When I was 6-years-old my parents told my three sisters and me we were adopting a baby boy. When I got off the school bus the day of our much-anticipated special delivery my mom was there to greet us. “Meet your new little brother,” she smiled, pointing to what would become our faithful companion for the next 14 years, a Springer Spaniel, St. Bernard mix the size of the latter. We laughed because she’d tricked us, but we didn’t mind. It was as exciting as Christmas morning that otherwise ordinary spring day. We named him Snoopy after our favorite TV dog. Abandoned at one of the homes my mom toured as a realtor, the vet figured he was about a year old. So though we had many adventures with Snoopy we never experienced the puppy phase.
Many years later I’m now raising my first puppy, a 12-week old Havanese we’ve named Smoky. I’m finding it’s not unlike having a human baby in many ways and it’s been great to witness our children act like little parents to him too.
Here are some of the lessons in parenting the kids are realizing in just one month:
It takes a lot of thought and usually some family politics to pick out a name for a new member of the family. In our case, we chose the first name no one protested.
Night wakings are part of having a new baby. Over Thanksgiving we put the puppy’s crate in the boys’ room. In the mornings they complained he was annoying, that they were tired and that they thought it would be fun to have a puppy in their room. It reminded me when I thought it would be bonding to have my kids sleep in our room until the reality of endless sleepless nights kicked in.
Once housebreaking is a possibility, it’s on everyone’s mind. When the time’s right for toddlers, parents can’t think about anything but potty training. Lives revolve around sticking close to a familiar toilet, the clock and which reward is most successful. All six of us repeat the outdoor cue words, “Go Potty,” more than any other words the past month and we’ve figured out that a single Cheerio is his favorite reward.
Spoiling doesn’t make anyone happy. If we indulge Smoky too much by giving him treats just because and/or let him roam the house without boundaries this teaches him bad manners, which isn’t fun for anyone.
Good parents put their own needs aside for the baby. When the kids are groggy in the morning and the puppy is his most energized, I smile when they throw the ball for him without prompting.
Safety first. When Smoky wriggled from a young friend’s arms and landed on the deck with a whimper there were four young parents immediately by his side to make sure he was OK. They get after each other if one isn’t holding him properly and since the lady at the pet store said to watch out for hawks and owls, they’ve turned into the best outdoor supervisors. While Smoky can’t be around other unvaccinated dogs just yet, or take walks in public places, they’ve begun to understand shots aren’t some cruel punishment concocted by parents and doctors together, but vital to our well-being.
Our kids finally make us realize what our own parents meant by having unconditional love for us. As for my kids, I’ve already seen their hearts double in size for a little being that depends on them.