Like everyone, I try to do my best by my kids. Most of the time, I’m mindful…considerate of their budding feelings as I gently remind them of “society’s formula for living.” I’m cool with the slow progression of “fine motor skills,” though I do insist that my six-year old use a fork at the table. I remember the thrill of jumping into autumn leaves, but street-side piles in our Katonah village hamlet are off-limits. As a parent, I feel that I’m fair-minded, loving, patient…a good mom. That said, the other night I awarded myself the “Worst Mother of the Year” trophy. Of course this isn’t the first time I’ve placed so highly in this ongoing, self-imposed competition—and I’m sure it won’t be the last—but here’s what happened. It all started with the floppy brown dog.
I was putting my son to bed after the long, active weekend. My daughter floated in, chattering a mile-a-minute, when she stopped in mid-sentence. “Her” floppy, brown stuffed dog was in her brother’s crib. He was touching it. Maybe even drooling on it. She wanted it back, and there was no middle ground. I pointed out that she hadn’t held the floppy brown dog since her own infancy. I steered her towards the 16 alternative stuffed dogs that sat waiting on her bed. And the litter-and-a-half of handheld, bean-stuffed plush pups in her toy basket. Nope. She wanted the floppy brown dog and she intended to get it back, using the most powerful weapon in every five-year olds’ arsenal: the ear-splitting scream.
I was irritated. It had been a long day. She was being irrational and I got mad as a hornet. Reason failed me and I sunk low—I started to threaten her. “If you don’t stop it, I won’t read to you…and…and…I’ll take away your privileges…and (horrifyingly) I’ll put your new stuffed yellow-feathered cockatoo in the basement for a week!” She had campaigned for that cockatoo for a month, saved her money and waited by the mailbox for 4 days until she got it. That was it. She was undone. I turned her over to her father and went to nurse her brother back to sleep.
As I rocked my boy, my maternal hormones equalized and my sensibilities returned. I came out, gathered my girl child in my arms and reflected how hard it must be to have to share all your things with your brother. She released into a sob, telling me how sometimes she wishes he’d never been born. And all I had to do was reflect her for her waters to calm. She never brought the brown doggy up again.
Why am I sharing this profound moment? One I will reflect on for a lifetime as I continue to make mistakes and learn from them? Because these same truths hold true no matter who you’re raising. You can make mistakes–you will make mistakes–parenting a kid or dog, but if you’re strong enough to reflect, you can learn from your mistakes, recover and evolve into a deeper relationship.
When your reactions feel wrong, step back and consider another perspective. Try to step into their perception of a situation, so you’re able to direct from a place of reason. When I work with dogs I urge people “Instead of getting angry with your dog’s wild doorbell reactions, embrace their joy and refocus their enthusiasm on a toy. Rather than grow irate when your puppy nips, work hard to determine the cause… do they need to sleep or to potty?” As with children, certain behaviors are unacceptable, but in order to redirect or eliminate them, you must first see the situation from their eyes. It is only then you will be able to craft a solution that respects their reality as well.