It’s a good thing I get up early, because one of the walkers (with dogs) on our road passes by around 6:30 am. I make sure my dogs are inside and the dog door is closed, so that this woman can walk by in relative peace. Relative peace, I say, because Kiera and Graidy both seem to find it constitutionally necessary to get off at least a few barks each from inside the house.
As the day unfolds, a parade of walkers will pass by. I can pretty much set my clock by their schedule. As they can set their clocks by mine. We’ve worked out an arrangement where we know certain dogs shouldn’t be forced to be on the road with certain other dogs. Because they just don’t get along. And we all plan accordingly; it makes life easier and more pleasant for all of us.
None of us feel compelled to pretend that our dogs like dogs that they don’t. None of us feel forced to try to have them be “friends.” We know it’s nothing personal — some dogs like each other, some dogs don’t. Just like I like strawberry ice cream and Cait doesn’t. Not a commentary on strawberry ice cream or either one of us. Just a preference. End of story.
Not end of story with young kids.
Let me open up a can of worms. I’ve been wondering lately why it is that we are able to calmly and reasonably allow our dogs to avoid other dogs they don’t like, but we rarely think to allow our children to avoid other kids they don’t like. With young kids, especially, we seem to quickly get caught up in social expectations. “It wouldn’t be polite.” “It would hurt feelings.”
If you’re not sure about this, hang out at a playground for an afternoon, or, even easier, just think back to your child getting invited to the birthday party of someone they weren’t crazy about. Did you make them go because you didn’t want to offend the mother or the child?
Or, let’s reverse this. Your child was having a party. Did you feel obligated to “strongly suggest” that your child invite someone they didn’t really like in order not to hurt feelings? How many times have we seen kids forced to play with other children they don’t especially like, because their parents want them to be nice? How many times have we seen parents who force their kids to say they’re sorry, when they are so clearly not, so that others will think their children are polite and well-mannered?
I suspect some do this thinking it’s teaching their kids compassion for others. I don’t believe teaching a child to lie about what he or she feels has anything to do with learning compassion. It sets kids up for mixed messages, and just teaches them how to lie in that circumstance.
Teaching compassion requires that we show our children how to empathize, not how to lie. Forcing a child to say he’s sorry neither makes that child sorry nor helps him learn how to put himself in someone else’s shoes. That requires an entirely different approach and a very different conversation.
This isn’t about drawing a line in the sand and making it obviously known “I like you but not you.” It’s not about needlessly hurting feelings. It’s not about ignoring the value of learning how to deal with all manner of personalities. Rather, it’s about teaching children from an early age how not to deny their feelings. How not to get sucked into behaving in a way they don’t want to (not in a bratty way, but with integrity). How not to let themselves be forced upon in any way by anybody. The repercussions of turning our children against themselves for the sake of others has the potential to carry grave consequences in the long run.
My approach with Cait is to regularly show her and talk to her about what real kindness and real compassion look like. It doesn’t mean that we have to “like” people we don’t, but just as we do with our dogs, it does mean that we give as much consideration and compassion to the person we’re not crazy about as we would to a friend. But we are very clear within ourselves on the different feelings we have for one vs. the other. There’s no pretending. There’s no lying. There’s letting the dogs/kids have their time on the road so all can co-exist peacefully.