Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Cat Years

I came across this explanation of teens today, written almost 50 years ago. I've read it before, but had no teens in the house at the time.

The Cat Years
From: Adair Lara (San Francisco Chronicle, 1961)

I just realized that while children are dogs—loyal and affectionate—teenagers are cats. It’s so easy to be a dog owner. You feed it, train it, boss it around. It puts its head on your knee and gazes at you as if you were a Rembrandt painting. It bounds indoors with enthusiasm when you call it.

Then, around age 13, your adorable little puppy turns into a big old cat. When you tell it to come inside, it looks amazed, as if wondering who died and made you emperor. Instead of dogging your footsteps, it disappears. You won’t see it again until it gets hungry—then it pauses on its sprint through the kitchen long enough to turn its nose up at whatever you’re serving. When you reach out to ruffle its head, in that old affectionate gesture, it twists away from you, then gives you a blank stare, as if trying to remember where it has seen you before.

You, not realizing that the dog is now a cat, think something must be desperately wrong with it. It seems so antisocial, so distant, sort of depressed. It won’t go on family outings.

Since you’re the one who raised it, taught it to fetch and stay and sit on command, you assume that you did something wrong. Flooded with guilt and fear, you redouble your efforts to make your pet behave.

Only now you’re dealing with a cat, so everything that worked before now produces the opposite of the desired results. Call it, and it runs away. Tell it to sit, and it jumps on the counter. The more you go toward it, wringing your hands, the more it moves away.

Instead of continuing to act like a dog owner, you can learn to behave like a cat owner. Put a dish of food near the door, and let it come to you. But remember that a cat needs your help and your affection too. Sit still, and it will come, seeking that warm, comforting lap it has nor entirely forgotten. Be there to open the door for it.

One day, you grown-up child will walk into the kitchen, give you a big kiss and say, “You’ve been on your feet all day. Let me get those dishes for you.” Then you’ll realize your cat is a dog again.

I'm not sure a cat sums up my teen, though I do relate to the jumping up on counters (do I have the only teen that thinks counters are large, platform chairs?). I see a swan emerging and the free spirit of a horse galloping the field. Quite often, I see a happy lark. Other times I see an angry hornet and a stubborn mule. And, yes, I do believe I have a sloth on my hands when it comes to motivation for math! Yet, when it is something of interest, the sloth transforms to a cheetah that needs space to run at full force. Teens, in metamorphosis to adulthood, are too complicated to be summed up by one animal.

Regardless, teenagers are a completely different animal from a young child, requiring a whole new approach to parenting. What about your teen? What animal is in your house?


Kristenph said...

I don't have any teens yet, but I can already see the changes. I'm afraid...very afraid... My son is something like a cat, except he was never a dog really. He sleeps all the time and wants to be left alone.

Heidi said...


Mine was never really a dog either!

Since my teen never slept when younger, I'm enjoying the sleeping part. :) The problem is, my tween, who was a sleeper, is now having trouble sleeping!

6intow said...

Thanks for sharing this, it is a great analogy, but as you pointed it out it is somewhat 2 dimensional in its applications. Kids, and especially teenagers, are far more complex that housepets.

I had heard this cat vs. dog comparison on a spiritual level (dogs think -- My master's great, he must be God! and cats think -- My master treats me great, I must be God). Kind of a way for us to evaluate our faith relationship with God.

I loved the encouragement to let them come to us. You definitely need to stay intentional as they age (my oldest is not yet 13, so I don't say this with much experience), but in some ways it must be on their terms.

Thank you so very much for posting this and your thoughts as well!

Jordyn said...

MEOW!!! I'm a kitty! And, according to you, a sloth, horse, hornet, lark and mule

Heidi said...

A simple creature you are not, my dear!