I love my parents. They’re good, hard-working, and caring. To this day, I’ve never seen them fight with each other, and they’ve never hit me or my brothers for disciplinary purposes. Sound impossible? Maybe a little too perfect? It comes close, but I’ve learned to stop believing in perfection.
In many ways, my childhood WAS flawless. We had an incredible education, owned more toys and games than we could ever want, and never had to worry about money or chores. Putting us through college is the least our parents did for us, and for that, I feel indebted to them.
But elementary school was rough. Within six years, I attended three schools across two states. Making and keeping friends was hard, and fourth grade is when I remember starting to suffer from anxiety and depression. I would hide in a corner every day at recess and cry, many times for no reason.
I’m sure my parents had no idea, or if they did, they wouldn’t have known what to do. Self-care and therapy aren’t exactly widely-advertised concepts in the Asian community, but aside from that, I didn’t have anything to be depressed about. I had a loving family, and all my finances were taken care of. By process of elimination, I concluded there must be something wrong with me.
As I grew up, I started embodying many of my parents’ habits without reflecting on whether or not they were true to me. It took years to recalibrate what I wanted my own identity to be. For the most part, I inherited good traits, like working hard and being a neat freak.
The main “pitfall,” and the focus of this blog post, manifested itself when my boyfriend and I welcomed Oz into our lives:
Before adopting Oz, we did endless hours of research. Our days were filled with excitement while absorbing content of books, blogs, and YouTube videos. We don’t have kids, but I imagine similar preparation. We spent hundreds of dollars on everything these books said we’d need, from crates to treats.
When we finally brought him home, the first few months were rough. They were full of sleepless nights and dysfunctional days. Again, it sounds like having a newborn baby. I’d never experienced so much joy and stress all at once. Our hearts were happy. I felt like our life was more complete.
After Oz was fully immunized, we started bringing him to the dog park every morning. This is where we made a fatal mistake. Because we lived a few blocks away from the dog park, we used this as Oz’s primary source of exercise and socialization. We thought we were spoiling him with new friends and endless treats, but what we couldn’t see was how stressful the experience was for him.
Oz was always a shy puppy. Because he was “fresh meat” at the dog park, he got attacked by bigger dogs quite a bit. We thought this was just part of the socialization process, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. What we should have done was build more positive experiences OUTSIDE the dog park.
Consequently, Oz learned that the only way to stand up for himself was to be the aggressive alpha dog. Over time, we started getting yelled at by other humans, and one incident escalated to an owner threatening me over social media and making me scared to leave my apartment.
Life got better once we started running with Oz on a daily basis, going on long walks, and organizing play dates with his doggy friends. There were times I convinced myself that going to the dog park again would be okay, but Oz proved me wrong eventually. I couldn’t predict his reactions to other dogs with 100% accuracy, so I played it safe.
This whole situation reminded me of my own untreated anxiety and depression. At one point in fourth grade, my parents thought I had a mental disorder and sent a psychologist to observe me in class. Turns out, I just needed glasses. HA! I wish that was the solution to all my problems.
Over time, I found myself blaming my parents for my mental state. I blamed them for guilting me about how spoiled I am, for rejecting my depression, for turning their noses at my ambition to be a therapist. But now I know better. I was the one that saw shame in being physically and emotionally “imperfect” and in making mistakes.
Mom and dad were just doing their best, and they were great at raising me and my brothers. I found that it’s easy to hold high expectations of my parents at a young age, especially ones that were already kind and giving. I was convinced that they were superheroes, when in fact they’re as human as I am.
For months, I cried and kicked myself because of the way Oz turned out. I regret letting his dog park experiences traumatize him, to the point where he’s now fearful around certain other dogs. Yes, we seeking training to help with his anxiety and aggression, but it’s hard to let go of the fact that my decisions led him here.
Then I realized… I guess that’s parenthood. No one really knows what they’re doing in life until they have actual experiences. We can’t hold grudges over others for being imperfect and failing to meet our arbitrary expectations. What’s more powerful is to love unconditionally and be understanding. Oz taught me both of those things.
I’m often envious of Oz’s life. He doesn’t worry about making money or meeting societal expectations. He just wants to eat, play, and love. Then I realized I can do those things too, but I’m the one imposing pressure on myself to be a “perfect” dog mom amongst other things. Once I started letting go of impossible expectations of myself and others, I began enjoying life a whole lot more and even loving myself.