I visited my therapist today and came out of the whole experience with a brain full of things to think about (as always). I don’t generally share what gets said during therapy sessions because it’s usually very personal and really none of anyone’s business (Wes being the notable exception). The idea of expectations, however, really stuck out and I feel like it’s completely appropriate to share since I imagine almost every struggles with expectations at some point or another.
The idea of expectations comes up in almost every session, regardless of topic, but this time the topic at hand was my puppy and his House-Breaking Odyssey. I came into my therapy session this morning snorting fire because little Mr. Doc had 3 accidents yesterday! Seriously, this puppy has lived with us for half his life and at the robust age of 13 weeks he still hasn’t gotten the idea that pottying on the rug really irritates Mommy?!
Now, at this point, I may have called my dog “house-breaking retarded”. My therapist gently reminded me that my dog seems to be anything but retarded as he now knows and responds to a great many commands. For a 13-week old puppy, he knows a lot of commands. He is a very intelligent dog and there’s nothing to indicate that there’s anything wrong with him whatsoever.
Well, now we’re getting into edgy territory as it means that the problem isn’t with the dog, it’s with the puppy-parents. Well, cognitively I know that this isn’t a Doc problem, so I nod and agree while in my head thinking ‘Yeah, but he’s still a really naughty puppy!!!’.
Then my therapist says something I don’t expect. I thought he was going to recommend that we consult a professional, which he did later, but what he said at that point was that the problem was my expectations (and possibly Wes’ too). When we brought Doc home, I set expectations for myself that he would be all sorts of things by certain ages. I felt confident that we would have him house-broken in 1 week for SURE.
When he wasn’t and I knew that other people had house-broken their puppies is less time (puppies surely less cute and intelligent as Doc) I became angry because my expectations for myself weren’t being met. Doc gets sucked into this because he’s the conduit of said expectations. The fact that he is not yet house-broken meant that I was a terrible puppy-parent and a failure. Despite all his other fantatsic skills, every little pool of puppy urine reflected my failure.
My therapist broke it down this way: every parent (puppy or otherwise) sets expectations for their offspring. The successful parents are the ones who realize that these expectations are arbitrary. Goals are good, expectations on others’ behaviors are bad. Every developmental milestone is an approximation based on thousands of averages. In every data set there are outliers and exceptions that skew the results. If my puppy figures out the whole house-breaking thing 1 week later than other people’s puppies then that’s fine.
Normal is good but it’s also an approximation. In addition to gaining perspective on the whole house-breaking issue, I feel like I have learned something important that will hopefully stick with me when Wes and I decide it’s time to procreate. So what if my baby doesn’t start walking until he’s a year old? As long as he’s walking and happy I don’t really care when he chooses to do it.
So what if my puppy pees on the floor? I’ll clean it up and love him and do my best to make it clear that his behavior is inappropriate for the house. I know that one day (hopefully very soon!) he’ll understand that the house is not a toilet and we will all forget how long it took him to get there. Then we’ll get to move on to other issues, like puppy puberty…