Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How Puppy Love Can Prepare You for Parenting

In the days before Emmett came on to the scene, whenever I'd get asked if I had kids, my reply would be something like, "No kids, just a dog!" (or sometimes "Does the dog count?"). Most people reacted appropriately (acknowledging that dog parenthood is a valid life choice) but some people (maybe 15%) felt it necessary to point out to me that parenting a human is totally different, as if I had no idea and no imagination. Of course it's different! At the same time, I actually do think that my attachment to Lucy has helped prepare me for some aspects of parenting.

Having a dog made realize that I could easily love someone who is dependent on me. While Lucy isn't completely dependent (she is quite good at foraging for dropped junk food and rotting chicken bones on our walks, for instance), she does need me to open the dog food containers and I do have to make sure to be available to tend to her various other needs. Sure, babies take the dependence to a whole other, all-day consuming level, but still. In the case of dogs and babies, I find the dependence enjoyable. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they're both so darned cute.

With both dogs and babies, complete strangers might start talking to you any time you go anywhere. Often these conversations start with people in a similar situation (another dog parent, a parent of a stroller-aged child). It's a great way to be social, though sometimes you may not be in the mood to be social right when it happens. Friends with kids have told me in the past that it gets weird to be known as "(your child's) mom" rather than by your own name, but hey, I've been answering to "Lucy's mom" for about seven years now, so I'm sort of used to it. (In the best case scenario, people are interested in you as a person rather than you as the parent, but the truth is that there are always going to be at least a few people who wouldn't have noticed or paid attention to you if the dog or the baby weren't in your company.)

Taking your dog to the vet is good practice for visits to the pediatrician (or, as one of my friends puts it, "the baby vet"). This is especially true for challenging things like blood draws or vaccinations. Having watched Lucy go through procedures using needles made me less anxious before and during Emmett's vaccinations and blood draws.

Then there's the excrement angle. I think one of the things that is the most off-putting to people who haven't spent a lot of time with babies is the prospect of changing diapers. However, a responsible, poop-picking-up dog parent comes to people-parenthood with daily experience with poop. While diaper changes aren't fun treasure hunts, they don't seem like such a big deal after daily experiences with dog poop scooping.

Another big similarity is communicating without words. I know it can be frustrating for parents to wonder, "Why is the baby crying? What could he want?" In most cases, though, the wants of the baby are not all that complicated, at least not during the fourth trimester. It kind of reminds me of when we bought a mood collar for Lucydog. Per the "interpretation guide," whatever color the mood collar turned, the "message" was "pet me, feed me, take me for a walk." Having spent a lot of time contentedly communicating with my dog makes me feel pretty comfortable around my nonverbal buddy Emmett.

There are other similarities. I could discuss how putting a sweater on my dog was good practice for dressing my child, or who knows, maybe all of that leash-walking experience will come in handy someday with the kid (hope not!). My main point is that pet parents often do have a bit of existing readiness for parenting.

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