Ask Vicki: Relationship Advice Using the Five Elements

One Mom, Two Parenting Styles

Dear Vicki:  My mother passed away last winter, but we waited until this summer so we could have her memorial service and sharing outside. It was a beautiful service, but I was fascinated by the fact that my sister Jessica, who is five years younger than me, had very different perceptions of my mother than I did. I found Mom to be exacting, somewhat aloof, and critical much of the time. And she always seemed to hold me back from doing what I wanted to do. I actually left home when I was 18 so I could make my mark in the world. Jessica, who is a full-time mom now but was an elementary teacher before she married, remembers Mom as loving, nurturing, gentle, and kind. Can the Five Elements help me understand this? I’m upset that I never had the mom my sister did and now it’s too late. Signed: Baffled in Buffalo

Dear Baffled: The Five Elements absolutely can explain why you and Jessica had such different experiences growing up, but first let me offer my condolences on the loss of your mother. It’s never easy to lose our moms, no matter what kind of relationship we had with them. My hope is that the discussion here might offer you a different perspective on your mother and help as you heal from your loss. We’ll begin by looking at the elemental personalities of you, your sister, and your mom.

Based on your desire to “make your mark in the world,” I think it’s safe to say that you are a primary Wood personality. Accomplishment and success matter a great deal to Wood people. As an elementary school teacher and mom, it’s highly likely that Jessica is a primary Earth personality. Teaching and children are very important to Earth people. And finally, the fact that you found your mom to be “exacting, somewhat aloof, and critical much of the time” suggests that she was probably a primary Metal personality since those can be attributes of Metal people.

So how would the three of you related to each other while you were growing up? If we look at the Five Element model (shown below), we will see that you and your mother related on the Controlling Cycle (the big star), where your mother’s Metal energy would control your Wood energy. However, your sister and your mother related on the Nurturing Cycle (the big circle) where your sister’s Earth energy would have fed your mother’s Metal energy. This dynamic alone is part of why the two of you would have experienced your mom so differently. That your mother was a Metal personality also contributes to the fact that she would not have mothered each of you the same. Metal people tend to meet the moment with what history has shown is needed. And finally, the age difference between you and Jessica could have been a factor, as well. But let’s start with an understanding of your mother as a Metal personality parent.

People with a primary Metal personality often don’t have families; they are usually very fulfilled by their work and studies. This suggests to me that your mother probably had a secondary Earth personality since she did have children in spite of the fact that the Metal personality enjoys time alone (which is hard to get with children at home). Finally, an important aspect of the Metal personality is that they excel at compartmentalizing. A Metal parent can successfully keep their work life and family life separate, and it’s likely your mother did this. They can also parent children differently if they see the need. So, let’s look at what happens when a Metal/Earth woman has a Wood daughter and then five years later, an Earth daughter.

There’s an old truth that the first child is born to inexperienced parents who learn how to parent on the fly. This means that your Metal mother, someone who values order and precision, was probably quite thrown by the presence of a willful, wild, and wonderful Wood baby. And the fact that active Wood people often call forth from Metal people the need to keep things under control also sheds additional light on your mother’s initial parenting style with you. Let me explain.

Your mother was a novice Metal personality mother responding to a Wood personality baby. The underlying Controlling Cycle relationship between Metal and Wood is inherently one of balancing Wood energy, which is especially necessary for Wood people as children. Your mother’s Metal personality, which values alone time, might also have been overwhelmed by the amount of time and attention a child needs. Ideally, her secondary Earth personality stepped in and smoothed over these rough spots. But parenting a Wood child could also have been problematic for the Earth part of her personality. Because Wood controls Earth via the big star in the model, she might have felt a subtle sense of being stifled in her expression of mothering you, which would not have gone over well with her Metal personality’s desire for perfection. Yet I am sure she did exactly what she believed she needed to do to raise you right. A Metal person would do no less.

Then five years later, Jessica is born. Your mother undoubtedly changed during those five years, so would not have been the same woman who birthed you. I’ve heard it said that children born six years apart are raised by totally different parents. So, your five-year age difference probably explains some of the disconnect between your memories of your mother and Jessica’s. But I think the major factor in the difference is that Jessica is a primary Earth personality. Sweet Earthy baby Jessica would have easily connected to your mother’s secondary Earth personality and bonded deeply with it because that’s what Earth people do – they bond with each other.

And while your mother certainly loved you both the same, how she expressed that love to each of you would have looked very different. Her love for Jessica might have been easily expressed in food, home, and just being together (a major gift from her Metal energy). Her love for you would likely have focused on making sure you learned that out of balance Wood tendencies such as cheating to succeed, anger, or bullying were not acceptable. Her Metal personality would especially have wanted to teach you right from wrong because these issues would have been dear to her Metal heart.

A final reason you and Jessica might have such different memories of your mother is that the Earth personality easily forgives and forgets, while that is harder for Wood people to do. Please do remember that there is no way a Metal personality could mother a Wood personality baby and an Earth personality baby the same; it’s impossible given the wiring and relationships tendencies between these three elemental personalities. But please also take comfort in the fact that your mother truly loved mothering you or, as a Metal personality, she would never have had Jessica. I have no doubt that you were dearly loved and that your mother brought you and your sister that part of herself she thought was best. I send blessings and healing to you and your family.