Better Parenting with the Enneagram

by | Conscious Living, Parenting, Print Articles, Summer 2021

When the paediatrician first placed my new-born child on my chest, a rush of love was soon replaced with the overwhelming weight of responsibility. 

We study law, drama, journalism, computer science and a host of other occupations, but not parenthood. Suddenly I had a new career. A career for which I had neither degree nor diploma. 

I leaped into parenting with loads of idealism and a considerable lack of practical skills. My kids were never going to eat sweets. They were going to be brilliant, empathetic, and radically uplift the world … It would have helped enormously if I’d been aware of different parenting styles and if I’d understood our children’s strengths and challenges. 

Like most parents, we did the best we could with the resources we had. Although nothing replaces unconditional love and nurturing, a knowledge of the Enneagram would have gone a long way to help. 

Can children be typed and, if so, at what age?

Nature or nurture? This is a contentious issue. I’m tempted to assume my comfortable fence-sitting position and say both, but my observation has indicated that we are generally born a specific type. Nurture affects our degree of health or integration, rather than type. However, the danger comes when parents attempt to type a child too early. As parents, we generally see our children through the rose-tinted lenses of the type we’d prefer them to be. In wanting to fulfil expectations, (to get strokes), children can appear to be a type they’re not.

Blinded by our light

As parents (and people), we are often unconscious of how we show up in the world. We feel because we’ve spent hours following certain practices that we must be conscious. Yet so often, we are blind to our neuroses or fixations. The Enneagram shines a bright (and sometimes a touch uncomfortable) light on where we have limited ourselves.

Parenting styles

As parents, we tend to believe there is one way to parent a child correctly – our way. It may come as a surprise to discover that there are nine different parenting styles, each with its own positive and less healthy characteristics. 

If your child is not the same personality type as you are, you might struggle to understand their motivations and behaviour. 

The nine types are ‘flavoured’ by influences such as wings (the numbers to the left or right of a type), instinctual drives and how integrated (healthy) we are, making for a vast range of possibilities. At our highest level, we embody all types.

The Type One parent: The parenting perfectionist

One parents are responsible and dedicated. You’re the reliable, wise and fair parent every child can benefit from. You provide good boundaries and instil a strong sense of morality and impeccable action. Rules are expected to be upheld. You work hard to improve yourself and your children. Ones have high standards and, while you may be inclined to criticise others, you also berate yourself for perceived imperfections. 

Allowing yourself to have more fun with your child, letting go of the need to be overly directive and not sweating the small stuff, are some of the ways you can improve your parenting style. 

Type Two parent: The pleasing and praising parent

What a great parent! Integrated Two parents are nurturing, loving and giving. You willingly sacrifice your time, energy and resources to help your child. As such, you are supportive and affirming and you empathetically tune in to your child’s needs. 

When it comes to helping with homework or a school project, you’ll happily find the time. Being the most people-orientated of all the Enneagram types bodes well for your child’s play date schedule. You provide a warm home that other children love to visit – and no one is going to leave hungry. 

As you become less integrated, your shadow aspects appear – you may become overly possessive and self-deceptive regarding your motives behind giving attention or gifts. 

Learning to let go as your child becomes older – and developing your own interests – are a few ways to enhance your parenting skills.

Type Three parent: The goal-setting go-getter

Healthy type Threes make wonderful parents. Not only are you super-organised, but you’re also fun, charming, enthusiastic, practical and have loads of energy to keep up with a busy child. You’re driven to succeed and love to set goals and see them materialise. You value yourself and your contribution, wanting the best for yourself and your child. For your kid to be happy, they need to be successful, right? You are task-orientated and, as such, you’re a shining example of hard work being more effective than just talent. For you, failure isn’t an option. 

If less integrated, you tend towards workaholism, potentially pushing your child too hard, becoming impatient should they not share your ambition and drive. 

Showing your child that mistakes are okay (it’s trying that’s important), being authentic in your interactions and being careful to keep that work/life balance in place, help up your parenting game.

Type Four parent: The introspective individualist

Great parental attributes include being creative, imaginative, intuitive, empathetic, caring, classy and expressive. In being in touch with your own feelings, you encourage your child to be the same.

You long to express your individuality – and desire the same for them. Being boring and conventional doesn’t work! 

Less integrated Fours may envy others and feel a sense of worthlessness: “Why does everyone else seem happier/have a more loving relationship/seem more successful/have better-behaved children …?” You long for what you feel you don’t have.  

Become a healthier parent by not being too sensitive and over-identifying with your feelings. Realise that you can be inclined to withdraw and acknowledge the role drama and the desire to be different can play.

Type Five parent: The observing introvert

Fives value their space, time and resources. Choosing to have children can feel as if it comes at the expense of these. Researching, inventing and innovation are paramount to your happiness. 

The more you know, the safer and more confident you feel. Details that bore others are fascinating to you. You’re intrinsically curious about most things. You’re not interested in superficial chitchat, heated emotion and demands for attention. 

Most parents find kids’ constant questions annoying, but not you – you love explaining why ice floats, how chickens lay eggs and why sausages don’t grow on trees. As such, while you may find the toddler years a bit tedious, you’re a natural teacher for older kids. Rather than admit you don’t know something, you may concoct an answer. You’re often cerebral about your emotions – thinking rather than feeling. 

By being aware of your tendency to introversion, accepting you don’t have all the answers, avoiding getting lost in projects and not switching off emotionally, can go a long way to helping your parenting style.

Type Six parent: The dutiful parent

Six’s natural charm, loyalty, reliability, responsible, hardworking approach to life and good home-making abilities set you up to be a parenting star. Your combination of compassion, ability to engage and dependability make for a stable home environment – and you have a great sense of humour for when things go awry.

You’re a hands-on parent who may not enjoy leaving the care of your offspring to others. For a type Six, life is full of potential hazards and dangers, which you attempt to anticipate. When less integrated, fear is expressed both internally (“What could happen to my child?”) and externally (“How could it happen?”). Trust is a big issue. You may test other parents to see if they are reliable. 

Learning to trust your inner knowing and replacing fear with faith, together with not being over-protective, can really help you be the best parent ever.

Type Seven parent: The spontaneous socialiser

You’re fun, adventurous, enthusiastic, versatile, extroverted, friendly and creative. As a Seven, you want to grab all life offers. You love planning new fun activities – with or without your kids. No adventure doesn’t excite you; no place doesn’t need exploring. Your optimism inspires. Your zest for life makes it easy for you to relate to your kids. Fun and excitement attract friendships and attention. 

However, you find mundane chores boring. Less integrated, you avoid confronting emotional pain by keeping busy, which can make you appear superficial and emotionally unavailable. 

You can improve your parenting skills by actively listening, emotionally engaging with your kids and by realising that, to some kids, your energy can feel overwhelming. Become more focused and find fun in the less exciting aspects of parenting.

Type Eight parent: The assertive adult

Your protective, big-hearted and strong presence makes you an ideal parent. Nobody’s going to mess with your kid. Justice is important. Behind that rough-and-tough, straight-talking exterior, though, is a generous, loving, sensual person who doesn’t enjoy exposing their vulnerability. You work and play hard, easily assuming the role of leader, and don’t enjoy being dependent on anyone. You’re self-made and you expect the same from your child, believing only the strong survive. 

You make rules, yet you’re a rule-breaker yourself. You’re not afraid to confront others, take action and wage war. 

If you are less integrated, your children can experience you as over-powering, controlling and dominating. Help lessen this by allowing your child to hold their own views. Be less restrictive and show your softer, more vulnerable side.

Type Nine parent: The patient parent

You’re nurturing, optimistic, accepting, receptive and unflappable – all of which make for brilliant parent material. When someone falls, gets into a scrap, or is feeling down, you’re there to calmly pick up the pieces with easy-going reassurance. 

Being creative, unselfconscious and open, you have a wonderful ability to engage with children at their level. You have a tendency to ‘merge’, confusing and feeling responsible for your child’s feelings, thoughts, desires and needs.

As the peacemaker of the Enneagram, you just want things to be pleasant and harmonious. To this end, you avoid conflict. When others push you too hard, you seldom say anything but will stubbornly dig in your heels. At some point, repressed anger may be sparked and you can explode, only to quickly regain your usual calm and friendly disposition. 

Learning to say “No,” speaking more directly, voicing your opinion and being aware of any passive-aggressive behaviour can help you grow as a parent.