Even when Lucy is being bad it is disguised as being cute and endearing. Last year when we hired a training specialist to help us with our two female bulldogs – who were fighting ferociously- she asked me how well behaved was Lucy at home. I stuck my nose up high and said “this dog is perfect, she doesn’t do anything wrong.” I really believed what I told her but I saw her hold back what she had to say about that, and I wondered what she knew and I did not. Well, Lucy was quick to give her an example of my ignorance.
We were in a room where the dog training occurs and the two dogs were running free exploring. They were highly excited as being in a new building wasn’t anything they had experienced before. Lucy came over to us when I called her. The trainer waited for her to sit then gave her some praise. But that wasn’t good enough for Lucy, she began to lift a paw repeatedly. We always thought that was cute, she wanted to shake. NO! It was a passive aggressive technique she used to keep us giving her attention after we said enough. The trainer ignored her paw so Lucy came over to me and leaned on me with so much of her weight (80 lbs.) that I nearly tipped over. I usually welcome her heavy leaning because I receive that as a sign of her love, like she wants to be close to me. The trainer was quick to point out she was leaning to assert her dominance in a passive aggressive way to get me to do something more for her now. Not good behavior at all. She leans on me when I do my yoga at home! That’s dangerous because you know I could tip over! Ok, so the trainer pointed out how Lucy was dominating me.
I had to discover what language Lucy was speaking and know what it means so I could be sure she wasn’t bossing me around in a passive way. Ultimately if a dog believes she is running the relationship she also feels insecure. The human needs to be in control at all times of the canine, with sweet loving ways because they belong to a hierarchical social club where they need to know who is in charge at all times and not be confused. It’s trouble down the line for us if they think we are following them. And the same goes for kids.
We fixed Lucy’s bad habits by rejecting those behaviors and telling her to lay down. When we were ready we asked her to come receive attention. We taught her she can have our love and attention, but when we ask for it. And now, with us, she doesn’t try to dominate. But we have to teach our visitors her tricks so she doesn’t try to dominate them with her cute give me five disguise and the loving lean.
How does this relate to kids? Well it takes a passive aggressive to recognize one…as in I am prone to be, so I can spot it in a snap. For example, If Craig asks me to go get the car washed, I will say sure I will do it. But then a week or two goes by and I haven’t found time for it. I really don’t want to go do it but I also don’t want a conflict so I say I’ll do it, thinking I will try, but I don’t. It’s a save face way of getting my way and avoiding a conflict.
One of my kids is sneaky. I won’t say who. But he will wait til I am not looking and then do the the thing he really wants to do. I have to be uber smart and catch him every time so he eventually will figure it isn’t worth it. Any idea how exhausting that is? I often wish he’d just get in my face with some anger and a conflict so we can have a fair fight. Instead, there’s the excellent facade of doing it all by the book, and then, on the sly getting away with what he can. Tricky. It’s not easy to parent one with this bent. It’s like he saves his willfulness for when I’m not looking. Stubborn comes from my genes as well. Poor Craig scratches his head and wonders what in the world is this? No one he’s ever known is passive aggressive. He is such a nice guy, I am so glad I caught him. ( I still say that after almost 20 years of marriage.)
So what to do? It’s imperative the passive aggressive get caught in his (or my) game so I can teach him ( or learn) to approach a potential conflict with integrity, honesty and open mindedness. It is so important to know how to stand up for what you believe and want and also be reasonable about the limitations put upon those desires.
At the end of the day passive aggressive behavior is deceptive and therefore cannot offer peace of mind and the clear conscience that we need. God knows our deception and that’s not comfortable.
When a kid wraps his arm around my shoulders and looks down at me with charm I am suspicious in the same way when Lucy does the heavy lean. And Craig, you’ve got my number by now and thankfully I have learned with you to be frank and at the same time be open to trying what I really don’t want or in some cases giving up what I really do want just to have harmony with you. Because I respect you. I love you. And I need a clear conscience. But most importantly I can’t bear the consequence for dishonesty God will give me if I am not honest.
Most importantly, in parenting if we recognize passive aggressive tendencies in our children, we need to call it what it is in open discussion. Let’s try to teach our kids to have safe and open conversations about what they believe, feel, want and fear. Let’s teach them to communicate in a fair and honest way. Let’s help them understand we can be openminded and we also need to set fair boundaries for their safety. We can communicate openly and that’s the challenge when approaching the passive aggressive with communication. Don’t give up. It will be awful for their future relationships if they remain passive aggressive. Kids and dogs need to learn how to communicate fairly, honestly, and obediently all the while knowing how much they are loved and how secure they can be in our relationship. It’s no easy task but absolutely vital to the social, emotional, and mental well being. If us parents can remember that kids feel secure when they can’t out smart their parents then we will continue to keep them honest with their motives. Don’t give up. Persevere.