Rough week here in Ryanville. One of our Cherubs truly believes she is maturing at a tremendous rate, such that she’s becoming more our peer than our child. In her mind, she, Steve & I form a triune leadership counsel, through which we lord power over her brother and the dog. She tolerates my place on the counsel grudgingly. But in her eyes, I’m sort of like the Queen Mum: an annoying ceremonial necessity she must tolerate as she works her way to the throne.
I cannot even describe how exhausting this is.
In a state of desperation (and because I want to make sure we can afford Catholic school before I threaten to send her there), I’ve turned to Cesar Milan, a.k.a. The Dog Whisperer, for help.
I started watching his show & reading his books after we adopted THIS DOG. As some of you remember, Bergie came to us huge and mostly untrained. She couldn’t walk on a leash without leaping and thrashing, and she looked at the stairs to our house like they were the strangest thing she’d ever seen. She weighed 93 pounds at that point, so these were LARGE problems.
Cesar’s point of view on dog training is clear: Dogs need stability, consistency, and clear authority. To become part of the pack, he says, a dog needs to know what is expected and how to participate successfully. Nothing makes a dog more anxious than an unclear pack structure.
Then he let fly with this gem of awkward truth: “Human beings are the only creatures on earth who will follow an unstable leader.”
Yikes and wow. Hearing this the first time, I realized how trained most of us are to ignore signs of instability in our leaders (and in ourselves when we lead). We don’t want to rock the boat or make things awkward, we don’t know how to fix what’s broken, so we double down on whatever we’ve been doing, hoping more will help. But more unstable leadership doesn’t make a healthy pack. Only good leadership does that.
Cesar’s take on this has been revolutionary for me. With THIS DOG, I realized that I had to stop being pulled around the block by this giant creature, stop talking a high pitched sweet voice trying to appeal to her better nature, and stop letting her jump all over our furniture whenever she wanted. I needed to toughen up. Not in a mean way. I needed to learn to communicate to THIS DOG exactly what I wanted her to do. Which means I needed to figure out what I wanted her to do, so I could let her know.
Which brings me back to my Cherub. I don’t know if this is true with all kids, but I know it’s prevalent in kids who have been in foster care: They don’t trust adults. My kids still don’t trust Steve & me to do what we say, or be who we need to be, or do what needs to be done. They assume we will fail, forget, flake out, or otherwise disappoint them. So they prepare for this contingency. And perhaps because they’ve been less socialized in faux kindness, our kids are closer to the instinct-level functioning Cesar Milan describes. My Cherub will not follow an unstable pack leader. She will fight that leader in an attempt to take over the pack.
Thinking of our family as a pack is an interesting perspective shift. I’m pretty confident her behavioral acting out is a problem in leadership, not followership. So I need to figure out what it is I expect from her, specifically, and communicate that to her, pronto. For her to do better, I need to do better.
(And yes, this means she was right when she said that adoption is “kind of like puppy rescue.”)
I can train a Great Pyrenees mix (a breed often considered untrainable because they are so incredibly independent) to walk gently at my side, I can teach a tween to respect (or at least pretend to respect) authority. It has to be possible, right?
If you think the answer is no, don’t tell me :)