When mom Julie Lyles Carr drives up in her 15-passenger van and her family of 10 rolls out, people assume she must have figured out the secret of parenting, and that that secret must come in a few simple steps that apply to all children everywhere. “Whether we’re great parents or not, we do get asked questions about how we navigate Kid World,” she says.
The truth is that each of her eight children, ages 9 to 26, is incredibly different. The Austin blogger and pastor of the women’s ministry at LifeAustin outlines how to meet the needs of each child in her new book “Raising an Original: Parenting Each Child According to Their Unique God-Given Temperament.”
Parenting, she says, is one of the few relationships in which we don’t get to select who is in the relationship with us. With friends and romantic partners, there’s a choice and a getting-to-know-you period. “When it comes to kids, you get what you get,” she says. “You can be part of the beautiful mystery or you could be pushing against it.”
As parents, it’s tough when kids don’t turn out to be who you thought they would be, she says. Sometimes that’s because they are very different from you. Sometimes, it’s because they are very similar to you and their faults are the things that you don’t like about yourself.
In “Raising an Original,” Carr tells the story of her family: eight very different children, even her two youngest, who are twins. Even in the womb, the twins were very different, Carr says. The girl, Merci, was relaxed and easy. “Her twin brother (Jake) was this frenetic little hamster in the womb,” she says. “They had the same nutrition, the same womb, yet they were such individuals. … They were so different when they were born.”
That really helped Carr see that nature was a strong force — it wasn’t all about nurture. “Is it nurture or is it nature? It’s such an amazing collision of those things,” she says.
The second part of the book is a personality test for each kid that is based on the personality types developed by William Marston and further developed by Walter Vernon Clarke. Carr offers the test in different forms based on your child’s age.
Once you answer the questions and chart your child’s scores, she has a description of what type of guidance each personality type needs. She offers four big categories of personalities: The director, the inspirer, the steadfast and the curator. Then there are people who are distinct blends of two of these personalities.
“What really concerns me is about the respect for the individual,” she says. Who they are should matter more than what parents think they should be. “That’s not to say that at times we don’t push our kids,” she says. “We need to be a bit of a coach … to draw them into a certain thing.”
That has to be done carefully. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what you want or think your children need. “We invest so much in our kids,” she says. “We have such desires and dreams for them. When a child is very different than us or has a personality similar to ours it’s a reckoning of letting go of what might be.”
Carr says she does what she calls “a heart check” when she’s unclear of what to do as a parent. “Is it more about my identity and my agency or is it about respecting the person I have the honor to raise and have in my house?”
Even while recognizing the individual, her house is not one without rules and responsibilities. “We have a couple of bedrock rules,” she says, “but there’s room for improvement and choreography.”
She insists on respect and love and being generous to other people. Her family must be open to dialogue and conversation. “We’re going to speak to one another with respect,” she says. “We’re not going down the eye rolling and disrespectful lane.”
How clean their room is or how their grades are is left to embracing who each kid is, but, she says, that doesn’t mean she lets everyone live in a pigsty.
Of course, when writing the book, that did mean letting some things slip, which makes this parenting blogger human. She sees the irony of writing a book on parenting while trying to shoo her children away to write a book on parenting. “It’s amazing what can get done when you ignore the condition of your house,” she says.
One thing she really learned how to do when she first started blogging after moving to Austin five weeks before her now-9-year-old twins were born was to not try to keep up with the Joneses. Early in her parenting days, it was easy to compare herself against what the parenting magazines recommended, but now, with social media, it’s easy to feel judged, she says.
What might seem like an innocuous question asked and answered, she says, “all of the sudden there’s a rush of mom-shaming or parent-shaming over the choices we’re making for our kids.”
Early in her parenting, she might have believed that “there was one perfect standard and I was going to achieve all of it for all of the kids.” But, she says, “it was a fool’s errand.”
Parents often spend time worrying about things like how many toys to give at Christmas, what kind of education to give, whether kids should share rooms and other day-to-day details. Instead, she needed to find out who they were and what they needed.
They all needed something different, and that wasn’t just because two of her children would be considered special needs — Merci (No. 7) had a stroke when she was born, and Mason (No. 4) has hearing loss. “All of us have a little something, all of us have a challenge and a strength.”
Parenting, she says, should be about honoring the differences that children have. “How do you express what it is that makes them unique?”
That means really seeing and understanding your children. “There’s something really beautiful of seeing who they really are and not through the lens of who you want them to be,” she says.
“Raising an Original”
Julie Lyles Carr