The Taming of Old Yeller

This is the third post by guest blogger Christie Robertson, in which she explores some of the questions of pre-motherhood through a dog ownership lens. Enjoy! 

I remember it vividly.  I was in the truck, with Molly in the back seat barking madly right in my ear.  I whipped around and yelled wildly, on the verge of tears, “Shut up!  Just shut up!  What the @*$% is wrong with you?  Shut up!”  My voice cracked with the last shut up and Molly was so taken aback, she suddenly fell quiet.

Directly building up to this melt down, I had tried to take her to cheer on a friend at a running race.  Molly had barked all the way there and run away when we arrived.  I never did make it to the race meet point, but rather got back into the truck and was driving home defeated amidst her yammering.  I should point out that this is not her normal behaviour; while she does sometimes bark in the car, she had never acted anything like this.  And my normal behaviour?  I’ve taught a class of 15,  14-year old boys who all actively and routinely tried to disrupt the status quo for no reason other than it was more fun than learning, and my blood pressure stayed regular-or at least I could make it appear this way on the outside. So why on this day did I lose it on a single, barking dog with love in her chocolate brown eyes?  Let’s call it an off day for both Molly and me.

(One example of Molly barking uncontrollably at something stupid…statues of bears.  This time it was funny.  Usually it’s not.)

My husband Matt commonly says, “You can’t really get mad at the dog.  She has a brain the size of a walnut.  She doesn’t know any better.”  Unfortunately, I think her mentality is why I, on the odd occasion, have boiled over.  Even on good days, it feels like Molly has the cognitive capacity of a two-year-old and I have a hard time coping with this.

Molly laying quietly on the stairs
Molly did finally give up on the ball and let me write this post. Every 30 seconds I would hear a soft, pathetic, little whine escape her lips as she moped on the basement stairs outside the office.

Why doesn’t she get that nobody likes the sound of her bark?  Why doesn’t she understand I don’t want to be woken up to her whines at 2am?  Even as I write this post, she is barking at me because she wants to play ball.  Why can’t she figure out I’m busy and ignoring her?!  So with our new baby on the way, I wonder:  Am I going to lose it on the child like I have with Molly?

Maybe the more realistic question is, do I accept the fact that I will probably have moments of total yelling insanity, or work proactively to find strategies to prevent my own meltdowns?  Or, is it acceptable to do both?

I’ve heard many times in many different contexts, the first step to solving a problem is admitting there is one in the first place.  So, I am officially going on record to say that dealing with people/animals/things that can’t rationalize and act maturely has the potential to send me into a tornado of rage (note the word ‘potential.’  I’m not a total hag).

Usually, I intellectualize my conflicts, using reason to block out emotional stress so I can work towards a resolution.  I work through the problem in my mind until I come to a possible solution(s) and, if necessary, put the solution into effect with the involved parties’ feedback and assistance.  However, when the other party isn’t willing or, in the case of Molly or a child, isn’t capable of giving me feedback, I don’t know what to do.  The emotion creeps back in and, depending on the severity of the situation, I might yell.  This is particularly true if the problem is repetitive in nature or I perceive it as nonsensical–like a dog yapping constantly at nothing.  Perhaps it is time for me to research a new way of tackling conflict.  Any suggestions from my parent readers out there?

Step 2?  I plan to do a bit more research into children’s cognitive and emotional capacity.  While it feels like Molly is “acting like a 2-year old” she certainly isn’t a person.  Instinct, rather than emotion, is what makes her react and this is very different from a child who is not only feeling emotion but learning how to react to these emotions.  I figure if I can at least understand where the child is coming from, this may help me diffuse my temper.  A friend told me about a book titled The Science of Parenting, by Margot Sunderland.  It discusses the neuroscience behind child rearing.  This is first on my reading list and probably won’t be the last.

I know I won’t be that parent that yells all the time –  it’s just not in my nature – but I think it’s foolish to think it will never happen.  I’m hoping my research will help, and at the very least I will try not to beat myself up when despite my best efforts, I lose my temper with my child.  And if all else fails, I will just have to keep reminding myself the baby will eventually grow into a rational human being, even if it takes 25 years.  I wish I could say the same about Molly.

4 comments

  1. All parents lose it sometimes! I have found (in my 35 years as a parent) that the biggest thing a parent can do for their child is to admit when they have made a mistake or overreacted and to apologize for it. It teaches your child that everyone makes mistakes, but that it is important to take responsibility and to ask for forgiveness when you realize your mistake/overreaction. Plus – no matter how much you love your dog, it will be a fraction of how you love your child. I kow there are dog owners who will disagree with me, but having been both dog owner (who very much loved her dog) and a parent, there really is no comparison.

  2. Don’t over analyze the situation. Walk away (as long as the child is safe) and take deep breaths.
    Love reading these guest blogs. Miss all the lunchtime interaction from when you were in Edmonton!

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