A few basic truths I have accepted:
- As a parent, it’s not if you will make a mistake, it’s when.
- Don’t give unsolicited advice to another parent.
- There’s no better friend than your dog.
Thank goodness making mistakes is an important piece to the learning process. Some studies show that we make more neuro-connections when we error than when we do everything right. Hopefully, you only get stung once before figuring out where you went wrong and no one pokes their eye out.
Not offering advice often requires me to put my hand over my mouth. What triggers this response is seeing a parent speak for the child. Specifically when I hear “she doesn’t like this, or she’s afraid of that”. Children can sense the parents worry and can fuse the emotion to the word. If you are going to presume competence, you have to be all in and this means, you have to assume your child understands everything you say. Of course, the parents intention is to explain their child’s behavior to someone else, but while they are doing this, the child is taking in every word. This is where I learned to not say anything. This is why we have to be careful of what we say in front of them. For me, every time I spoke before Jess, saying she couldn’t do something, she used my words to her advantage.
As years went by and Jess did not talk, I found myself speaking for her. It didn’t matter if someone was asking her name, or if they wanted to offer her something to eat. To intercept the awkward questions, I would fill the silence and blurt out the answer. I did this because I didn’t want to be asked “doesn’t she talk?”. I didn’t have an answer and didn’t want to go there.
As I spoke for her, it didn’t occur to me that she was listening. I didn’t really know what she was thinking either. Even though I can look at my daughter and mom radar tells me she is up to something, I don’t know her reason, excuse or explanation. There were times I got angry with her because I misinterpreted what she was doing, only to find I had been wrong. It took me years to realize that what I needed to do was give her more time and wait for her to show me in her way and not jump to conclusions. So, when I hear a parent speaking for their baby, it reminds me of mistakes I made and the years of damage I had to undo. I wish someone had pulled me aside and advised me. Maybe they had, I just didn’t listen.
The other day, I had the pleasure of being with the most beautiful family. All was well until the dog entered the room. Their child then became anxious and the parents picked her up and repeated “she’s afraid of dogs, she doesn’t like dogs”. I had to walk away. No one wants unsolicited advice. Yet, being an animal lover, I wanted to tell them in the worst way that the child is listening to every word they say and by repeating these words, it only makes them feel there is a reason to be afraid. In the grand scheme of things, this won’t be an issue for her, but it was then that I realized what we say in front of their children not realizing what the child is taking in.
Whenever I see a child freak out in the presence of a dog, it saddens me. It reminds me of a young man who had ridden the van with Jess to work. Every time he saw our old dog, he literally, freaked out. My best guess is he was not raised with them, had a bad experience which caused him to melt down, or maybe dogs just move too fast and he felt threatened. Regardless of the reason, I can’t help feel that he had missed out. You see, in Jessie’s world, there’s no better friend than her dog.