Tom’s World — Tom Westfall

Parenting doggie style

For over 40 years now, I’ve been a parent educator. Years ago, I thought that in the interests of “truth in advertising,” I should call my parenting series, “After Birth.” Somehow though, this didn’t go over very well with the women.

Next, I considered calling these classes, “After Sex,” but was assured by everyone that all the men would just fall asleep thus defeating the idea of having them in attendance in the first place. One series I entitled, “Who’s in Charge of Your Asylum?” but was roundly criticized by mental health advocates for my politically incorrect characterization. “How to Make Your Children ‘Mind’ Without Losing Yours” proved somewhat popular, until I found out that someone else had previously written a book with a fairly similar title.

Being raised in a household where your father was “the parenting guru” was probably somewhat difficult for my children. We lived in a small community and my children felt like they were viewed as a “living laboratory” for effective parenting. I am pleased to report that we made it through their childhoods relatively unscathed, though both of my children (who are now both grown and practicing doctors) probably have a somewhat distorted view of parenting. When they were quite small, their mother died, and subsequently for a while, they got dragged to various evening parenting seminars that I provided.

Apparently, they became bored listening to the mechanics of effective parenting night after night. Boredom can be the crucible in which the iron rods of knowledge are forged, however in the case of my children, they eschewed a scholarly offering and came up with a means of identifying various styles of parenting. One night on our way home from a parenting class, my son said, “Hey Dad, Erin and I have come up with an idea for a new parenting series.”

I was curious, of course, but the twinkle in my son’s eyes led me to believe that at least at some level, I was being set up. Nonetheless, I inquired as to their new idea. He responded saying that their venture into the field of parent education was entitled, “What type of dog parent are you?”

Oh boy! At that juncture, I was pretty sure that there had to be some sort of punch line coming, but I was curious about how they were going to get there. “I’m all ears, kids,” I remember saying. “Go for it.”

First, they identified “Chihuahua” parents. This type of parent constantly yips and yaps at his/her children, nervously running around in circles, twitching and barking. They spend an inordinate amount of time coaxing, cajoling, and correcting, but there’s not much bite in their bark, and their children quickly learn not to listen much. If you spend an afternoon at virtually any store, you will see a “kennel” of “Chihuahua” parents.

Next, they identified “Lassie” parents. During that show’s tenure, invariably, little Timmy would make poor choices, with Lassie saving him from the consequences of his actions. There aren’t many parents in today’s world that grew up watching Lassie but unfortunately it seems like a lot of parents opt out of imposing the hard part of parenting, and essentially allow their children to avoid experiencing the consequences for their negative behavior. We can all empathize with the plight of these parents, but truly wise parents understand that every time we rescue someone from the consequences of a poor decision, we rob them of a “learning” opportunity.

The Doberman approach was of course, ferociousness, backed by a significant bite. My two youngsters described “Pit Bull” parents as angry and inconsistent, capable of doing their children significant harm. Angry parents raise angry children. This anger manifests itself in a number of ways including lashing out at others, or turning that anger inward and experiencing depression.

They had others as well, but in the interest of time and your attention, I’ll cut to the chase. I knew, of course, that somewhere in this discussion, I was going to get zinged. I mean, really, what normal children would go to all this bother without an embedded jab at their Dad? Thus, I reluctantly asked, “Hey guys, this is pretty good stuff. Just out of curiosity, what type of dog parent am I?”

My son replied, “Do you remember the name of our favorite book when we were little?” I struggled to remember, having read them thousands of books during the course of their childhoods.

Finally, it came to me. I replied. It was “Old Yellar.” Even as I said that out loud, I noticed a small grin of smug satisfaction spreading upon my children’s countenance.

I got it. And right then and there I made a vow to myself (and the children) that “yell’ar” Dad was history. The easy part was making that promise. The hard part was sticking to it.

No parent believes that yelling is an effective parenting tool. Of that I’m fairly certain. But rather than lean into the difficult task of consistent parenting, most of us, from time to time, have found ourselves defaulting to lazy parenting, and often with cacophonous voices!

Although the breed didn’t exist 40 years ago, I think if I was going to be a “dog parent” today, I’d go for a labradoodle. They are sweet natured, fiercely loyal, playful, affectionate and a bit goofy. (And they don’t shed!)

Westfall can be reached at [email protected].