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Lessons From My Cat on Being a More Patient Mom

Our recently adopted ginger cat, Pickles, has become Facebook famous for his antics. Weekly, sometimes daily, I share "The Pickles Report" of food he's stolen, items he's torn apart and the number of times I've stumbled across a pile of cat vomit after he chewed up some particle of plastic, a product of feline OCD.

Smotheringly affectionate, his favorite position for the first few weeks after we adopted him was propped halfway up my back, curled into my neck as I worked, often with his nose jammed into my ear. As large as his appetite for affection was, however, we soon learned he had an even greater-sized stomach, and a decidedly uncatlike palate.

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Within his first week in our home, he plucked bread straight out of the toaster and knocked muffin containers off the counter, spreading their crumbs across the floor, eating an entire large muffin to himself. Pizza left in its box has no chance. And one day I realized he'd been helping himself to the remains of tortellini, jumping up on the cold stovetop and stealing them one by one. The cat even made off with a doughnut, which he relished quietly in a corner of my kitchen before I sniffed the crumbs to determine what it had been.

How many times have I snapped at my own child when he didn't respond to a command quickly enough or, like Pickles, didn't understand what I was asking?

In the first few months I found myself genuinely outraged at this little criminal interloper. How dare he do whatever he wanted with no regard for the rules? One day, I found myself shouting at the top of my lungs after he'd stolen my hamburger patty, a minute after I had turned away to wash a dish, and dragged it, cheese and all, under the table to gnaw.

"But mom," intervened my 7-year-old son Ben, mooning at me with his big brown eyes. "He doesn't understand. I don't think you should yell at him."

It was true. Clapping, shouting and scolding do absolutely nothing to reform our feline hooligan, and my son was calling me out. My reaction to this cat gave me pause to consider how I handle stress when I feel that I'm not being heard. How many times have I snapped at my own child when he didn't respond to a command quickly enough or, like Pickles, didn't understand what I was asking?

Instead, we armed ourselves with four squirt bottles to keep him off tables, counters, the top of the fish tank and anywhere else he saw fit to claim for himself.

Despite the ways the cat aggravates us adults, Ben loves him with the passion of a life partner. He forgives all of Pickles' insults and affection-borne scratches, and constantly reminds us, "He doesn't mean to be bad."

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My son, in other words, exhibits more patience with his cat than I do at times with my own son. Through Ben's eyes I'm reminded that sometimes I expect too much of a 7-year-old boy—overestimating his ability to process or control big emotions, regulate his moods or exhibit other adult behaviors. And I've lowered the bar on my expectations for the cat, too.

I could not have anticipated that this incorrigible cat would teach me greater patience for my son, but it has. And it's worth every bag of hot dog buns gnawed right through the plastic. You can buy more stuff, but you can't ever be too tender or patient with kids and cats.

Image via Twenty20/charlenem46

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