Conscious parenting (and dog ownership)

Pepe&UnderwearThis week I have had at least three situations where our usually shlumpy, funny and entertaining Basset Hound dog Pepe made me so angry. Very stubborn by nature, Bassets are not exactly the breed of dogs that lend easily to discipline or to doing what anyone else says. And this was very clear from the moment he arrived into our lives with his over-sized ears at the young age of 3 months. He knew with absolute certainty when he wanted a break from his first walks, and would lie down in the middle of the town street leaving us confused and panicked. He knows now with absolute certainty that he loves dirty laundry smell while he drags it around the house; he adores sunny patches on our white couch where he never gets to sleep but on which, nonetheless, he attempts to climb at least twice a day. Lately, he must have realised that what he has not been gifted in the height department he was more than compensated for in his length. So he now jumps upwards to stand and see things over balcony railing, and, naturally, on top of the tables where he always finds something of interest – notebooks, paper-towel (he is obsessed with paper like me), dishcloths, my salad lunch which got left for 30 seconds…

Pepe’s entire reality is made up of the expectation that the world is a giant playground where everything that he likes is made for his enjoyment and everyone wants to play with him. And so it is. Most people we meet during our walks think he is the funniest thing they have seen and want to touch him and pet him; most dogs love his enthusiasm for playing or at least don’t get annoyed with him. So this week has been unusual in that I was the one getting annoyed with him on a number of occasions – you know, upon the usual realisation that we can never get through a toilet paper roll that does not have Pepe’s teeth marks and rips on it because he ends up pulling them all off across corridors and eating bits of them. On a number of walks this week Pepe was absolutely insistent that he wanted to play with a particular dog so much that following us on our path to the opposite direction was just no longer an option. It’s very funny when it’s not your dog or when it happens the first hundred of times. But then this week my patience seemed to be wearing very thin and I got very angry. Angry and frustrated enough to want to punish him. If he would just listen!!!

I already apologised to Pepe for slapping his bum when I saw our living room full of cotton that he had extracted from a successfully destroyed toy (this was just a  moment after he had noisily pulled down a place mat off the table with a plate and everything that was on it). I became so aware of this sudden all-consuming anger that seemed to completely overtake me for that brief second and result in a slap. Where was this all coming from? And what did it mean? And most horrifyingly – am I on the road to becoming one of those future parents that uncontrollably slap the bums of their kids every time they chew through a cable or a toilet roll (OK, maybe it’s only Pepe)?

Wind woke me up a couple of nights ago and, as it tends to happen quite a lot recently, I could not go back to sleep. I now know better than resisting insomnia – usually, I find, somewhere before dawn, there is a lesson. As I reflected back on those questions, I felt two old memories rising up from the dusty corners of my mind. One was of me at the age when I was teething. In it I am chewing the edge of my wooden baby-cot, watching people in the room and feeling, perhaps for the first time in my life, irritated, annoyed and wanting that they would just listen! Another memory that came back was of me and my sister getting spanked. It did not happen very often but I do recall a number of occasions. Most of the memories involve me and my sister giggling uncontrollably at night while I used to do my famous “reading fairy-tales from my handkerchief” or getting to the end of the yes and no question game and finding out that the animal that I was supposed to guess was “a dandruff”. The giggly atmosphere would quickly chill down when we would hear one of our parents get up to come with a warning. We would know that the final drop was reached when we would hear our father get up to punish.

So on the windiest night of this week, I spent time returning back to and re-imaging both of those memories in order to release those feelings of not being listened to and of being punished. I don’t carry resentment towards my parents. They did a lot of amazing things for me as a kid, including listening to my complaint at the age of 5 about a kindergarten teacher who spanked me for not taking a nap, taking me out of the kindergarten and allowing me to stay at home for a year before starting school.

While I do realise that there might be a difference in the relationships that we have with pets and kids, as well as a degree of difference in communication and comprehension, ultimately, it is my deepest belief that all clashes between “us” and “them” point to the same – parts of us that are triggered and are in need of healing. Dr. Shefali, the author of The Conscious Parent, puts it beautifully –

“Every interaction with our children is a reflection of our relationship with ourselves”.

This week has taught me that the same can be said about our relationship with our pets, and this has inspired me to be a more conscious mama for Pepe.

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