As its mothers day I was thinking….as I do……and apologies I go off tangent, but hopefully I make some sense, which you may or may not disagree with.
What does it mean to be a parent, aside from the lovey dovey mushy stuff?
When our children are born our primary role as mothers is to ensure our children’s survival, often to our detriment. Lets face it child birth isn’t exactly easy is it? Perhaps that’s natures way of telling us that having children is painful, a long journey of waves of pain but eventually you get there, only to be faced with a new battle. And loving that noisy, smelly, sleep depriving creature is exactly why we keep going.
We feed our child, we clean them, we wake up through the night to ensure they are fed, warm and clean and the cycle continues….and its exhausting. Can you remember the last time you slept like you did before you had a child? Again, things ease and our little bundles of joy start to feed themselves and through many many repetitions learn to use the toilet…..although targeting said toilet is more challenging for some than others, some even learn to wash their hands…..most leave the tap running!
Then its time for them to pop off to nursery to learn new skills and we often deal with the aftermath of this child was mean to me,” “this child took my stuff,” and the obvious one we cringe at, our child is the one causing mischief. Then primary school, secondary and on and on. These cycles continue throughout their lives. God I’m still putting my parents through it…..I like to think that’s normal. (Love you mum and dad!)
Now, my son is 13, yep, that stage! I won’t pretend to be the perfect mum, but I do my best. And in honesty at the minute whilst we have the answering back, lazyitis, and “yes but, no but” he actually isn’t too bad….yet! He’s a good kid. But through gritted teeth I continue to try and nurture his learning, teach him how to be better, how to do better and yes sometimes he is irritating. But that’s all part of it isn’t it? I’ve become an “expert” in writing essays in history, science….math's as we all know is beyond me but I try. Thankfully his computer science teacher is fab, as we all know how great I am at tech! And what does he have to do…loads and loads of repetitions of the same types of things to ensure he understands what he’s doing. And yep, I’m a nightmare parent – what is the point in tests with no feedback on how to improve…..why is he having endless worksheets…where’s the teaching? ….Yep…sorry teachers, I’m a teachers daughter! (Worse, a head teachers daughter!)
Now, yes, I know dogs are “just dogs”, they aren’t children, but, for many of us they are family. We have to feed them, exercise them, nurse them, clean them, the responsibilities are the same. Sometimes more so for ones who have additional needs - behavioural or medical. For many people who are unable to have children their pets fulfill that role and we should never critisise people for that. Fur kids, fur babies, it annoys me more when people critisise people for loving their animals so what if they use phrases that you don't agree with? What difference does it make? People aren’t stupid, they know they are dogs, but they love them and that’s what matters. However, love doesn’t fix everything. Hardwork does, child or dog (or any other species we choose to live with). But we only do that because we care…right? Why would we have them otherwise?
Anyway, that’s a whole other blog….so….whats the difference ? Besides the 10 extra sharp teeth? Well, one species grows and develops and becomes independent (eventually moving out….we hope) whereas another remains a forever toddler.
A toddler lacks verbal communication skills using body language, sounds, tantrums and laughter to communicate, lacks reasoning (aside from I see that, I want it now), forgets everything you've said, lacks the ability to make informed decisions, and is completely reliant on us for their survival.
How many times did you have to tell them not to touch the oven before they touched it anyway? How many times do you have to tell them NOT to put that in their mouths? How many times did you grab their hand at the side of a road? How many times did you tell them to stop poking you in the arm? (p.s. when does that stop?)
Are they being naughty? Disobedient? Or are they learning? Through many many many repetitions (there's a theme here, have you got it yet?)
This brings me back to the dogs….again…. We get our dogs, we sometimes teach them to do things, primarily our focus is usually on toilet training and sleeping through the night. (Remember the puppy blues? The lack of sleep? The exhaustion?) Socialising usually involves playing with untold numbers of dogs, saying hi to everyone straight away, exploring absolutely everything without any guidance. Tell me, did you allow your kids to do that? Did you allow them to run up to every other child, of any age and start playing with them? Did you allow them to go running up to all the adults you saw? Climb on every wall? Throw stones? Even snow balls? Why not? Because we understand there is an element of danger, social expectations that should be adhered to. So….why do we do that with the dogs?
As humans we need laws to govern how we behave, but there are other unspoken rules that are expected too. But we don’t just magically know them, we learn them and we learn them through the endless why’s. When has “because I said so” ever been enough?
And so, I get to my point. Why are we always asking “how do I correct my dog from”….”do I punish my dog for…” What are you correcting them for? What are you punishing them for? Have you “explained” the expectations? Have you shown them through many repetitions that a certain behaviour is what you want by creating opportunities to practice that behaviour? If you saw a parent asking how to punish their child for whatever reason….what would your response be? Why?
I see so many times…."I just have to pick up the spray." Its sad really, as people are so quick to pick up the spray…there seems to be some sense of pleasure from it. What if I said the same, but instead of it being my dog it was my son, and say…..a belt? Yea…..I know, I wouldn’t but you get the point. Here’s the thing…..all the dog knows is that when you pick up the spray they should avoid you. They don’t understand what its for, and worse still, they have no idea what exactly it is they should do instead. That’s like locking you in prison and not telling you the crime, over and over and over again. If that happened to you, what would you learn? That the person locking you up is unpleasant, to worry about absolutely everything you do in case "its wrong" and you'll be punished?
My challenge to you all is rather than “correcting” them, look at why that behaviour keeps happening. Then teach them the behaviour you do want. Then start using said behaviour increasing the level of difficulty slowly with many successful repetitions at one level before increasing it again. What will this achieve? Well a) your dog will understand what you want when you ask them to do it as you have taught them b) you will stop getting frustrated with them c) you will stop damaging your relationship with them by constantly nagging or threatening them d) you'll eventually not have to ask as they will understand exactly what they should do in that situation.
Your dogs are your kids…..so teach them! I’m sure someone will have something to say, some argument that dogs are not babies, they need discipline etc etc. And I’m sure that works for them. But, how I parent, how I teach is by asking questions. Applying my logic to learning. Would I learn if someone did that? What would I learn? Keeping emotions out of it....would I learn or understand if someone said or did that...WHY? WHY NOT?
I remember at school we had a teacher who was particularly unpleasant….actually there were a few….but one, we would hear coming and would scatter. Why? Because he would dish out detentions for absolutely nothing. Did I learn anything from him? Nope. I did learn he was unpleasant and in his lessons I was more focused on sitting quietly rather than the subject he was teaching. There's a reason I'm not so good at maths! I did have an amazing teacher in year 6 for a few months...she taught us algebra.....funny how I can do that with ease! (She wasn't a walk over either but she was clear and patient).
Most importantly….I get asked, after allllll of this…..are they too old to change? No! They are not. Obviously the longer and stronger behaviour patterns are the harder they are to change, many you may need the right professional help. Some behaviours are genetic, some related to underlying undiagnosed medical issues. Some will need a lifetime of management. But they are not too old to change, but first, WE need to. We need to decide WE can change. We CAN create opportunities for success. The more success we are in something the more likely we are to repeat it.
You can have pudding if you eat your dinner
If you sit quietly now we’ll get a mcD’s.
If you do your chores you can go on your computer.
If you speed you get points on your license, AND a fine. (But we keep repeating that one so the punishment is escalated.)
If you keep playing loud music you will get a warning....a fine....an ASBO....
If you keep skipping class, you get a warning, a phonecall home, a detention...suspension.
Interesting thought....Punishments are always escalated......Rewards are reduced!
Do they get a bigger pudding?
Do they get a bigger portion at mcD's?
Do they get longer on the computer?
So……what will your success look like? I fancy cake? Anyone else?!
Happy Mothers Day everyone whether 2 legs or 4 paws. I hope you enjoy time with those who are special to you. Hold them close and remember through the tough times you love them. There is nothing stronger than a mothers love and determination.
Love you Spesh, thank you for teaching me kindness, patience, understanding and compassion. You will forever be in my heart and thousands of others. Run free beautiful baby boy. (02/03/2021-09/03/2023 - Neuro warrior, angel on earth)