My friend TJ said many profound things in the short time I knew him. Most were small things, private things which I find myself to be reluctant to share with anyone. However, there was one piece of parenting advice he gave me during class one day which I haven’t been able to get out of my head.
He told me, as we pretended (poorly) to be listening to our world hunger lecture:
“I don’t spank my kids. How am I supposed to teach them not to hit by hitting them?”
Now, this might not mean a lot to anyone but me, but TJ was a motorcycle riding “former” Marine, who was a black belt in some crazy martial arts nonsense, and a bouncer at a overpriced high end bar. In other words, dude was a bad ass. Yet here he was preaching patience, and leadership over violence and dominance.
A few weeks later I had the privilege of attending a Veteran’s Association cookout with TJ, his wonderful wife and his two kids. They were the best behaved, most attentive children I have ever met, despite being 3 and 5 years old. There wasn’t even a hint of back-talk or sass out of either of them. Now, most of you wouldn’t be expecting attitude from a 5 year old, but then again most of you haven’t seen five year olds these days.
The credit cannot go entirely to TJ, after all his wife is also a parent, and I have discovered that she is a superhero in the past few months as well. Still, the attitude that you should be an example for your children more than a disciplinarian and a dictator has stuck in a way most things don’t stick with me.
The whole point to this, is that I experienced a parental crisis a little bit ago that has been eating away at me, and I need to deal with it. See, we have these two dogs. These dogs, as dogs are wont to be, aren’t the most obedient members of the family. In fact, the both of them are rather obnoxious. Constantly underfoot, constantly walking on me, constantly licking my fingers if I’m standing to close to them. It can be a little obnoxious.
Well, the other day I was walking through the kitchen, and our schneagle decided that she needed desperately to walk under my feet. I tripped, of course, and shouted at her.
This is all normal, except that then from the floor, out of the corner of my eye, I watched as my 15 month old son emulated my gestures and tone of voice perfectly, shouting:
“Abby! Ge! Ge! Abby!”
This is a big deal. Sure, eventually every child learns how to be angry and yell, every child learns how to shout and scold. But I don’t want to be the one to teach him that. I don’t want to be the one to teach him that when you’re frustrated your response should be to raise your voice, especially if the offending party can’t really be held responsible.
I saw a great quote once, that you should try to be the person your dog thinks you are. Reading that changed a lot of the way I treat my pets, and has been a huge help to me. Now, entering a different and much more complicated period of my life, I feel like I need a new mantra; one that will help me change the way I interact with the world.
I want to be the person my son thinks I am.
Listening to: The Xx – Angel (Love Thy Brother Remix)