I just went for a dog walk that ended in tears. My tears.
My dog picked up a scent and ran off while we were in the local park. I followed her and began to feel worried when I saw her pursue the scent out of the park onto the neighbouring estate. I was calling her and using the commands she knows and, typically, responds to.
She didn’t come back.
By the time I got to the street I couldn’t see her anywhere. I was still calling her and the tone of my voice was increasingly firm while I looked in every direction. Suddenly I heard barking and followed it immediately. My dog was jumping up against a fence to a house and the dogs on the other side of the fence were barking at her.
I called her over to me and she came. I was cross. I shouted at her, “Bad Girl” as I put her lead around her neck. Then I started to walk towards the fence to check everything was OK.
At this point the woman in the yard (who I hadn’t noticed until this moment) started yelling at me. Horrible, angry shouting. It was rude and it was mean. I stopped in my tracks and waited for her to stop. When she did stop I asked her why she was shouting so rudely at me. Her dogs were still barking and she yelled at me that she couldn’t hear me.
She told me I was an irresponsible dog owner. That I should have my dog on a lead. That my dog nearly broke her fence. That my dog was upsetting her dogs.
Each time she stopped to draw breath I asked her why she was yelling at me so rudely. But she couldn’t hear me. She didn’t realise that I wanted to apologise and explain that my dog got a scent and had run off. She didn’t come out of her yard and talk with me so that I could say that she was right, perhaps while all the squirrels are out it might be wise for me to have my dog on a lead. She didn’t stop to consider the panic that I might have been starting to feel because I couldn’t find my dog anywhere.
In the end I walked away. I got myself back into the park and burst into tears.
As I walked home it dawned on me that this must be how it feels for children to be on the receiving end of a parent’s temper. That moment when something goes wrong and it flicks a switch in the parent and they begin to yell rudely and are mean.
There is no opportunity for the child to explain that it was an accident or that they realise they got it wrong and talk it through. There is no pause for the parent to ask simple questions and to check in with their child to fully understand the situation.
The parent steps into assumption. They assume that the child did something on purpose. They assume that the child should know better. They assume that the child was in control of themselves. They assume that the child was irresponsible or ignorant.
When we lose our temper and step into that place of assumption we disconnect from ourselves and our children. We disconnect from kindness and compassion. And it can happen so easily.
So, as much as I wish my dog hadn’t run off and I really wish that the woman hadn’t yelled at me rudely and been mean, I am grateful for her behaviour. She showed me what it might feel like for so many of our children when they’re on the receiving end of our wrath. I don’t think I could buy that knowledge.
The way she treated me is priceless.