“Calm, assertive energy in the human –and calm, submissive energy in the dog”– that’s what Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, strives to create in his work with dogs and their families. I’ve recently watched a few episodes of his Family Edition show and it’s been enlightening. Surprisingly, when Cesar is called in to “rehabilitate” a dog, a common part of his process is to train the humans in the family to relax. Dogs are masters of reading body language and other cues indicating human emotion, and they respond accordingly. Because of a dog’s social-behavioral “pack” mentality, changes in the psychological energy of the dog owners (“pack leaders”) affect their canine friends in fascinating and almost miraculous ways. A calm and assertive human almost always effects a positive change in dog behavior. I think, in a similar way, a calm and assertive parent usually brings about positive behavior in a child.
While this might seem like a blog about becoming a calm and assertive parent (which is a good goal)—it is really about growing as a hopeful and trusting parent. Let me explain. My children are young adults now, but when my oldest “pup” was young and showing signs of autism, I responded with anxiety, tenacious research, and problem solving. As time passed with misdiagnoses, limited local resources and other stressors, my anxiety increased. I soon learned that autism is not a puzzle easily solved. Helping my child was too big for me to negotiate in my own strength.
Like many parents of children with social, emotional or behavioral challenges, I looked for the perfect combinations of therapy, medication and specialized programs to give me a sense of peace and hope for my child’s future. I never completely found it there because people, systems and medicine are constantly changing and are sometimes more helpful than others. While I longed to trust that God would provide and care for my child, His provisions were not always on the time table or to the degree that I wanted. This fueled my doubt, worry and hopelessness—and led to a more intense striving for solutions and answers. By the time I learned to turn over the burden of these issues to God, I had already worked myself into a hopelessness and exhaustion that I didn’t see coming. Without hope and confidence in a rock solid foundation, it was impossible to feel internally calm.
I didn’t realize the significance at the time, but regaining hope was a key ingredient to my ability to parent with “calm, assertive energy”, as opposed to “frantic, anxious energy.” Like many of the dog owners on Cesar’s show, I was not even fully aware of my intense internal striving. One day I felt the overwhelming burden, however, and turned it over to God, dropping on my knees to pray for myself and my family. I admitted to God that the problems were too big for me, and I asked Him to take them over. Right then and there, I felt a burden lifted from my shoulders and I knew with certainty that God and I were in this together. I was not alone– and neither are you.
I wish I could honestly say that I never took those problems back as my burdens, but I have. However, now I more quickly identify my useless striving, and more quickly lean on God again. If you took an honest survey from my kids, I think they would tell you that most of the time, I exhibited the external behavior of a calm, assertive mother. I was not the yelling sort, or a complete pushover (at least not most of the time.) However, as calm as I may have looked on the outside, I was often behaving like a duck—appearing to peacefully glide upon the water while my legs were paddling crazily underneath. I know they sensed my internal state even if neither of us could explain it, and it most certainly affected our lives. When I was actively listening to God’s directions, I was able to relax and feel so much more internal confidence and peace as a parent. I learned that many things will not will work according to my plans and timing, but I know that God is in control and that I can trust and hope in Him to lead “my pack”.
You may find yourself in a similar place with your child. Your problem solving style may be different, but in all cases it is critical to learn to calmly and submissively trust our Father in Heaven. The results may be nothing short of miraculous—for the peace and calm of the entire family.
Lately, a hymn has been on my mind and part of the lyrics keep replaying themselves into my soul:
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ love and righteousness,
I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name,
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
I pray that you ask for and listen to God’s calm and assertive voice so that you might learn to trust, hope, and be confident and calm as a parent. It will make all the difference.
“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3)
Dr. Karen Crum has a doctoral degree in Public Health and Preventive Care. She promotes the health and well-being of children with autism and mental illness. She has developed and presented programs to support special-needs children, and currently focuses on educating and supporting parents as they care for their children with social, emotional or behavior challenges.
Karen’s newest mission includes her work with a Christian focus. Dr. Crum is the author of Persevering Parent: Finding Strength to Raise Your Child with Social, Emotional or Behavior Challenges. This book points to God’s truths and to practical and spiritual principles that enhance hope, joy and effective special-needs parenting. Persevering Parent can be purchased online by following this link. In honor of Mothers Day, the book is 50% off the regular price during the months of April and May (use discount code 885VMZAG).
Persevering Parent Ministries is a non-profit organization and a portion of proceeds from direct website orders are donated to provide respite care for struggling families. The book is also available from Amazon and other online distributors.