I’m not comfortable with the idea of being average. I’m fully aware that there are many people in the world who are smarter, better-looking and more talented than me. But I also feel like I’m pretty far above par in many areas of my life because I work really hard and commit a lot of emotional and physical energy into achieving that.
I’m not going to delve into a nature vs nuture debate, or try to figure out why or even when I became a Type A person, but that’s a banner I’ve carried for a while now. Things that fueled me to self-identify as a Type A:
- My written planner in college rivaled what I imagine the First Lady’s schedule to look like. I had to put showering on my to-do list for crying out loud.
- I somehow end up leading almost every organization I join at some point. I talk too much for my own good and have a knack for organization and processes. So I chair the committee, lead the moms group and advise the student group.
- I’m an experience seeker. Dangle a new opportunity or challenge in front of me and I’ll bite, sometimes to my own detriment. Summer job at a camp in remote Montana? Sure! Start a blog? Sounds great! Run a marathon? I’m in!
In 2012 I finished what will likely be my only marathon - Flying Pig in Cincinnati, Ohio.
It was as hideous and gratifying as it sounds.
I spout off that I’m a Type A person, and I feel like I can spot other Type A moms in a crowd by the shimmery little waves coming off their constantly spinning brains like the air over a blazing hot sidewalk. But I realized I actually didn’t know what qualified someone as a Type A person. I took this Type A personality mini-quiz and learned I’m Type A-ish. What?! I’m not an A-ish kind of a gal. It’s A or the highway. So I dug deeper. I wanted to understand because I know it impacts every aspect of my life: my marriage, my family, my career, my friendships. I also wanted to learn how I could best harness the good traits and minimize the bad (and there are some serious pitfalls, according to both science and my husband). Psychology Today offers a longer, and probably more accurate, Type A Personality Test, but it was 70 questions and I was too impatient to take it...
Are you a Type A mom?
I went searching for a checklist of things that show whether a person is Type A and found a Huffington Post article with 16 Signs You’re a Little (Or a Lot) Type A. I asked my husband to tell me how many of these things I fit, and about three items in, I just laughed and told him not to waste time answering since the answer was a ridiculously obvious “YES!” Here are a few gems if you want to self-diagnose:
- Waiting - in long lines or really for anything - makes you crazy
- The words perfectionist and overachiever ring oh-so-true
- Wasting time feels as painful as throwing away full containers of week-old leftovers
- You talk over or interrupt people (because you can’t wait to talk again)
- The pace of your life could be described as “any faster and I’ll fall off the back of the treadmill”
- Relaxing is harder than it sounds, and harder than it seems to be for others
- Your standards are incredibly high, for yourself and others
- Your to-do list is a close second to the Bible when it comes to holy documents in your life
You, too, might be a Type A mom. Welcome to the club. Dues include your time, possibly your sanity and likely any relaxation for you or anyone who spends a lot of time with you. But we run our families and our jobs like a boss, and we do a dang good job.
Research supports that there are two sides to the Type A mom coin - benefits and dangers of this driven nature. Kristie and I culled our experiences as moms who spend a lot of time with other moms and found that there’s not just one breed of Type A mom. We identified three Type A mom profiles (though you might find you’re some type of hybrid) and looked at areas where these moms thrive as well as their danger zones.
These moms take on responsibilities and prove themselves trustworthy time after time. They tackle tasks or projects with determination, and they have the mad communication skills to rally the troops and lead the charge
Camp director moms make amazing coaches for their kids sports teams and scout troops. They lead committees at work or in the schools or community. They plan campouts and vacations with family and friends. They have the organization and administrative skills to do the planning, and the people-skills to get others moving and keep them on task.
When Camp Director Becomes Drill Sergeant
I will own that this label came straight from my husband to illustrate how I act when I’m tired, frustrated or stressed out. I’m good at organization and receive praise for it most of the time, so I struggle to shake the habit and try to control people and situations when it’s not the right time or place. Not wanting to waste time, I have little patience for anything outside of my to-do list. I expect others to prioritize my to-dos since I’m often in charge, and I also want them to do it my way. Psychology Today backs me up, listing some dark sides of Type A personalities: hostility, impatience, difficulty expressing emotions, perfectionism.
After explaining that ugly underbelly of my Type A personality, I’m fairly sure I owe my husband at least one apology a day. For eternity.
This Type A mom has never met a schedule she can’t fill with some really great stuff. A quote from my good friend’s mom sums up this mentality: “only boring people get bored.” Preach it, Linda! The Wonder Woman mom is never boring and never bored, because she can always find things to do and people to see. She finds the coolest camps for her kids (as Type A moms, we’ve already created a Guide to 2019 Summer Camps with clickable links), carves out time for friends and hobbies, helps out at the school and in the community, and builds a life where her kids can try different things and be involved. This type of mom does an amazing job helping her kids build skills and self-esteem and learn to be both independent and part of a team. She often gets the comment, “I just don’t know how you do it all!”
When Wonder Woman Becomes The Hulk
It’s a crazy world we live in where some of the biggest problems our kids will face are caused by having and doing too much. By having lives that are too easy. Wonder Woman moms have the best of intentions, but can quickly slide into compulsive over-scheduling - both for themselves and for their families.
The American College of Pediatricians identifies three ways over-scheduling can hurt your kids:
Harms mental health
Over time, a go-go-go schedule can cause stress and anxiety, especially in kids with certain personalities. We talk more about this in our post about raising resilient kids in an anxious world. With three kids and two working parents, our busy seasons can mean most nights of the week are lost in the Bermuda Triangle of practices and meetings. I’ve heard my kids lament that they just want a night at home, so I admit I fall prey to over-scheduling my family.
Focus on the Family did an in-depth study of 12 families and found much more stress in the “child-centric” homes where one or both parents acted like it was their role to facilitate rather than regulate their kids’ activities. This was a good reminder that my role is to REGULATE for my kids, whether it’s screen time, food or even the balance of activities and down-time. It’s not my sole job to FACILITATE every activity my kids see as their next shiny object.
- There’s a lot of pressure on families and kids to choose sports and activities really early and commit to a year-round schedule of practices, games and performances. This can lead to burn-out by the teenage years. Kids who are constantly scheduled also fail to learn to entertain themselves.
- Weakens family relationships
- My sisters and I still joke about the hours we spent running a fake business as kids. It involved lots of paperwork on tiny roll-top desks from my grandparents’ house and forms with carbon paper (yep, I’m old). I want memories like this for my kids. I want them to laugh together long after I’m gone about family card games, bunk bed chats and night-time group reading sessions.
If you want something done, and done right, give it to the Event Planner mom. She’s organized, she’s dependable and she’s fluent in Excel. This mom delivers meals to the new moms, rarely misses a day of work, and honors her commitments. And she doesn’t do anything halfway. She holds herself and others to a high standard.
When Event Planner Becomes Micromanager
True to their Type A roots, the Event Planner moms’ high standards and task-oriented nature can make it hard to delegate to others. They often feel they can do tasks better themselves, so they try to do it all themselves or hang over the shoulder of anyone else trying to help. It can also be lonely when the compulsive micromanager kicks in because they’re so focused on tasks that they can forget to consider relationships and step on toes in their quest to get things done.
Embracing a B- Mindset
I’m Type A and proud, but I also want to reduce my stress and find healthy ways to keep the beast-like outbursts to a minimum. Here’s the secret: this Type A mom needs to do B- work in certain areas of her life and BE OK WITH THAT. To be clear, it physically hurts me to advocate for mediocrity in any sense, but let me explain. It simply is impossible to be a busy, working mom and to give an A+ effort in every area of life all at the same time. I hate “can’t” statements as much as the next Type A mom, but I believe this is true. Our time and energy are finite. The things and people competing for these resources in any given moment are infinite. So your choices become:
- Reduce the number of things you do until you reach a threshold where you can give A+ effort to the few things left.
- Consider your priorities. Cut some things that need to go and divide the rest into the areas where you want to give you A+ effort at this point in your life and areas where you give yourself permission to give B- effort at least for awhile.
If this still makes you uncomfortable, keep in mind that
- As a Type A mom, your B- effort is probably still equal to most people’s A effort
- Doing everything at A+ level will burn you out and turn you into the alter-egos we just described, with a side of insomnia and hypertension
Choosing What Still Gets my A Effort
It comes down to priorities. Life as a mom - and as a working mom - includes a whole lot of stuff that feels urgent in the day-to-day. But just because it’s urgent, doesn’t mean it’s important. Important tasks deserve our best work, and we have to allow ourselves to do other tasks – even urgent tasks – at a B- level or delegate them to others.
This Fast Company article on prioritizing both work and life provides three questions to guide decisions about what’s important versus urgent.
What is required of me in my major roles? What are your truly essential tasks? Almost nine years ago I worked an 8-5 corporate job. After my second son was born, the hours and commute downtown became soul-crushing. Being at work all day, every day was an essential task in this role. My choices were to prioritize the task or change the role. The following year I took a leap and accepted a university teaching job with a 20 percent lower paycheck. I had no prior teaching experience and no idea what I was getting myself into, but the position came with new professional challenges, shorter work days and summers off. It was one of the best decisions of my life. As a teacher, attending my classes is now essential. If my kids get sick during the school year, my husband tries to cover it so I can still go to class. On the home-front, the daily grind of providing food for my family falls in the essential category, though I can delegate this task to my husband or kids on some nights, or choose to get carryout or create a rotation of quick and easy meals.
What produces the greatest results when I do it? Which of the activities you do at work and at home result in the most fruit? For me, the no-brainer here is the time I invest in my kids and my students. I can’t imagine anything I do in my life having a bigger impact than the relationships I have with these kids, the wisdom I can share with them, and the opportunity to influence the next generation to make the world better than it was before. This means I might need to say no to serving on a committee that does great work so that I’m not gone another weekday evening.
- What is most fulfilling when I do it? As you reflect on your projects and tasks, note which ones are deeply satisfying. A close friend and I worked together for many years and we really enjoyed our work, but we always added the caveat: “But if they quit paying me, I’d stop coming.” What things do you do because you love them or enjoy them? It could be somewhat trivial things like reading or exercising or traveling. It could also be major things like volunteering with a local organization or planning amazing events.
It’s time to make some tough decisions and decide what tasks or areas of your life will get your B effort, at least for now. We put together a checklist of ways to accept B- work in your life, with specific suggestions for those Camp Director, Wonder Woman and Event Planner moms out there.