By Mónica Tinoco
Parenting. Across every time and culture, this human endeavor makes us take a closer look at our own personal history.
A couple of years ago, I was honored to be a guest speaker for the China Enneagram Conference in Guangzhou to talk about the Enneagram and Coaching, my professional work for the past 15 years. As I spoke, at some point I shared a bit about me and mentioned that I have three children. When I said this, the audience of 450 people or so froze and remained completely silent. I could tell that something in the atmosphere had changed, and after a few seconds, something I will never forget happened. They started clapping. Yes, clapping, and some were even standing while they clapped. Then, it was me who was shocked, and a bit embarrassed, I must confess. I did not understand at first why this was happening. But later I got it. This is something they don’t see often in their country. According to strict Chinese laws, couples are allowed to have only one child, as a counter measure implemented by the Chinese government decades ago to slow down their alarming population growth rate.
I could only reflect on the hardships of parenting across the globe, over the centuries, and how different parenting styles are shaped not only by culture and time, but also by our Enneagram types. Values and beliefs shaped the way we were raised, and also how we raise our own children. I believe that at the core of every parent’s heart is a longing to be the best parent one can be for their child, but our own suffering and unhealed wounds may prevent this from happening.
There is a wise saying in Mexico that goes something like this: “For some, their children are light, and for some others, their children are a cross to bear…” It actually rhymes in Spanish: “Los hijos para unos son luz y para otros son cruz.” I think there is some truth to this, because our children are such a clear reflection of who we are.
Why is parenting such an excruciating, challenging, painful and yet so rewarding task? Because parenting forces us to take a deep look at ourselves. A deep look at our biggest fears (we become the most vulnerable when we are parents), and also an honest look into where we truly are in our own paths.
Social commentator Michael Ventura once said, “The people who you have to lie to, own you. The things you have to lie about, own you. When your children see you owned, they are not your children anymore, they are the children of what owns you. If money owns you, they are the children of money. If your need for pretense and illusion owns you, they are the children of pretense and illusion. If your fear of loneliness owns you, they are the children of loneliness. If your fear of the truth owns you, they are the children of the fear of the truth.”
The Enneagram, as many know, is a mirror of the truth. Yes, of the truth of our wonderful, truest, deepest nature – and of the truth of what owns us, so to speak. Our children can see both. That is why parenting is an opportunity to look at ourselves in the mirror and to reflect. Our children, whether we like to admit to it or not, are a true reflection of ourselves in full. Of our integrity, our consciousness, our dreams, our fears and our demons.
Without integrity and consciousness, we lose our freedom. The freedom to be who we truly are meant to be. And the freedom to teach our own children how to be free.
As an executive coach, I have worked for the past 10 years with managers, top executives and directors, many of whom are parents, too. At some point in the coaching process, it is necessary to talk about the leadership challenges within their organizations, and within their own families, too. As I have come to see it, the two are closely related. I’ve been very lucky to have developed friendships with many of the leaders I have coached over the years, and there is one thing I have noticed again and again.
The best leaders – those who have integrity, who hold up to their values, who are not afraid of seeing themselves in the mirror, and who dare to grow and change – are also amazing parents. I have met and talked to some of their children, and they express so much respect, love and admiration for their parents. Every single time.
I once read about a study published years ago about an Illinois mental health hospital located near an interstate highway toll road. There was a little booth for drivers to pay their toll, but it was on the honor system – no person, just a place to drop in the money. One of the grad students who was interning there decided to take note of who paid their tolls and who didn’t. He rigged up a camera so that he could see what happened when the therapists who worked at the hospital drove by the booth. He discovered that what he saw correlated directly with the success of their therapy with patients. People who paid their tolls had better and faster outcomes with their patients, as if somehow their own personal integrity touched their patients and gave them the strength and courage to heal.
It made me think about parenting, and of how, when we are the most authentic and true version of ourselves, we also give our children the strength and courage to live their own authentic selves and go after the life of their dreams.
When we learn the Enneagram with mindfulness and compassion, we also learn how to be happy and how to live with a liberated heart and the best of our humanity. I have seen over the years how this can change people’s lives, not only at work and with their teams, but also within their families, and particularly with their children.
I will never forget a very silent and attentive Type 1/Perfectionist woman who seemed to be taking a lot in during a leadership training. After a couple of days, she approached me during a break and told me that discovering she was a Type 1 was hard for her, and how grateful she was that we had talked about the importance of learning how to practice self-compassion. She touched my heart when she said that she was tough and strict with her 6-year-old daughter and had scolded her in public, trying to make her a good child. (Type 1 leaders sometimes do this with their team members, unaware of the negative effect it has on their team.) The woman told me that she had just made a promise to herself to change, not only for her team, but primarily for her daughter. Bearing witness to her moment of truth within herself, she shared with me what a profound impact that training was having in her life. This was a gift I will never forget.
Or the Type 8/Protector man who, after learning about his own type, shared that he had never before fully understood his adult son, who was a Type 9/Mediator. He could now see how many times he had dismissed him as being naive or weak, but now could see his son’s strength and the courage he possessed throughout his life to become the man he was.
Or the 60-year-old Type 4/Romantic son of a highly successful Type 3/Performer businessman who had spent less that 80 days a year at home with his family, instead focusing his life working, building companies and making a fortune. The Enneagram helped this Type 4 man heal, and feel love and understanding for his father, who had died many years before. In his own words, he could finally hold him within his heart, and this in turn, helped him to become more present to his own two sons, with more capacity to love and care for them with tenderness and presence.
This is what the power of the Narrative Enneagram holds – the gift of sharing our truths with other human beings who are willing to listen with compassion. I have seen this happen again and again, in many different settings and audiences, but always with an expansive effect that keeps touching and transforming the lives of those we love and care about the most.
Mónica Tinoco of Mexico City is a Certified Executive Coach, Certified Narrative Enneagram Teacher, and a Licensed Training Associate for The Narrative Enneagram’s (TNE) International Enneagram Professional Training Program. She currently serves as a member of the TNE Board of Directors and chair of the Membership Committee.