Do you compare your kids when one frustrates you and wonder why one gives you a hassle and the other does not?
Do you ever think – or say – “I raised both of them the same – why are they so different?”
There is a myriad of reasons why one child is different from another – in both good and bad ways.
Parents typically put a lot of pressure on themselves these days – we know children aren’t “perfect” – and neither are we – but do we also somehow expect perfection? Or do we simply expect them to be what we would like, instead of who they really are?
In many cases, we just want our kids to be the best they can, even if it’s in very different ways – which is completely understandable.
From athletic to academic performance, choice of friends, ability to be “productive” (this is a loaded term and I’ll write a separate blog on that), emotions (this, too, could be another blog post), etc., there is any number of ways for parents to compare their children – and wonder what makes one so different from the other?
One morning as I sipped my coffee before the impending craziness of the day began at work, I noticed something.
My dog, a sheltie, was in the yard, running back and forth from tree to tree, barking madly – he would run up to each tree and then literally – attempt to run up the tree, biting the trunk and angrily barking up at two squirrels – on in each tree – as they looked down at him from the high limbs, jabbering away at him and apparently taunting him.
My kitten sat in the window seat, oblivious to all of this noise, gently linking her paws. She didn’t give a hoot about squirrels.
When I brought my dog in he drank plenty of water and then collapsed on the floor, panting and gently blinking until he felt relaxed enough to start getting drowsy.
Outside, many birds began to twitter in the large, tall bushes near our patio. He didn’t notice them.
The kitten, however, had stopped cleaning herself and was staring intently at the flittering wings and chirping birds. She moved closer to the window – transfixed by what she saw, her eyes darting and head moving, monitoring every move of every bird.
My dog put down his head and fell asleep.
Later, I was enjoying some salt and malted vinegar potato chips. The kitten lives up to the reputation of being a curious cat, and she began to push her face into the bag of chips I was holding.
So I took out a chip and broke off a small piece. I set it on the desk in front of me – she cautiously walked up to the chip, sniffed, and then gently stuck out her tongue to try it – she instantly snapped her head back, shaking it quickly. Then she tried the chip again – the same thing – she walked away. Too much vinegar for her!
At that same time, my dog walked up to me and looked curious – he began sniffing the air, taking in the scent of chips, and sidled up to my thigh.
Now he is a sheltie – a small collie, sort of dainty compared to other, more lumbering breeds. He is a pretty neat eater and drinker from his dog bowls.
But he’s still a dog.
He’d never had one of these kinds of chips before either. I set it on the floor in front of him. He sniffed it briefly, if at all, and then just chomp, chomp, chomped it. It bypassed his tongue and went straight back to his molars, as he noisily crunched it to oblivion. I gave him another. Same thing.
Dogs don’t usually test out their food the way a cat does.
I was shocked to observe the difference between raising a puppy vs. raising a kitten.
Puppies quickly become strong, tugging on leashes, knocking into you while playing and such. They need help and it can take time to teach them things like going potty outside and climbing stairs, and they need to be crated when you’re not home.
As pack animals, dogs crave the attention of their pack. They don’t like to be left alone. Deep inside their brains, they long to be accepted by the Alpha of the pack – being part of a pack means life; being rejected means death, for pack animals survive best in groups.
And in modern dogs, it’s been demonstrated that they feel loving affection toward their human families. Dogs have learned how to understand human spoken and body language and use their own body and verbal language to communicate with humans.
Cats are agile and lithe. They are athletic and learn to climb things like stairs quickly – among many other things! They litter box train very quickly. They can be left to their own devices at a young age and are not so upset to be left alone.
Cats may live together in groups, but they are not truly pack animals. They do not crave attention in the same fashion as a dog but will come to you to cuddle and purr.
But, just as my human children did as toddlers, our dog and cat follow me from room to room. My dog is almost always at my feet, and the cat is usually in my lap or laying near me somewhere. And like my children as toddlers, I can’t escape them if they want to see me, even when I need a bathroom break or want to sleep!
So this all brings me full circle.
I realize of course that cats and dogs are separate species from each other, and so the differences between them as animals aren’t the same as looking at the differences between children.
But it’s interesting to note: I didn’t teach the dog to defend our home, or dislike squirrels, or how to whine to tell me he needs something.
I didn’t teach the cat to climb whatever she can and perch up high, or to be intrigued by birds or how to purr.
These are all things that came naturally to each animal.
They were taught where to eliminate, how to stop annoying habits like nipping, that open arms mean “come here, I’ll cuddle you and pet you,” and they taught themselves things through observation – such as the sound of opening cans can very well mean it’s mealtime.
It has been easy to accept that different creatures have different habits, and I find myself marveling at the strength and power of dogs and the agility and cleverness of cats.
I have watched two animals that started out wary of each other modify how they interact so that now they play together – not to mention that my sheltie is 10 years old and the cat is just 20 weeks old now, and the age difference also influences how they perceive and react to the world.
I do not expect my dog to be as independent as my cat, and I do not expect my cat to listen to my directives the way my dog does. My dog loves to be petted and talked to, but he does not particularly enjoy being held or carried. My cat crawls up to me, gently butting her head into my chin and sinks into me almost like an infant and wants to be held tightly.
These are not only cat and dog differences but differences in the personalities of each of these two beings.
So too, each child truly has their own unique gifts, perceptions, and reactions to the world. Some they learned. Many they are born with – both good and bad.
Isn’t that true of all of us?
To be sure, humans can make a choice to modify behavior. To teach a child to change their behavior, it’s imperative to understand that person’s base nature and what would make enacting change something that child would want to do.
Sensitivity, a willingness to see what someone’s nature is, and learning what motivates that particular child is key. There is actually a lot more to figuring out what makes a person tick than this simple statement, but it’s a start.
And for me, seeing it play out in nature between my two pets helped affirm what I was thinking.
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