Today I’m happy to welcome Gena Thomas to Enneagram Paths to continue our look into Type Five Parenting and what it feels like to identify as a Type Five woman. Gena is a mother, faith-wrestler, and writer, with her second book Separated by the Border: A birth mother, a foster mother, and a migrant child’s 3,000-mile journey comes out in October 2019.
Welcome, Gena, and thank you so much for sharing your experiences!
1. How do you as an Enneagram Five move about in the world? Do you feel that being a woman and a Type Five has any distinct advantages and/or disadvantages?
I’ve recently discovered I’m a Five after about a year of trying to figure out my Enneagram number. It’s been interesting to think through what it means to be a female Type Five because most Fives interviewed on the podcasts I listen to are men. It helps me better understand (with my Four Wing) why I can be so emotional about certain things and non-emotional about much of the rest of my life. The advantage is, in my opinion, that I often have an objective view of life, so I rarely respond or make choices out of emotion. This keeps me relatively level-headed amid heated moments. However, my Five -ness seems to be not what is expected or seemingly desired of women by society, especially in Christian circles. One of the disadvantages of being a woman Five is that I never feel like I fit into other’s expectations. I question things. At first, this is viewed as good and healthy—until I probe into areas that people would like me to leave alone. Then, I’m viewed in a negative light. But I can’t seem to hold in my questions; perceivably good or bad, they are my most constant companion.
2. Talk about what gender means to you. Where do you feel most comfortable on the gender spectrum? What does this mean for your daily life, your work, family, and friendships?
I identify as she/her. All of my life I have been a Christian, so being a female Five has been a part of my daily experiences in the different circles I’ve found myself in. As a woman, I’m grateful to have found some faith communities that embrace me fully. The first of these was in undergrad where questioning was the norm for everyone. The second was in graduate school, where I met others doing difficult faith-based work in community development who understand and embodied in a deep way that to have faith is to simultaneously question why the world is in the state it is in. But on a whole, being a Christian woman Five is a curious space to occupy. I hold strongly to my beliefs, but I also don’t fear doubt in a way that seems to be the norm for many Christian spaces. The story of Jacob wrestling God has been one I’ve always held dear. I consider myself a faith wrestler, and I believe that will be a lifelong endeavor for me. I also am very egalitarian and believe the gospel message unhinges the earthly hierarchies we create, including the gender hierarchy. My family moved to a new state recently because of a job opportunity for me, a woman — not for my husband. And there were some surprising responses to this from other Christians. Also, as an author, there is more of a spotlight on me than my husband. Again, the typical gender norms that often exist in evangelicalism don’t describe my family’s situation, and thankfully I think that’s becoming more and more the norm.
3. What is the hardest thing about being a Five woman? What is the easiest thing?
I think the hardest thing is recognizing I do have feelings about personal situations, they just take time to surface. I have to give them that time. The hardest thing for others to deal with is that even though I don’t fit the typical gender role of a “Christian woman” I will still pull a chair up to the table.
The easiest thing about being a Type Five is researching and observing. As a writer, this helps me in so many ways. Writing allows me to process my feelings, so having a personality that always wants to learn more feels like a great asset as a writer and person.
4. Talk a little about your experiences as a parent. How many children do you have and how old are they? Are you parenting with a partner or on your own? When in your parenting journey did you discover the Enneagram?
I have two kids: an 8-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl. Parenting is hard, but it is oh-so-good. I love how it teaches me to be selfless. I parent with my husband, which is a great balance for us because he’s very hands-on and playful. I’m more reserved and love to reason with my children. It’s important for me to set aside my distractions and just play with my kids. It’s probably one of the toughest things for me to do. I’m seeing how much I hoard time, especially alone time, so when my kids are playing, I want to get dishes done or laundry done so that when they go to bed, I can read a book or write. But if I did that every time I wanted to, I’d never play with my kids. I discovered the Enneagram about two years ago, so this is all still new, fresh awareness for me. It helps me to ask myself: Am I hoarding time right now or do I really need to get this task done? What’s the worst that can happen if I stop my tasks and play?
5. Talk about being in the Withdrawing Stance and being a parent. How do you deal with the dichotomy of these two opposing needs?
I feel like it’s extra hard. I struggle a lot with this, especially working full-time and coming home and feeling like I need some moments to withdraw before jumping back into another social environment that requires even more of me. Luckily, I have a thirty-minute commute and so I’ve started to use that time for introspection. I truly believe that staying present with my children makes me a better person, so it’s important for me to stay mindful of that—even though I still withdraw a lot. But, it’s also important for my family to recognize I sometimes need alone time to re-orient and re-charge, and to give me space when they can. In the end, our family dynamic is a give and take, and we’re all the healthiest when we find balance in recognizing each other’s needs.
6. How does the limited amount of energy that a Five has impact your parenting? Do you find avarice (greed) creeping in on your relationships with your children?
Yes, avarice always creeps into my relationship with my children; in wanting to withdraw, if that makes sense. I also hoard time, so for me, avarice comes in the form of wanting to not stay present as a mom; wanting to take some alone time or wanting to get things checked off my to-do list. I’m realizing this more and more. It’s so helpful to see it as something that works against my health, which is a huge testimony to the Enneagram. When I was first trying to determine my number the idea of avarice—or greed—made me think I wasn’t a Five. “I’m not a greedy person,” I thought. But then I heard someone being interviewed on a podcast talk about being greedy with time and suddenly it hit me like a demolition ball. I’ve often been wrecked by avarice, but now, with self-awareness, I see how dangerous (in some ways) that greed can really be.
7. How do you feel as a mother Type Five? Talk a little about the thoughts that run through your head, the feelings that skim through your heart, and the sensations that move through your body as you mother your children day-in-day-out.
Heart first: When my kids pass big milestones, I get excited. Unlike many moms I know who feel sad about their little child growing up, I rarely feel sadness about a new phase of life. I think this is because I LOVE that I can reason well with my son. I love having deep discussions with anyone, so being able to do that more and more with my children is awesome!
Thoughts: Having a routine helps me out a lot, I thrive better with it than without (glad the summer is over!) Actual thoughts I have often: Did I do this? Did my son get that? Did my daughter do what I asked? When can I get alone time again? How much energy will it take to do this activity? Is there another similar activity that will take less? If I expend this much energy here, when will I next get filled up? Oh my goodness, my son is so wise! My daughter is adorable! I love my kids. I am so annoyed by my kids. Why are they fighting again? Awww, they are playing together, this is so sweet. Wow, what’s it going to be like when she can do this [insert activity]?
Sensations: My daughter is very touchy. I love how she runs up to me when I arrive home from work and yells my name and gives me a huge hug. I love whenever she plays with my hair or brushes it, or lets me play with hers (that doesn’t often happen). When I tell her she is cute or pretty, she squeals in delight. Both of my children’s laughs are the sweetest sounds to my ears. I love that my daughter wants to sit in my lap or next to me. It took a while to get used to this because my son wasn’t like this, but I have really learned to enjoy her physicality even though I can be big on personal space in most other settings. I know there will come a time when she doesn’t want to do this, and I don’t want to take it for granted.
8. Give us as many tips and tricks and life-hacks and sage advice as you’d like about being a Type Five mother. We will soak them in!! What have you learned so far?
This tip is for being a mom but also for professional life. I am much better at being social with someone who I have contacted first through email or text or direct message. So, whether networking professionally, or socially for my children, it’s always good for me to make communication contact prior to physical contact.
I hear a lot about how much Fives are in their heads, so one thing that has helped me as a mom is to do physical activities with my kids. When I come home from work, my mind is reeling, it’s good for me to go outside with the kids and kick a soccer ball or pick up sticks together. Moving my body gets out of my mind while also connecting with my kids.
It’s hard for me to write when my kids are around, so I’ve learned to set aside writing time either while the kids are sleeping or while they’re with a sitter. This can be challenging, especially now that we live far away from family, but it’s been important for me to thrive.
I’ve also just recently read The Sacred Enneagram by Chris Heuertz which talks about the need for stillness. While silence is relatively easy for me (and quite welcome when I get to be alone) stillness is tough, especially trying to still my mind. I’m just now getting into some contemplative prayer practices and it feels like holy resistance doing so.
Gena Thomas is a writer, a faith wrestler, a wife, and a mom. She and her husband, Andrew, have been married for 10 years and they have two children, an 8-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl. Gena works as an instructional designer at a nonprofit that equips local churches within the area of holistic development. She has written for several Christian publications, and published her first book, A Smoldering Wick: Igniting Missions Work with Sustainable Practices in 2016. Her second book, Separated by the Border: A birth mother, a foster mother, and a migrant child’s 3,000-mile journey unpacks the story of Gena reuniting her Honduran foster daughter with her family after separation at the US border. Separated by the Border comes out October 29, 2019. Gena can be found on Instagram, Facebook, and on Twitter, where she’s most active.