My friends have been asking why, after 10 years of resisting, we’ve finally given in to the children’s pleas, and welcomed a puppy into our home. At about the same time that Yasmin, our eldest, has become old enough to babysit, and Ziggy and Saffi have started walking themselves back from the park, we’ve taken on another baby to look after.
The story is worth telling, as it’s an example of a constructive conversation that has produced a radical shift in attitudes and actions in our home. On one hand it's an example of the power of persuasion and intention, and on the other hand a tale of cooperation and negotiation that has ended up win-win for us all. As I write this my two eldest are in the front room, happily interacting - watching You Tube on the TV. Two months ago his would have been unimaginable, as the only interaction they had involved shouting and discord. And it isn’t the puppy that brought this harmony into our home - it is the tail that wagged the dog.
At the beginning of the summer, Nana, our rock and go-to for childcare, was telling us that something had to change. The children were all gorgeous on their own, but Yasmin (14) and Ziggy (10) hadn’t been getting along for a couple of years, and when we were working away, it got worst. Nana couldn’t cope with the bickering, physical fighting, and tearful reactions to the rows from Saffi, our youngest. It was becoming too much for her. So we called the family to the dining table and sought some ideas about how we could end the arguments. We bounced around a few ideas, but nothing seemed likely to yield results.
It was Yasmin that came up with the idea as we were searching for options. When she suggested it, it seemed so unlikely, that both Jools and I were ready to give it a try. They would stop arguing if we got a dog. I was soon looking to frame it realistically, and we ended up agreeing that “if they” stopped arguing for the whole summer, “then” Jools and I “would consider seriously” the idea of a dog. The truth is we didn’t really need to discuss it because the likelihood seemed so slim. Yet ready to give anything a try, we agreed, and in that moment our family dynamics shifted. Almost overnight, a new era enveloped our home.
It wasn’t easy for them in the first week. They were used to arguing, so they needed to remind each other of the deal as their habitual and repetitive behaviours kicked. Yet soon they didn’t need reminding, and the possibility that this was the deal of all deals started becoming apparent to us all.
The summer has been a joy. Camp Bestival passed without a row. My international trips involved happy FaceTime calls without any backround tears, and importantly a bond started re-appearing between Ziggy and Yasmin that had been severed through the bickering. As my friend improvisation guru and folk legend Jana Carpenter explained, “Emotions follow actions”. It seemed that by getting along to get their way, we had all got something very special back, and the love had re-appeared.
While I was sure it never gone anywhere, they saw it differently. Yasmin explained, on the way to collect Rocco. “No Dad, I seriously hated him for the last 2 years – but now I don't”. While I realize that this was a phase, the brilliant thing is that a conversation, with an exploration and a mutually beneficial agreement, ended that phase.
And now we have little Rocco in our home, it really is all win-win. Despite the sleepless nights, and the challenges of puppy training, we are all besotted, and we are definitely not looking back. Importantly we have learnt that by talking about what we all want, we can build agreements that genuinely give us all what we want. When I look at Yasmin and Ziggy getting along, there is nothing that makes me happier, not even the yap of our gorgeous little Rocco.
As I reflect on how we came to this magical outcome I wonder how many other disagreements could be ended this way? At work, at home - and on the global stage?