Anxious pet parents are probably anxious people parents.
My mother and I head out for a day of shopping and lunch when her (perfectly coiffed) Bichon Frise scoots between my legs and out the front door. The fancy doggie bounces across the neighbors’ lawns and directly toward the street. Mom yells frantically, “Samantha, come here, come here right now!” Samantha turns to face us but stays where she is, safely out of reach. Her head is down, front paws stretched forward, tush in the air, tail wagging and tongue lolling in the universal canine play posture. I’m sure she’s laughing at us. Mom calls to her a couple more times, then switches to a pleading tone: “If you come back I’ll give you a treat…” Mom dashes into the house and hurries back with a box of cookies she shakes enticingly at the naughty doggie. Samantha promptly trots over to receive her treat for being bad.
Watching my mother anxiously manage her “baby” enlightens me about my own upbringing. No wonder neither my brother or I will take “no” for an answer!
My husband and I don’t have what you would call conventional pets. We agree we don’t want any new dependents when we’re still trying to get rid of the first bunch. Instead, we adopted a family of squirrels (see Squirrel Parenting). I’m pretty sure they visit us for the food and not the friendship, but we pretend.
By observing our compulsion to cater to several potentially rabid rodents, it’s easy to envision what must have been going on in our home during the active child rearing years.
Imagine my husband and me sitting across the kitchen table from each other. I have my back to the French doors and he has a clear view of the deck and the tree “our” squirrels hang out in. He and I are engrossed in one of our typical bonding conversations about our shared hatred of the wrong political party when his gaze slides ostentatiously away from my face and refocuses somewhere above and behind my right shoulder.
He jumps up and sprints (alright-maybe “sprints” is an exaggeration…) over to our well-stocked squirrel food station. My devoted husband grabs a handful of deluxe mixed nuts, picking out the peanuts because the squirrels no longer prefer peanuts, and heads outside. The little female squirrel leads him back to her tree where she delicately takes the nuts-sans peanuts-proffered on a plastic spoon.
I’m not making fun of my beloved. If our positions at the table had been reversed it would have been me who’d picked squirrel over spouse.
Again, these human/animal interactions are teaching me a lot about the parent/child relationships in my family. I’m not totally comfortable with what I see. We’re concerned parents, sure, but from this perspective it all seems a bit out of proportion. We act as though making a squirrel wait for a snack or demanding a dog obey her owner will be cruel and inhumane punishment. In reality, we’re reacting to our own anxiety rather than the needs of the animals. That’s undoubtedly also what we passedon to our kids. And what they’ll pass on to their kids through their parenting.
Ah well, it’s only human.