Before there were children in my life, there was my first baby — my beloved dog, Ben. Ben was a yellow lab rescue dog from Tennessee my husband and I adopted shortly after we were engaged. Ben was a stray who had spent time in a kill shelter, and there was something about him that exuded gratefulness — as if he was keenly aware that he was granted a second chance at life with a family that treated him like royalty. We showered him with affection, took him on long leisurely walks, brought him to lakes to swim, and threw him birthday parties complete with “pupcakes.”
Ben rescued us as much as we did him. A constant comfort during the ups and downs of life, Ben was there for everything. He even took on the role of devoted therapy dog after my mom passed away. When my husband and I changed from doggy parents to human parents, he couldn’t have been more gracious about sharing his space as we welcomed two baby girls into our home within two years of one another. Even as he lost some of his “pre-baby perks,” he continued his steadfast role as our playful and loving companion.
That’s why when we lost him just a few weeks ago, it felt like there was a tremendous void in our lives. No more eager paws click-clacking to the front door, no friendly shadow following me around in the kitchen. I could never have prepared myself for the emptiness I felt in our home in the days following his passing. Since that time, I have reflected about how much we can learn from our dogs. While you can never fully prepare yourself to become a parent, dogs really do teach us so much about it.
1. Live in the moment
I could walk out to my car to get something and come back and my dog would be bouncing to see me like I had been gone for a month. It’s that kind of “live in the moment” mentality I can stand to learn from. As parents, our brains are in a constant state of chaos — there are activities to get to, meals to plan, laundry to fold, and bills to pay. This makes it insanely difficult to just take a deep breath and be present. We can all take a day off from our household activities to go on a spontaneous adventure with our kids. The laundry will be there when we get back (and always).
2. Be playful
Has there ever been a time when your kid was having an epic meltdown, and you tried lightening the mood by just doing something plain silly? If you tried tickling them into submission, you may have realized it’s laughter that helps us switch gears emotionally. There is no one who knows the powerful secret of “play” better than dogs. When my dog wasn’t eating or sleeping, life was just playtime to him. Bringing more playfulness into our lives can only bring us — and our children — more joy.
3. A walk is good for the soul
There are some days when I truly believe I am going to lose my mind being home with young kids. Walking the dog proved to be both an escape and a kind of therapy for me. When I returned home I always felt more clearheaded and ready to be a mom again. Never underestimate the power of fresh air to hit life’s reset button.
4. When in doubt, choose sleep
My forever-slumbering dog taught me the importance of a good old fashioned nap. I can honestly say I’ve never regretted a nap, but I have regretted not taking one. As parents, we need to take a cue from the pets in our lives and take advantage of sleep WHENEVER possible, especially those times when it’s a rare luxury.
5. Live simply
All my dog really wanted in life was to eat, play, sleep, and love. And really, WHAT MORE IS THERE TO LIFE? This was the creature who spent most of his time sleeping and eating, but yet he had such a profound effect on both my life and the lives of others. The simplicity of a dog’s life is something we can all replicate in the everyday lessons we teach our children.
While I miss my dog terribly, I am grateful for the memories we shared with him as a family and the unexpected lessons he taught me about being a mom. And fellow parents, we can stop beating ourselves up about all the things we may be doing wrong in raising our children — all they need is LOVE. Our pets and our babies truly have it all figured out.