I have two dogs and watching them gives me interesting insights about family relationships. I am one of two siblings and my sister and I have all the dynamics of sisterhood. We love each other but we bicker; we get exasperated and laugh at each other’s idiosyncrasies but we are proud of each other’s achievements; and we are the first to rush to support each other when the chips are down. We know each other inside out and keep each other’s secrets, and the truth is we can’t imagine our lives without each other. That said, it’s also true that sibling relationships are complicated and that’s what my dogs Maya and Joey teach me every day.
Maya is the darling first child (dog) and had all the attention, love and indulgence that a first child gets. She was happy, confident, a bit naughty but adorable. Just like any other first child she didn’t have to share anything and her life seemed perfect. Until along came Joey, our second rescue. Joey gamboled into our home blissfully unaware of the havoc he was about to cause in Maya’s world. He was a puppy to her now almost teen stage and she disliked him intensely. She growled at him and she sulked with us. She stopped her little games and frolics and would skulk around. She would attack him and grab any toy he touched. She also seemed to have grown up overnight. I felt sad and guilty for the change in her and wondered if bringing the second one was a mistake.
Slowly, over the months, she thawed and they finally became friends and companions. I saw the first sign of a sibling connection when a stray dog attacked Joey (who is a really soft gentle fellow even though he is a large dog). Maya rushed to Joey’s defence and pushed the aggressor back baring her teeth in a full attack mode. I panicked as I thought she was much smaller than the other dog, but she is an alpha and he sensed her energy and beat a hasty retreat. After the first palpitations died down, my heart was really gladdened that finally, they were showing signs of becoming companions. Post that day there was a shift and now both sit together, play together and of course also fight together. Just like any other siblings.
Another recent incident reminded me of one from my own childhood. Maya is not easy to discipline and during our morning walk where I leave them off-leash in the park, she gives me the run around when I call her to go home. One day, she just wouldn’t come despite me calling several times. She kept playing catch and I finally got fed up and decided to teach her a lesson. I took Joey and left the park hoping she would realise I had gone leaving her behind. Of course, being the protective parent, I was lurking behind the gate watching her. But she seems unconcerned. So I decided to call her again and she still didn’t come. I was truly fed up and decided to leave her there, telling the watchman to keep an eye on her and to call me if she was looking for me. I could also see her from my window and while I went home with Joey, my attention was only on Maya. As I reached home, I gave Joey his morning feed which he usually gobbles up in no time. But that day, he refused to touch it. He came to me and kept pawing me as if to ask what happened to Maya. His discomfort was really evident and finally, I did go down to get the errant girl who seemed suitably chastised by then.
These incidents showed me how these two were almost exactly like my sister and me. In fact, there had been an almost identical incident from my childhood where I used to be like Maya and not come home on time after playtime and my mother decided to teach me a lesson by not letting me in when I did return. I stood outside the door worried and waiting. And my sister was inside crying and pleading with mom to let me in. The incident with Maya and Joey brought that long forgotten memory back and I was amazed at how siblings of all sorts are ultimately the same.
I was a naughty, intense child and not very obedient, while my sister was more plaint, easy-going and better behaved. In fact, our childhood personalities were quite akin to Maya and Joey. Both Maya and I were the more intense, prickly, hyper and difficult to discipline people. While my sister and Joey were easier going, uncomplicated, good-natured and easier to manage.
This brings us to our relationship with our parents as we grow up, where we often feel like our parents treat us differently and even think that they love our siblings more than they love us. And true to that, growing up there were times I felt my parents loved my sister more than they loved me because I was in trouble more often. But now that I am a (dog) parent to two, I can see that it’s not that parents love their children more or less, they just love them differently. They interact with the children based on their unique personalities and the everyday interactions may suggest that they love or favour one over the other. They will also provide the kind of nurturing that each child demands and needs. For instance, Maya doesn’t like to be cuddled but will demand love when she wants it. On the other hand, Joey loves to be cuddled and petted. Maya needs her space, while Joey needs touch and proximity. As a parent, I have learnt to try and fulfill their different needs.
Also, parents are human too and there will be times when they will actually feel more love for one child than the other. But, most times, in the overall count it evens out. But, filial relationships being as sensitive and deeply impacting as they are, these impressions can leave a lasting mark. So, watching my dogs and being a parent to them has given me a better understanding of my own relationship with my parents too. I am better able to understand why they had different ways of being with my sister and me. I have always known that they love me. But I now also appreciate why and how our relationship has evolved.
Life teaches us many lessons and gives us many insights. My insights into sibling and filial relationships are coming from experiencing them with my dog children. Life is strange and beautiful, isn’t it?
Picture Credit : Sangeeta Chandran