:

    What a great question and what a great response! I’m a ENFJ, and a yoga teacher part time, 4 days a week. I love to bring out the best in people, and I can definitely feel how much more energy I have for parenting my kids at the end of a workday, as opposed to the weekends, when I am usually not working. I think we all have to look really hard to find that balance of what makes us happy and what we need to do. Looking for energy renumeration, instead of monetary is such a brilliant idea! Thanks for that Penelope. Super helpful.

  2. Jeff T.
    Jeff T. says:

    Dividing all of humanity into 16 groups probably has more precision than the 12 signs of the Zodiac.

    When I worked at Price Waterhouse they administered the test on us and informed me that I would someday be a partner. I was the bottom right corner one. Sadly/gladly, the partnership never happened.

    The four letter framework isn’t useless, but I’d like to think we aren’t so formulaic that we can prescribe 16 paths to individual happiness.

    But maybe I’m a romantic.

    • Amy A
      Amy A says:

      With astrology, there are all the houses, planets, etc. Not just our sun sign which we look up in the newspaper horoscopes. So astrology is more vast per person than personality types.

      I also like looking at love languages and numerology.

      All of the tools above, seeing info about myself in writing from strangers, were part of what helped me understand myself better and realize that even though I am odd (in relation to many), I can quit trying to change myself to be liked or to fit in. Hurray.

      But I understand not everyone will find these tools useful. I don’t believe they are all-knowing wisdom–just tools. And I don’t think any of us can fit into a box*–especially when others try to do it to us. So I get what you are saying.

      * Ironically, as I pointed out above, it was these tools which got me out of a box. Funny.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        I think a lot about should I learn about zodiac or not. I don’t know that much about it. But what I think is that companies that have a lot of money on the line are trusting personality type and they are not trusting zodiac.

        In most cases I’d say that that people are just prejudiced, but when it comes to the amount of money in the Fortune 500 they will do anything to get ahead . (See all those articles about how companies in Silicon Valley are paying for women to freeze their eggs.)

        So I have concluded that until companies make hiring decisions based on zodiac, I’m sticking with personality type. Though I have a sneaking suspicion that zodiac is useful also.


        • Mark Kenski
          Mark Kenski says:

          I love the window this gives into your decision process.

          You start with an uncertainty. You do not a) trust an expert of some kind or b) become an expert yourself; two approaches a lot of people would think of. Trusting an expert is likely these days to be as accurate as flipping a coin, unless you get very lucky. Becoming an expert on anything is a time-consuming process and might just leave you with certainty that you just wasted your time.

          No, you zero in on what matters: what do my potential customers want? And to answer this, you look at what they have proven they are willing to spend money on. About that you can be certain. I have seen numbers as high as 89 of the fortune 100 use MBTI. Even if it is half that, even 1/10th that, that is still a great market.

          You remain open, flexible, non-judgemental–all options remain in play, but have saved time with a quick, clear, decision. The perfect solution for an entrepreneur.

          The only thing that is hard for me to do with my mind, is use it to make a decision :) So thanks for the quick demo!

    • Mark Kenski
      Mark Kenski says:

      Myers Briggs actually has it’s origins in Carl Jung’s ideas about personality type.

      Wikipedia: “Though he was a practicing clinician and considered himself to be a scientist, much of his life’s work was spent exploring tangential areas such as Eastern and Western philosophy, alchemy, astrology, and sociology, as well as literature and the arts. Jung’s interest in philosophy and the occult led many to view him as a mystic, although his ambition was to be seen as a man of science.”

      Astrology is mentioned there, but if you read Carl Jung’s autobiography, “Memories, Dreams and Reflections” (which I suggest you do, it’s awesome) you’ll see that he used astrology charts in his counseling work.

      What he tried to do in with his personality types was have an empirical, science-compatible, and drastically simplified version of the ideas in the ancient systems he studied. There are quite a few other ideas of his that were similar attempts to bring ancient myth-informed ideas into an empirical age: things like the collective unconscious, archetypes, synchronicity, etc.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      The big difference between astrology and MBTI is that your astrological sign is based on the time and day you were born, and MBTI is based on the questions you answer.

      Sixteen types is kind of arbitrary and convenient. Perhaps it would be more useful to have a different number. Certainly most practitioners pay special attention to particular letter groupings (i.e. NT). Maybe, from a sociological perspective, some pairings or types are more or less common, more or less stable, socially contingent, or even culturally relative.

      But the fact that the system just collates questions you answered means it’s really you telling about yourself, not someone else. It’s more like a recommendation system than a horoscope. The fact that in one particular person two typically similar preferences aren’t closely linked doesn’t invalidate the system. It’s useful enough, or people wouldn’t keep using it.

    • Anna
      Anna says:


      Needs to see the world of hidden meanings and possibilities.

      The type label was at the end of the line of the previous type.

  3. Rachel C.
    Rachel C. says:

    I like the summaries as they pertain to being an individual human with kids, but the thing I always struggle with in regards to Meyers Briggs is that a whole number of these speak to me.

    I am an INTJ, but I identify with the needs of pretty much everything in the NT family. I guess it’s because I’m a borderline introvert, and my J has softened since having kids. I would guess that I’m not the only one who feels like 1 category completely fits.

    It’s still helpful to see a succinct summary of each type. It brings some clarity to what I’m feeling so I can take action on them.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      INFJs frequently test as an NT but INTJs never test as an NF. So you know if you come out as both you are an INFJ.

      More on that: An INFJ thinks their decisions are very logical and rational. However the INFJ decisions are based on a clear and unwavering personal set of values that take into account peoples’ feelings and emotions. And INTJ is logical and rational without taking into account peoples’ feelings and emotions. And INTJ just doesn’t care.


      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Hey! I am an INTJ and I care about people’s feelings! I am not malicious, I just don’t consider that what I say will in any way be hurtful. And if someone does get hurt by what I say then I need to explain to them why they shouldn’t be hurt and need to not be so sensitive. Want to be my friend? I’m so lovable.

      • mh
        mh says:

        YMKAS beat me to it, but I’m an INTJ and I’m not insensitive to people’s feelings. I’d often rather change the subject or make a joke at my own expense if I sense emotions are running high.

        As a parent, you have to curb your preferences anyway, and as a spouse even more so. So while I don’t have a lot of patience for obsessive-reflective conversations (“What do you think he meant when he said that after I told him such-and-so? Do you think he’s angry?”) and don’t get sucked into a lot of relationships, I get that people have emotions. Manners compels me to treat everyone with respect.

        Part of me being respectful of others is me knowing that people probably didn’t mean to hurt my feelings. This is often not reciprocated: when tempers get high, sometimes I don’t get the benefit of the doubt.

        I’m an INTJ, but I’m really not a total jerk.

        • Melissa
          Melissa says:

          I’m an INTJ as well. I also feel like I care about other people’s feelings, but I’ve observed that I don’t care as much as other people seem to do when it comes to deciding what to do with my time.

          Also, the way that we care about the feelings of others is different. Obviously we couldn’t be such effective manipulators if we didn’t recognize the importance other types place on their own feelings.

          See? There’s a good reason why INTJ’s are bothered by the perception that we’re all evil geniuses.

      • Christine
        Christine says:

        “INFJs frequently test as an NT but INTJs never test as an NF. So you know if you come out as both you are an INFJ.”

        –This is true for me as an INFJ. I also noticed that I am more productive and earn more at work when I “mimic” an INTJ.

  4. Kathie
    Kathie says:

    I took a screen shot of the four NFs, because I’ve seen them all in me at various stages of my life. When I first tested as a single person in my 20s, I was strong ENFP. As my career grew while I raised 3 children, my P turned into a J. As I grew more comfortable with my thoughts and myself, my E has backed down to nearly the I. But through it all, NF to the core! As always, thank you, Penelope, for inspiring reflection on life’s meaning and possibilities, for making the world a better place. (My kind of post.)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Peoples’ types don’t change. You are an ENFP. An ENFP is the only type that can test a billion different ways at different times.

      To an ENFP this seems very reasonable but no other type would do this. Because an ENFP lives in the world of possibilities so any personality trait seems possible.


  5. Anna
    Anna says:

    I am probably an INTP, and I am working part-time for now, which is not my first choice. Being home-based is my goal in the next year. Until then, I worked out a solution. For three hours a day, when my baby takes her big nap after we get home from work (she goes with me to work at my office job at a non-profit), I soak up solitude. That is my time to read, write, do any kind of project, clean, and/or sleep if I need to (I am also pregnant!) It is literally like plugging into the gas tank and refueling. I have done this ever since seven weeks after the birth, and she is now just over 13 months old. For me, the essential thing is time alone, and yes, as an INTP, a lot of this is time to think.

    Just as a side note, my husband is an introvert, also, and it works for us at other times during the day/evening to be “alone together”, something which also really helps.

  6. Karelus
    Karelus says:

    Came here for the post about my husband and to see what makes him happy. Of course it’s about action and getting stuff done. It’s debilitating to him to start something and not finish it.

    I should take the personality type course.

  7. Vanessa
    Vanessa says:

    Rather than take the test, it’s probably just as effective to learn your personality type by seeing which “needs” line you relate to most.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      If everyone could identify their own needs we would have a really really happy world, wouldn’t we?

      It’s actually very hard to do. We have cognitive dissonance between who we are and who we were expected to be.


      • Vanessa
        Vanessa says:

        hmm this is interesting. So would you say, in general, outsiders (provided they know about MBTI) can more accurately type a person, than he/she can type themself?

  8. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    “How do they reconcile the need for ……with the need to attend to boring but necessary daily chores?”

    Welcome to the mom club. This is not a personality issue, this is a being married and having a family issue. I’m just saying… I hate chores, for real.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Until Penelope fixes the spacing in the post, the one you want is jumbled together with two other types. Towards the end.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You’re right that is a very ENFJ thing. This is good personality type humor. I smiled.


  9. Mark Kenski
    Mark Kenski says:

    Penelope wrote: “When we say, for example, that an ISTJ needs to have structure, this doesn’t mean they need to be in a straight jacket. It means that the part of the day where there is structure is refueling to the ISTJ and the part of the day that is chaos saps the energy of the ISTJ.”

    This is a very important point, and it does so often get misunderstood.

    In the vacuum of a multiple choice test I am INTP. For me, the I is the strongest, so any of the E’s require a great deal more effort for me to function that way. But I certainly can, and it is important sometimes to do so. Writing comments like these is sort of an E*F* function for me, so it is an effort, compared to programming—which to me is as natural as breathing.

    N is my second strongest tendency, so the S functions are somewhat tiring and get tiresome for me. Hence I can be ISTP when it comes to how computers work, but just have not gotten around to developing that knowledge when it comes to many practical areas. It’s certainly not something I would do for fun.

    I am pretty much 50/50 with T/F but that is something that has only come with age. The older I get the more F matters to me and can recharge me. And J/P depend more (for me) on the situation. Sometimes J feels more natural and sometimes P feels more natural and easy.

    Understanding the whole framework is more helpful than just picking a type, and defining yourself that way; because most people will have to use all four functions at different times and in different roles over the course of a rich and full life. What your type tells you is your strongest and weakest areas. Then you can work on improvement more intelligently.

    As you grow, you tend to grow out from one type into related types. Some people will remain close to their home type–they know what they like and they stick to that. Some become generalists over time. But everyone spreads out at least a little bit from a single type.

  10. Annise
    Annise says:

    As an ENFP, homeschooling and work from home mom….I can so relate! I have found that when I work two days per week (inspiring and motivating people thru Nutrition and Chiropractic), I have enough energy and inspiration to homeschool. My house is messy, my life is messy! But I think most of the time I am happy. I also have a VERY supportive ENTP husband. Our marriage and family make sure that each person has what they NEED to make this all work.

  11. Annie
    Annie says:

    I have been working on exactly this realization this winter: that I need ways to recharge my energy as an ENTP/ENTJ throughout the day, rather than a job or a radical change.

    How can you tell if you’re an ENTP or an ENTJ? I do strongly love goals and projects, and if it’s my project, it will most certainly be complete. But an overscheduled day exhausts me. And I love philosophy (ENTP) though I dropped out of grad school b/c, I now know, I was exhausted from only theorizing, as philosophy to me serves the purpose of change.

    Any thoughts?

    • Vanessa
      Vanessa says:

      I would have guessed ENTP because you dropped out of grad school. I think ENTJs are better at follow-through.

      Also, as a fellow P, I find that I like external structure and well-defined goals because I don’t make them myself, and without them just flounder through life aimlessly.

      • Annie
        Annie says:

        Thanks for indulging my question. Actually I think I’m an ENFP. And then I just read P’s response above to the ENFP (who sounds just lIke me) that only ENFPs will test all over bc we see so many possibilities.

        I dropped out of the PhD program bc it didn’t readily apply to helping people. I see that that’s NF at work.

  12. Annie
    Annie says:

    PS. A book I’m reading that I strongly recommend is _Was That Really Me?_ which deals extensively with what happens when each type is under stress (You go to your weakest skill, but in a perverted form b/c it’s your weakest skill.) I am struggling with the mundane, especially in winter. But I realize now that I am also struggling with a lack of structure with my kids home, and a lack of Big Goals. Especially now that the homeschool decision has been made. (Yes, I think I’m an ENTJ.)

  13. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    “You simply need to make time to collect energy by doing the type of activity that refuels you.”

    This is the best advice! I am going to try and incorporate this into my everyday life from now on. I think it will make a world of difference.

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