Are we getting in the way of allowing our dogs to become the best version of themselves? This lesson came to me, thanks an amazing young man, whom I have the privilege to call, my son.
Over the years, he has had many labels placed on him by teachers, friends, relatives, total strangers and even by my husband and I as loving parents.
When he was younger these included; cute, funny, kind, clever, bright spark, determined, focussed.
But, as he got older and mostly during his school years the labels changed to be less complimentary. Stubborn, careless, disinterested, ADD, insolent and disrespectful, were just some of them.
These were certainly not helpful and made his school years pretty miserable, because he didn’t fit into the ‘good boy’ category. Of course I took these personally at times, and I tried my hardest to do everything in my power to help him feel loved, to support his learning process and to build his self confidence.
At one point, in his late teens, my heart felt heavy as I realised that he had very few friends, he didn’t socialize much, and in fact turned down most opportunities when I encouraged him to go out and ‘have some fun’. I thought he was missing out on so much - after all, my teen years included a full social calendar and grabbing any opportunity I could get to get out of the house and away from my parent’s constant nagging and controlling.
I started to read up on social anxiety in teens. There is a LOT of information out there. Books, videos, podcasts, blogs, etc. all describing this pretty pervading condition in our society today.
I didn’t want to come across as a nagging, overbearing parent, so over the weeks I gently gave my son hints about a specific podcast I had heard, or a blog post I had read, or relaying a heart-warming and inspiring story about a young person who had overcome their social fears.
In response, I received the odd nod of his head, but mostly he simply dismissed what I was saying.
One day, after passing on yet another ‘tip’, he turned to me and said;
‘Mom, I know you mean well and that you have my best interests at heart, but I don’t need your help’. I like the way my life is, and I am fine. I like me just the way I am.’
Wow, that was a pretty profound moment for me. When I finally realised that once again it’s all about one’s own perspective. It seemed to me that his lack of social skills and social interaction with his peers must be making him miserable. But, clearly it wasn't.
I realised that it’s his reality, and his journey and if HE wants to change it, then the time and opportunity will come if and when he is ready. It’s not up to me or anyone else to try and impose that upon him. Because by doing so, I am giving him the message that he is not okay. That he is somehow broken and needs to be fixed. Instead, as a loving parent, I need to love him unconditionally, be there for him when he needs me. Encouraging and celebrating his individuality as he discovers his own life path and journey, and develops into his own authentic, unique and amazing version of himself. This profound learning for me had a double effect. Because I realised that I had also labelled my dog Charlie, with the same condition….social anxiety. I had spent years training him, rehabilitating him and re-socializing him. But, perhaps if I asked Charlie, he too would also say ‘I know you mean well, but I like me just the way I am.’ When I look back, I did see him as ‘broken’, and that it was my job to ‘fix’ him. I really did want to help him. It hurt to see him so fearful and ‘out of control’ at times. I wanted him to feel safe, and be able to go on walks with us, without all the freaking out. Honestly though, was it also because I wanted him to fit into the life I had dreamed for us, and the 'model family dog' that society projects? Yes, indeed it was. I am not saying that all the training and support has not helped him to be more resilient and confident. It certainly has. However, I do wonder, had I approached it from a different mindset and perspective - from a place of unconditional love and support, rather than the intention to ‘fix’ him - would we have gotten the same result?
Yes, I believe so. If I had simply embraced his individuality and given him the time and space to develop, and done my best to create the environment he needed - he would have blossomed in his own way. And, with a lot less stress and pressure for both Charlie and I. I guess what I learnt from this, is that we should remember that our dog's perspective is likely different to ours, and that they might not see their ‘issues and challenges’ in the same way we do.
When we drop the ‘fix it’ mindset and come from a place of unconditional love and support, we shift from external control to internal control.
Instead of us controlling the outcome and timeline, we allow our dogs to develop their own sense of worth, their own sense of self awareness and self-governance. And all of this, on their own timeline. Allowing our dogs to explore their own self-intelligence and potential, through thinking, processing and problem solving.
This is empowering our dogs to become the most authentic version of themselves.
I don’t think we could give our beloved friends a better gift in this life. What do you think?