A while ago, when we adopted our first Beagle, we got more than we had bargained for. Our beautiful puppy was rather jumpy and sensitive and extremely sick. After helping her with her medical issues, we did what any other good dog parents would:
Puppy classes. The first lesson on the first day? “We are here to train you!”. I thought that was a joke, but as it turned out that is exactly what the trainer did
Over the past 12 years, our beloved trainer, Pam, has reinforced this repeatedly with every puppy we have had. It is our reaction, our self confidence and consistency that make the difference (but I don’t want to talk about my spoiled puppies today!). Once I really listened, I realized that my emotions set the mood in the house, and that applied to both my dogs and my daughter. On days that I was stressed and impatient, the dogs would play up and my daughter would be quieter. Our dogs would have uneasy walks and barked to death and I felt a heavy energy around my child. On days that I was angry, even if I did the yelling at the boxing bag in the basement, the dogs would spend more time in their beds and out of my way; and my daughter used a much softer tone of voice. Hummm wake up mom!
As I was blessed with an ultra sensitive child and even more sensitive beagles, I quickly realized that by looking at my daughter and dogs I could adjust my behavior and set a proper tone for the house. Of course, I still love to yell at my husband to pick up his shoes or threaten to divorce him when he leaves the cars devoid of any gasoline (he dislikes gas stations!), but the dogs and our daughter know the difference between a busy mom and an angry mom. And so, I started using them as my mood gauge, affording myself the opportunity to correct my actions however small. The result hasn’t been a perfect pre-programmed mom; I still very much use my tone of voice to convey various messages like any other mother, but now I have enough awareness to self examine and ask myself if my reaction fits the action. Through this I have also learned to be honest with my child and apologize or explain myself when necessary (sometimes it takes me a day to admit to things, and sometimes my evil twin insists that I am correct regardless!). Our parenting style now includes an honest, sometimes on a need to know basis, approach to our feelings regardless of our emotions or physical state.
This also helped us greatly in explaining topics such as depression and anxiety to our then 8-year-old so that she may practice understanding, compassion, and prevent herself from judging others without knowing! Whilst I do not have first hand experience with depression, I see its impact on families all around us. I have known children who take their frustrations out on other children at school, or lose self confidence and become victims of bullying, look anxious or seem to have a cold all school-year long (yes, stress does impact the immune system!). Knowing what goes on with some of these children at home, I often wonder if a more honest approach from the parent who suffers from a mental illness or emotional challenges would reduce the burden these children feel and provide them with more understanding about their family dynamics. I recently read a few articles which I thought were useful and interesting, specially that of Dr. Hollman’s (referenced below) and realized that my observations have not been far from the truth.
In my opinion, no parent should strive for perfection as there is no such thing. However, by practicing vulnerability and honesty with our children, we can become the best parent we can be and nurture a closer bond with our children. It maybe so that one day our kids would need to have a trustworthy adult in their lives to talk about their mental and emotional state. Why would we not choose to be that person!
Sites of Interest
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), 2017. When a Parent Is Depressed …… What Kids Want to Know. http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/health_information/for_children_youth/Pages/when_parent_depressed.aspx
Hollman, Laurie. Ph.D., 2017. Hoffpost. How to Talk to Your Kids About Your Mental Health Issues. 2017. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-your-mental-health-issues_us_58a1ff41e4b080bf74f03f0f
Hollman, Laurie. Ph.D., 2017. http://lauriehollmanphd.com