Boundaries Calm the Chaos
The universe recently provided an opportunity for me to adopt a puppy. I’m a single mom and I already have two dogs, so it might seem crazy that it took me less than two hours to decide that I would definitely be welcoming this pup into my home. In my defense, look at his face! On the second morning that we had Bruno in our house my son said to me, “Mom, having three dogs is kind of a lot sometimes.” Has a truer statement ever been shared? I'm the type of person that puts a lot on my plate, even after it's already full. Some people might suggest that I like chaos and therefore, I constantly welcome it into my life. We can have that debate another time. What I know for sure is that carrying so much all of the time requires consistent and strong boundaries.
It turns out that a 7-month-old Vizsla puppy is a boundary pusher. If I forget to put closed toes shoes on during certain times of the day, I will regret it. Bruno is a toe-biter. He also pretends that he has suddenly forgotten all his training at certain moments. Bruno is perfectly well-behaved for the trainer and at first, I couldn't get him to respond to his "kennel" command without me physically pushing him in. Feeling overwhelmed and somewhat self-critical for adding another thing to my plate I reached out to the trainer about the refusal of his kennel command and his mouthy behavior. Her response was, "He was mouthy with me at first, but with strong boundaries, he stopped pretty quickly." Boundaries. Of course! I had the tools to stand firm in my boundaries, but out of frustration, I had been physically trying to control him to get him to do what I wanted. It wasn’t working and I was frustrated. After a reset and strengthening of my boundaries, Bruno started to listen to my verbal commands more and he no longer has issues with his kennel command. But I also had to be willing to tolerate his distaste for the boundaries.
As I thought more about boundaries with a puppy, I began reflecting on a recent conversation I had with my son. I told him that he isn’t getting a smartphone until he is 18, which I know will make him unpopular among his friend group as he gets older. He began to cry and express sadness. I explained why I was making the decision and that I wouldn’t be changing my mind. Boundaries. Through tears and whining he was able to demonstrate understanding of the decision even though he didn’t like it. It got me thinking about boundaries and holding space. I can hold space for his sadness or distaste for a decision and affirm how hard it might feel to not have a smartphone and I can also hold to my boundaries. I have the parenting lessons seared into my brain from Dr. Reedy. And it turns out these lessons are also helpful in parenting a puppy. It's amazing how much we can handle when we have strong boundaries. It’s what helps me find calm in the chaos.
I'll end with this. Boundaries are not easy. They take a lot of patience and challenging emotions often arise when boundaries are pushed or disrespected. It can be easy to throw up your hands and not care. And, I would rather do the hard thing first, so it's hopefully easier later. I'll report back when my puppy is an adult, and my 7-year-old becomes a teenager.