When Failure is Not an Option

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“Grow up!” – Me, to my son Eric, aged 12

A few weeks ago, my son did something pretty immature.  Not End-Of-The-World immature, but I had been having a rough day, it was late, and I was cranky.  I finally lost it and told him to grow up.

“Mom, I’m 12″, was his response.

Yeah, thanks kid.  I needed that. Along with the medicinal pint of Ben & Jerry’s, which Eric and I shared.

Problem is, Eric is the most well-behaved, mature, responsible kid I’ve ever met.  I seriously doubt that’s because of my DNA.

No regrets

No regrets

Regardless, I know I don’t deserve that kid.  He’s amazing.  But he’s a kid.  No matter how “good” he is, he’s still going to be just a kid at the end of a (long, frustrating) day. I allow him to make mistakes, and we laugh it off.  I allow him to grow in spite of because of those mistakes. The more I allow for him to be a kid and to fail occasionally, the less he fails, and the stronger he emerges from his rare failures.  But sometimes I do need to remind myself that he’s just a kid (or at least have him remind me).

And I’m still just a grown up.  I may be the adult, but I need to cut myself some slack.  I’m not here to set an example of how to manage a perfect, non-frustrating day.  I’m here to model how to manage in a perfectly imperfect world.  My children need a mom, not a messiah.

I can see it so easily with my clients.   One of my favorite clients called me the other day.  June* had adopted a beautiful dog who almost immediately bit a child on the head(!).  Rather than instantly returning the dog to the shelter to be euthanized, she called me.  She stated the circumstances: a neighbor kid had been playing tag with their preschool aged child, which can easily be misconstrued by a dog as attacking.  The dog tackled the neighbor child and essentially put them in a headlock.  Terrifying to witness, but the dog did no damage beyond a scratch to the “offending” child.

Still, it can be a traumatizing thing to any parent to witness.  June firmly believed that the dog, Ladybug, was not actually aggressive, but was trying to protect her child.  I agreed.  We worked together, and discussed Piloting Ladybug.  Piloting involves answering Ladybug’s questions so she would never be put in a situation like that again.  Questions like:

“Is that kid going to hurt my little girl?”

No, Ladybug, they’re only playing.

“Is my little girl going to die?! Do I need to save her?!”

No, Ladybug, it’s called a swing.  She’s fine.  

June noticed the more she answered Ladybug’s questions, two things happened:  Ladybug started accepting answers a lot more quickly, and she stopped asking questions so frequently.  In short, Ladybug allowed herself to be Piloted.  She learned that June would not only answer all of her questions, but would let Ladybug know if she needed help.  Result: Ladybug didn’t feel the need to monitor every single situation.  Ladybug was free to relax.

 

Happy ending to Ladybug’s story…until I got a phone call from June.  Ladybug had gotten loose.  Simple mistake.  See, Ladybug also had separation anxiety, and while it was being managed pretty well, she still wasn’t too thrilled with being left home alone.  Busy, hectic morning for June, trying to get a herd of kids ready for school, carpooling, etc., and suddenly Ladybug decided she wanted to join the fun. She got out of the house and ended up in the car with the kids some how.

Not the end of the world, right?  But as June put it, the kids saw her lose her temper.  No, she didn’t hit Ladybug.  She didn’t do anything terrible.  She just happened to yell at her a little bit.  June was upset, though.  She claimed she didn’t want her kids to see her like that.

“Like what, a human being?”, I responded to her during our phone call. I reminded June that it was precisely because she had allowed a dog to make a mistake (tackling the neighbor kid) that Ladybug still had a home.  She saw through the situation to realize that the behavior was not because Ladybug was aggressive, but because she was overwhelmed by the circumstances.  A dog had done the best she could…in a human situation.  And had failed miserably. Fortunately June had realized that Ladybug tackling a “threatening” child was merely the culmination of a perfect storm of events, and gave her the chance to do better (which she did).  Yet June couldn’t cut herself 1/100th of the slack she had allowed for Ladybug.  I guarantee that Ladybug had already forgiven June for the slip-up.

I will never be the perfect mom.  I will never be the perfect dog owner.  All I can do is the best I can with what I have.  Some days that’s more than others.  Some days I’m hanging on by a stash of Milano cookies and a glass of Pinot.

Don’t strive for perfect to be the normal that you show your dog.  Strive for best you can do to be the normal for your dog.  Sometimes the Pilot crashes.  Sometimes it’s just a rough day.  Striving for perfection only has negative consequences:  1) you burn out; and 2) your dog panics.  You broke character.  It’s okay.  I promise.  You’ll do better next time. Don’t fail at failing.  You’re going to fail; accept it.  Now either you can dwell on it or you can utilize that failure and grow from it.

Now, as Oprah said, “Think like a queen.  A queen is not afraid to fail.  Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.”

Long live the Queen.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

 

 

 

*Names have been changed for privacy

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