A few years ago, my sister-in-law went through a pretty dramatic personal transformation.

She reignited her interest in fitness and athletics and along the way she lost weight and made a lot of new friends. I witnessed the transformation at a distance via Facebook updates and our twice annual family visits, so I didn’t fully understand the driver behind her big changes until she revealed them in a blog post.

After her first baby was born, she acted the way she thought a stay-at-home mom was supposed to act: crafting and making every minute about her kids. She said “yes” to things she thought she was supposed to do and lost herself along the way. In the end, she wasn’t happy, and she spent a long time figuring out how to fit her identity as a mom into the life she wanted to live. After I read her article, my first thought was, She finally found her personal brand.

Personal brand defined

Have you heard this term before? It’s trendy business lingo for what makes you stand out in a crowd. Your personal brand showcases your special talents and is built around who you are, what you do, and what you believe. It’s your unique combination of skills and personal qualities that bring value to what you do, and it’s used to keep you operating in a consistent and focused way to achieve your personal and professional goals.

Entrepreneurs and consultants use this as a way to promote themselves and explain in a shorthand what clients can expect when they partner with them. Job seekers use their personal brands to communicate their unique value to prospective employers. Before I left the corporate world, we were rolling out personal development training to a segment of employees to help them identify their brands as a lens through which they could look at their careers and their approach to solving business problems.

Adding “parent” to our personal brands

Old habits die hard, so even though I’ve been out of Human Resources and home with my kids for a few years, I couldn’t help but connect my sister-in-law’s self-realization with the concept of personal branding. Bringing this idea home into our family lives could be the answer to each of us finding peace with our individual style of parenting.

The good news is that you don’t have to feel completely lost in who you are to benefit from the process I’m about to share. I know this because I’m the exact opposite of my sister-in-law, and I still found value in doing this.

I’m more confident in my role as a mother than any role I’ve ever had. On the spectrum of mom guilt, I suffer from very little, and I don’t second-guess many of my choices as a parent. Of course, I worry about my kids, but I don’t worry whether I’m a good mom.

Still, when I challenged myself to come up with three adjectives to describe myself as a mom, I was stumped. My immediate thoughts went to how I wish I was behaving differently (i.e. magically turn into a morning person, so that I could accomplish household chores and workouts before the children wake up), and this isn’t a productive or, in my case, realistic way to think about parenting.

It’s not productive for a few reasons. First, focusing on our strengths makes us more successful than obsessing over our weaknesses. Second, defining our parenting brand, which is really just succinctly naming our strengths and how to use them to raise our tiny humans, serves as a compass to keep us on a win-win path that’s good for our families and good for ourselves. Naming what we want out of life makes us more likely to achieve it, and setting our own expectations, rather than adhering to what we think other people want, makes us more motivated to keep it up.

It’s for moms and dads

In truth, I first thought of this idea only as it relates to moms because we seem to experience a higher level of internal and external scrutiny for our parenting choices than dads do. Developing our unique mothering identities seemed like the best way to slough off for good the superficial labels we’re assigned. You know the labels I mean: soccer mom, helicopter mom, mean mom, crunchy mom, or hot mom (well, you can keep that last one, if you really want).

The more I thought about this, though, the more I realized it’s a worthy exercise for dads because we all keep a set of standards in our heads to which we measure ourselves. Naming our personal parenting brand gives us a chance to question whether the expectations we’ve defined are realistic and helpful.

If they’re not, it’s an opportunity to recalibrate the parenting bar we’ve set and focus on engaging with our families in a way that feels more authentic. This is what my sister-in-law did. She let go of the feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and fear she had about her role as a mom and embraced the identity that made sense for her — a mom who’d rather coach her kids’ soccer teams than volunteer in their classrooms. 

What’s more, going through this exercise together with our partners is a chance to revisit the expectations we’ve consciously or unconsciously set for one another. This is a chance to rebalance our joint approach to parenting and appreciate how our unique parenting brands compliment one another. And in case you’re getting any bright ideas, defining your brand as “I don’t change diapers” isn’t going to fly.

Abstract art of 3 diverse people

The four steps

We’ll walk through four steps to help you create your personal parenting brand and to figure out what to do with it once you have it. Take as much time as you need to complete these steps.

1 | Know thyself 

As a party trick, I used to do quick personality assessments on people based on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and there was never a lack of volunteers. That’s because it’s fun to learn about ourselves, and it’s even better when the observations are insightful and give us pause for thought.

Below are some free online assessment to try. Take as many as you want and, by all means, dig around their websites for more information on each. The research-backed assessments are widely used for team and personal development and each offers a more in-depth analysis for a fee, should you find one particularly useful (I have no financial connection to any of these).

The fluffy ones are just for fun. Pay attention to patterns in your results, even in the non-scientific ones. For example, loyalty and helpfulness show up for me in some fashion regardless of the specific test I take.

Do a gut check while reading the description of your results. Take note of where you find yourself nodding your head, thinking, How do they know me so well?

VIA Survey on Character Strengths: A 15-minute assessment ranking the strength of 24 character traits that we all possess to some degree, just in our own unique combination. (They also offer a youth survey for children ages 10-17.)

Connecting with Colors: A five-minute assessment assigning you a color that represents your dominant personality traits and communication style. (They also offer an assessment for teens and tweens.)

DISC Personality Testing: A 10-minute assessment which places your preferences for connecting, communicating, and interacting with other people into four quadrants.

What Kind of Parent Are You?: A 10-question quiz, just for fun by Quizony.

Which Iconic Sitcom Dad Are You?: An eight-question quiz, just for fun by BuzzFeed.

Which TV Mom Are You?: An 11-question quiz, just for fun by Zimbio.

2 | Do some “me-search”

I had a psychology professor in grad school who used to say that “research is me-search,” meaning people choose to study topics with which they have a personal connection. In our case, we are doing me-search in the truest sense of the made-up word.

We’ve got to investigate how other people perceive us. It’ll either reinforce our view of ourselves and get us closer to locking down our brand, or it’ll highlight a disconnect between how we think we’re behaving and the vibe we’re actually putting out there.

Ask your partner, close friends, and family the following questions. Don’t forget to ask your children, if they’re old enough (and willing to play along). This doesn’t have to feel like a serious endeavor. Everybody loves me-search, so make it a round table and take turns answering the questions for each other. Chat over a glass of wine (or two) with the adults. Talk at dinner with the kids, and younger kids can draw pictures. You can share the results from your self- assessments, too, to gauge their reactions and get the conversation started.

There are no wrong answers and the fact that you’re taking the time to figure out your personal parenting brand proves you’re already a good one, so listen with an open mind to what those closest to you have to say. Try these questions:

  • If you could use one word to describe me, what would it be?
  • When do I seem happiest as a parent?
  • What do I complain about the most when it comes to being a parent?
  • What’s the most fun thing we’ve done together as a family recently? What made it so fun?
  • What do you think I’m really good at?

3 | Name that brand

Now it’s time to make sense of all this information. Keep the feedback you heard from family and friends and your own self-assessment results in mind as you think about the following questions and create your personal parenting brand statement. While the feedback you received from others is important, the answers to these next questions are yours and yours alone, so be honest in your responses, even if it differs from what your partner or children said.

  • What’s important to me as an individual and a parent?
  • What am I good at?
  • What do I want for my child(ren) in their lives and what qualities do I have to help them achieve this?
  • What’s my favorite way to spend time with my child(ren)?
  • What’s an example of a time I’ve felt successful as a parent?
  • When do I feel most drained by my kid(s)?
  • What qualities do other people admire in me? What am I known for? 

Now, it’s time to put this all together into a few sentences that represent your personal way of being a parent. Pulling from the answers you’ve given above, describe yourself with two or three adjectives (I am…). Then, state your goal for how you want to raise your kids (I will…) and call out something you won’t do because it doesn’t align with how you parent (I don’t…). Here are a couple examples:

I am practical and nurturing with a twist of intrigue. I will help my kids become well-adjusted and independent adults by being honest and fair with them. I don’t sweat the small stuff. 

I am fun, hard working, and thoughtful. I will lead by example to show my kids that life is too short not to take chances. I don’t take life for granted.

4 | Getting and staying on brand

Congratulations! We’ve made it to the final step. It’s not easy distilling the complex realities of parenting into a few sentences. Well done. Now it’s time to think about what you’re currently doing with and for your kids and compare it to your brand statement.

  • What do I need to start doing to get on brand?
  • What do I need to stop doing?
  • What do I need to continue doing?

Your answers to the above questions will determine your next steps. If the bulk of your responses fell under the “continue” category, then you’re right on track and should share your brand statement with your family and close friends. They’ll most likely nod their heads and say, “Yep.” 

If your answers indicate that you have a gap between the way you’re parenting and the way you want to parent, then think about this:

What help do I need to make these changes? From whom?

It’s important to say here that therapists and life coaches are helpful resources in making any kind of personal change, but if you’re ready to tackle this yourself, then here are some considerations:

Bring your family along for the ride. Without their support and agreement, this can’t work. Really, it can’t, not for the whole family, and it’s critical that we remember any individual changes we make impact our families. Talk through what needs to be different and how you see it happening. The bigger the changes, the more time everyone will need to adjust to it, and you will have to be open to compromise.

This isn’t an excuse to stay in your comfort zone. Use your brand wisely to say no to things you can’t do and say yes to the things you could be doing instead. Don’t use it to avoid testing your limits or trying new things. It’s not a justification to underestimate yourself, so keep a growth mindset — the idea that everyone has a basic set of talents and aptitudes that can change and grow over time through practice and experience.

Your brand should be consistent in public and private. If it’s not, if you’re still acting differently at home and in public, then you’re still figuring out who you are and how to be honest with yourself and others about this. Stick with it. It’s worth it!

Last, but not least

Life is unpredictable and there will be moments when you need to adapt. Your personal parenting brand is your compass for how to live your life and raise your kids, but every once in a while you’ll take a detour for the good of the family, for some unavoidable reason or just because sometimes we have to do things in life that we don’t want to do. This doesn’t mean you’ve failed, and it doesn’t mean you can’t get back on track. It means you’re human, and life’s not perfect. Just remember that defining your personal parenting brand is your way of saying, this is who I am, this is how I parent, and I don’t have to apologize for it.