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That's What You Get For Listening to a Baby
It was a beautiful sunny day, the first one in many months. I didn’t have much on my schedule, and three different people complimented on my dog’s behavior. I felt freer and lighter than I had in a longer while. “Where do you want to go?”—I asked my dog—“This is your day, we can do whatever you want right now”.
At first she took me to Starbucks. It’s funny, she often drags me there for no reason at all. Could this be because it’s the only place with air condition she could go to during the last year’s heatwave? “What a lovely and well-behaved doggo!”—The barista exclaimed—”There’s a crazy husky who comes here often, how I wish he was as polite as this beautiful doggie is!”.
I’m not used to people complimenting on my dog’s behavior. When we first adopted her she was trying to scare everyone away, and scaring everyone away still comes to her naturally. We’ve spent hundreds of hours training her for what feels like barely visible results. At last, I thought, all that hard work is finally paying off.
As we left the coffee shop, my dog went straight to the tram stop on the other side of the road. We don’t usually ride on public transport unless we really have to, but if that’s what would make her happy… We could go to the big park just two stops away and walk together back home through a nice neighborhood.
We weren’t even halfway there when my dog suddenly started barking at a lady who was walking past us to take a seat. I don’t know which one of us was more surprised.
- Where is that dog’s muzzle?—the lady shouted—You take it away from me now or I’m calling the police!
- You’re right—I replied sheepishly—we’re getting off right away.
I felt upset for the entire way home. I did a favor to my dog, and this is how she’s paying back? But obviously I knew I could only be upset with myself. I got way too excited people complimenting my dog’s behavior and overestimated how ready she is to ride the public transit. Even though she strongly insisted on doing that, I should have known better.
“That’s what you get for listening to a baby”
Someone told me this half-jokingly when I described how my daughter wanted me to cut my own fingernails before I cut hers, and then refused to let me do it anyway. This particular situation was just funny, but what if she insists on running into traffic, jumping through the window, never taking a bath or only eating french fries and ice-cream forever? My daughter is a smart young lady, but she can’t possibly know all the possible long-term consequences of her choices. It is my job and duty to make choices on her behalf sometimes, especially when she doesn’t like what I choose.
It’s much easier for me to accept that I need to make authoritative decisions on behalf of my dog than it is to accept the same thing about my daughter. I remember how I always hated being told what to do, and how little agency I had as a kid in the things that mattered to me the most. I’d much rather have an equal partnership with her—and hopefully, one day I will—but for now I am fully responsible for her wellbeing. There can be no partnership without shared responsibility.
It’s pretty scary to hold this much power over any single person, let alone one who is so helpless and dependent on me. How much easier would it be if everyone was responsible for themselves and themselves alone, there’s so much room for abuse when one person is so much stronger than the other.
But if I can’t escape this power imbalance, the best thing I can do is become aware of it, and make sure I navigate it with my daughter’s best interest in mind. I can love her and take her seriously even if I can’t always give her what she asks for. I can take her wants, needs and preferences into account whenever there’s time and space for it, and explain my reasons when my decision is different. I can practice staying as grounded as possible when she’s displaying strong emotions so that she can learn to hold them in a grounded way as well.
Of course, I won’t always live up to this ideal, and beating myself up for it won’t make it any better. The best I can do is do my best, apologize when I screw up, and carry on.
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