As we celebrate Mother’s Day and thank all of the maternal figures in our life, from the women who raised us to our work moms (don’t pretend like you don’t have one), I wanted to share some of my reflections on 2 years as dog mom. And just to be clear, since one guy once asked me, “how do you know he’s going to be a boy,” I did not give birth to him.
Shaming: The Puppy Phase
From the moment I took my 12-week old Bernese Mountain Dog puppy out of the arms of an Amish woman in Pennsylvania, I’ve been dealing with a new recurring feeling: guilt.
That morning, the puppy’s 130-pound beautiful canine mother was running around anxiously. She had a litter of 5 pups, and I took away her last one. We named him Scooter Patrick (in case you’re wondering, he does not have his own Instagram account, sorry).
When he was a puppy, sometimes my boyfriend (now fiance) would go into a store and I would stay outside with Scooter alone. I started to notice when I was alone with him, people would come up to us and scold me:
“He’s a baby – he needs his toys. You should have brought them with you.”
“Somebody should be walking himself. You shouldn’t be holding him.”
Unfortunately, this was always a girl-on-girl crime. And this unwanted “advice” from other women always came with a condescending tone of voice and harsh glare. It didn’t bother me that much, but the behavior pattern was really eye-opening, and I can’t even imagine how much worse the shaming must be for moms of babies and children.
Thankfully, as Scooter started to grow up, the shaming phase ended. Whatever was driving those comments may have come from some instinct to protect helpless things like puppies, but in my experience, did not apply to dogs.
Shortly thereafter, a new feeling, this time self-afflicted, arose as the realities of our lifestyle set in. We both work full-time, and so on weekdays, we leave him on our patio in the morning, pay someone $10 to take him out for a few minutes at lunch, and then return to spend a few hours with him in the evening.
We have been constantly asking ourselves the question:
“Is our dog living his best life?”
When I leave him in the morning, he whimpers and cries (cue separation anxiety), and when we return in the evening, he cries with joy and sometimes even accidentally hurts me because he jumps on me with so much happy energy. His favorite thing to do is spend quality time together, but how much time can we really give him?
I’ve thought through a few different potential solutions:
- Bringing him to my dog-friendly office was a flop because it’s stressful and difficult for me to focus when he’s running around.
- We even alpha tested a new robot that interacts with and trains your dog while you’re at home.
- And although it may at times sound tempting, I’m not going to change my work habits to stay home with him more.
So instead of focusing on how to make his days better while I’m at work, I switched my focus:
“How do I help myself not feel guilty when we leave him alone?”
When it comes down to it, I am a great dog mom, and feeling guilty about the times when I can’t be there isn’t going to result in anything positive. I know that logically I shouldn’t feel guilty, but emotionally it’s much more challenging. I take criticism from myself much harder than from other people, so the self-inflicted guilt phase has been much harder than the puppy-shaming phase.
To do this, I focus my energy on the positive things like:
- We chose to live in a 500 square foot studio instead of a 1-bedroom apartment specifically so he could have a large private patio to spend his days alone relaxing in. We love him so much our bed is basically in our kitchen so that he can have his fort-castle-patio outside.
- He’s always happy to see us, and pretty much always happy except in the very moment when we leave.
- When we are gone, he is taking amazing naps outdoors, often with sunshine and a light breeze.
I haven’t completely gotten rid of my guilt, but have come out of this experience with two things:
- The next time I want to open my mouth about someone’s parenting skills (dog or human), I should promptly shut it. If they want my advice or input, they’ll ask. Be especially kind to other women.
- My own guilt is self-inflicted, and neither justified nor productive. I need to be kind to myself, too.