Friday, October 29, 2010

Raising Alpha

I'm taken with Cesar Milan and Dog Whisperer right now. I watch it at the gym. Something about the formulaic drama of a dog, usually raised without proper discipline and order, trying to fit in to some family or other, and humans who do all the wrong things for mostly loving reasons I find...gripping. The dogs who pull at my heart strings are the alphas who don't have a pack to lead, or whose humans have let them run amok.

I often find myself musing on the fact that T. is an alpha. I don't mean that he is any way like a dog, or anything less than a fully human young man. But in the dynamics of the fear, aggression, anxiety and uncertainty of confused alphas that play out on Dog Whisperer I find a certain...poetic resonance.

Tim is out of town right now. When he leaves overnight, T. gets temporarily confused. I think he wonders whether, with Tim away, my power might be diminished. He also feels more vulnerable. Tim is a steady rock. I have a tendency to serve meals late and to "innovate" with household routines. That, coupled with the fact that I'm female, and nine inches shorter than T., leads to extra alpha behavior. He startles at unexpected noise. He checks the locks on the doors before bed several times. He hovers near me instead of relaxing at home. He thinks he's in charge. He's trying to help. I find myself being extra authoritative.

I think alphas are oft misinterpreted. In his assertiveness, physical strength and controlling behavior, T. doesn't intend aggression. He never hurts anyone--never even comes close. In his world, he's helping. If nobody is in charge, well then somebody better be, and he figures "It may as well be me." He is leaderly. He once told me in a quite guileless way "I have to test my teachers; I see if they are in charge of the class, and if they aren't, I take charge!" He said it in a very sunny way as if he were saying he picks up trash on the playground. I realized that on some level he really intends it as a service. LOL. (I don't have to tell you that his teachers aren't so grateful.)

When he is relatively secure, his alpha qualities have many lovely manifestations. He cares for young children at the hospital, and he loves his uniform and his responsibilities. Every night at our house, he makes a thorough investigation of every room before bed, turning off lights and tidying things up. In a former foster home with six children, he woke early every day so he could rouse the other kids and get them showered and off to school in an orderly way. (When the foster mom refused to drive them all to school one rainy day, he also led a "sit in" in the living room until she called the police.)

When he's not so secure, he has some more annoying alpha behaviors. He'll stand in front of you when you're trying to pass from one room to the next, effectively blocking your route and forcing you to interact with him. He issues demands, orders and prohibitions. He plays rough. He's just kind of bossy. Yesterday he texted me at work "Buy me some Cheez Its." Um, no.

I love my alpha child. I was an alpha child myself. I ran for student council class leader every year. I edited the newspaper. I dominated in sports. I was taller than everybody else. It's just how I was. I think it takes an alpha to parent an alpha. Without an alpha parent, an alpha child can reach for power that isn't appropriate. Alpha children need to be challenged with complex tasks and given constructive ways to demonstrate their strength under the guidance of alpha adults, but they also need to be kids, unburdened with responsibility for everyone else.

I think living with two alphas is a little hard on Tim because he isn't naturally an alpha parent. Tim is a negotiator; he is a classic beta. He isn't insecure or uncertain; he's just mellow. He is happy to be next in line, after the leader. When T. asserts his alpha-ness, part of Tim thinks "Okay, you're in charge." Then another part of him thinks "Wait, I'm the parent--I must be in charge!" and still another part of him thinks "Lulu is in charge, and she's gonna be mad at me for letting T. take charge!" He looks befuddled by the competing voices in his head. He is so important though - he is teaching T. to be respectful in the way he uses his power and showing him that there are multiple models of masculinity.

I think being a good alpha parent is about calm, confident, decisive discipline--but it is mostly about providing: protection, safety, predictability, food, money, shelter, advocacy and affection. T. doesn't need to do anything to get those things; it is our responsibility, being in charge of the household, to provide them. When he no longer needs them (at least not daily), he'll be ready to be in charge of his own pack, even if its a pack of one. Until then, it's our job. He can "help" - but he doesn't need to take over.

6 comments:

GB's Mom said...

Food for thought. Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

Lulu,

I absolutely love your blog! Reading along with your adventures has gotten me thinking about foster/adoption as well as looking inward a lot more.

I really appreciate your observational style and have found myself thinking and observing more and talking a lot less.

You all are so lucky to have found each other - it is nothing less than a miracle. Thanks for sharing your journey in such an honest and profound way.

lessie said...

Like Anonymous, I love your blog too. My therapist has mentioned her fondness for Cesar Milan in a couple of our sessions and she even designed a workshop around the show. As a result, I may be biased, but I think you're on target about parenting alphas. I'm a single woman, soon to turn 40. I'm serving as a guardian ad litem in a state where that is equivalent to being a court appointed child advocate. I'm thinking of being a foster parent one day. My hesitation? I'm a beta. Maybe a zeta. (ha!) Unlike Tim, I'm not just mellow, I AM uncertain and even anxiety ridden with decisions. (You can see why I haven't become a foster parent yet. :) ) One of the little guys I adovcate for is about 10 and is a natural alpha. He's learned he can ask me for my car keys and I'll let him open the car door and sit in the passenger seat and play with the radio. (I've wondered if I'm showing too much of my beta side with him, but it doesn't bother me to let him surf stations...) Anyway, he also throws tantrums and has to be restrained at times at school and... Back on track, your entry has given me a lot to think about. I appreciate you pointing out how alphas manifest anxiety. Another of my guys, who seems to be an alpha...:) I digress. This psychology stuff is fascinating. I wish the real life "helping" and advocating was easier and more effective. Thanks again for your blog.

marythemom said...

Ooh I really like this post! My oldest son is definitely an alpha. I don't know that I was an alpha to begin with, but all those years of hearing "Mary, Mary, quite contrary..." have made me very oppositional at times. When my son first got here I was more like your Hubby, but quickly discovered that wasn't what my son needed and wasn't safe for him. I feel like I had to "step up to the plate." We don't allow our son to parent or patronize any more and I think it's helping him. I think he feels safer with someone else being in control, although he fights it sometimes as any "normal" teenager would. It is stressful and draining for me to maintain alpha position (I was raised to avoid conflict), but I think he needs it.

Keep up the good work!

Mary in TX

obladi oblada said...

Very thought provoking post. Sounds like quite an insightful child too, T. It sounds like you "get it" and so T is very fortunate to be with someone so wise! PS. I love Cesar Milan too.

noisycolorfullively said...

Thanks for the comment on my blog. I followed your comment back to you and now I want to run all the way across the country and hug your neck for this post!

Seriously.

I have spent the past two days chewing on the alpha-alpha-beta relationships in our home. I'm trying to figure out how to be a kind and strong alpha so that I'm not constantly gowling at my little alpha child and running over my ever constant, uber-mellow beta man.

I so appreciate this line: Alpha children need to be challenged with complex tasks and given constructive ways to demonstrate their strength under the guidance of alpha adults, but they also need to be kids, unburdened with responsibility for everyone else.

And this one: I think being a good alpha parent is about calm, confident, decisive discipline--but it is mostly about providing: protection, safety, predictability, food, money, shelter, advocacy and affection.

I just needed this so very much. Thank you for un-lurking on my blog so I could find you!

 
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