How Dogs Prepared me for Kids

Elizabeth Broadbent essays

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We thought we were ready. We’d always wanted one, and it while it was soon—too soon, some would say, since we’d only been together a year—Bear and I felt an addition would make our relationship complete. We prepared; we read books; we asked advice. Then one day, we brought home our bundle of joy: an 8-week-old German Shepherd puppy named Pan.

Want to test drive a kid? Buy a puppy. When we got pregnant, we were ready for a human child. Three dogs prepared us to deal with the mess, the fuss, and the inconvenience of having kids. Of course, nothing really prepares you for the sole responsibility of another human being. But dogs got us close.

You learn to live with noise.
The first day, Pan wanted to play all night. When we finally put her into the crate everyone recommended, she howled for hours. She barked at passers-by; she whined for dinner. She made angry roo’ing noises when we made her get off the couch. Yesterday, my toddler yelled the word “bang-bang” in a sing-song voice for approximately two hours. I hardly noticed.

You have to defend your food choices.
I thought there were only two choices: wet or dry. But I was wrong, other dog owners quickly schooled me. I had to pick the right dog food, not the off-the-shelf crap from your big box store. The choices confounded me: Gluten-free? Corn-free? All natural, or just plain meat? Become a dog chef and cook for Pan myself? Whatever I picked meant someone thought I was killing my dog. It made breast-or-bottle feel simple.

You will buy things you don’t need.
What a dog needs: food, a collar, and a leash. What I bought Pan: designer dog bowls, a water bowl/food bowl mat, six toys, tennis balls, three kinds of treats, supplements, instruction manuals, and a bed. What a baby needs: clothes, diapers, carseat, plus boobs or bottle. What I bought: most of a Buy, Buy Baby. Worse, just as Pan preferred my bed to her $100 posture-pedic foam pet mattress, my son never spent a night in the crib we so carefully selected. That designer crib did make a lovely place to store clean laundry, at least.

It will destroy your most beloved possessions.
When my greyhound ate my childhood blankey, I knew I was ready for children. So far, my kids have broken antebellum chairs, smashed windows, hung from ceiling fans, and shattered antique glassware. They are currently 5, 3, and 1.

It will make constant messes, and you won’t care.
My dogs have shredded rolls of toilet paper. My kids have also shred rolls of toilet paper. Both have dumped trash cans, knocked down Christmas trees, and leaked bodily fluids onto my  clothing. I was pissed off, but for only about five minutes. Then it’s on to the next round of destruction.

It’ll wake you up in the middle of the night.
Remember how I said the Pan howled the entire first night in her crate? She did that for weeks. We also had to get up at 2, 4, and 6 to take her outside. My parents still wake up more with their dogs—about every three hours—than I do with my kids. At least with the baby I just roll over and switch boobs.

Other dog owners will judge you, and you will judge other dog owners.
Maybe they aren’t doggie chefs. Maybe they use choke collars. Maybe their dog doesn’t sit on command, or growls your way at the doggie park. But you will find reasons to judge other dog owners—the same way parents side-eye each other. Have a baby, and you’ll move from rage about retractable leashes to moaning over corporal punishment, or circumcision, or those breast-or-bottle, cloth-or-disposable, cry-it-out or co-sleep mommy wars the internet’s always talking about.

You will understand the biology of another living being in a way you never anticipated.
Poop happens. Having a dog means cleaning up vomit, wiping up pee, and scrubbing feces off your floor. Having a kid means cleaning up vomit, wiping up pee, and scrubbing feces off your floor. Luckily, human feces smell far less noxious than the canine variety.

You have to pick a parenting (training) philosophy.
Would we use positive reinforcement for your pup, the canine equivalent of attachment parenting? Mostly positive reinforcement with some negative correction? Did we have a stance on corporal punishment? Will you send your dog to their crate when they’re bad? I faced the same questions with my toddler. Once I picked a philosophy, someone piped up to say I was going to spoil my baby, furry or canine. That never changes.

Ultimately, the hassle and mess and life changes don’t matter.
Suddenly, I could no longer leave town on a whim. I learned the desperate worry of a midnight run to the emergency doc. Having a dog means cleaning up another creature’s mess, shouldering the full responsibility of keeping it alive, and giving up half your bed at night. But in the end, your babies—both furry and human—are worth all the trouble. Sure, I spend too much money spoiling them both, and my life will never be as carefree as before. I miss it sometimes. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.


About the Author

Elizabeth Broadbent

A mama to three sons 4 and under, Elizabeth dropped out of academia to procreate and spend way too much time tie-dying. A certified educator with Babywearing International, she still misses teaching freshman English. Elizabeth attachment parents out of sheer laziness, and writes about social justice and crunchy parenting at Manic Pixie Dream Mama. Her work has appeared on the Huffington Post, xojane, Mamapedia, Scary Mommy, and Time Magazine online.

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January 2015 – live & learn
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