The journey of caring for a pet teaches kids so many wonderful and important lessons in life. I am a dog lover…okay, fanatic. They just make me happy, and my kids have been raised around them. Let’s just say that we are a Fido family. It’s not that I hate cats, but I am taken back by the excitement and love that dogs can show.
As a child, I struggled with allergies and asthma. AlthoughI wanted to be around animals SOOOOOO much, my immune system and modern medicine were not up to par. Therefore I had to admire them from a distance or rush myself into scrub like a surgeon if I ever pet one. Praise the Lord that I grew out of that and that my children were not allergic.
We decided that we would have dogs as we raised our children. In that decision, we also included our children in every aspect of this responsibility. My wife had been a veterinary technician for many years and was as redneck as they come. Due to this fact, she was in charge by default. She was also stronger when it came to the circle of life and could take the lead on unpleasant tasks. This may not be the same for your family, but as for us, my wife was Dr. Dolittle.
As you can imagine, dogs have brought us a lot of joy, but equally as much of a pain in the butt due to the fact that dogs will be dogs. While young and learning, they all had a tendency to be destructive, forget where the bathroom is, and perform escape acts that would impress Houdini. Then there was the added stress of enjoying your pets while trying to prevent them from intruding on the neighbors, who may like them a lot less. This can range from barking late at night or very early in the morning to expressing their love or lack thereof for neighbors and their furry friends.
I must say that one of the biggest advantages that we experienced as a family was the protective nature of our dogs along with the unconditional love that they showed. This really gave my wife and me a peace of mind and an additional sense of well-being as our children were living at home. The downside was dealing with the circle of life.
Kids must understand about death. I have to admit that this has been the worst part of being a pet owner. However, it is a powerful teacher. My advice is that you NOT shield your child from these times. It royally sucks but does so much to teach about grief and compassion. I have to admit that I have to lean on my wife’s strength during these times. Losing a pet emotionally wrecks me. Perhaps my grief allows my children to be a part of the comforting factor. They know that it is a REAL sensitive area with me.
It is at this point that I want to stress the importance of vulnerability. Kids need to understand what makes us tick and hurt. There is a point of being tough for your kids. I understand that. I condone that strength. However, they need to see that dad “feels, hurts, and can show sadness”. These moments allow us to bond together in a unique and special way. Dads that resist this are missing out on a blessing as well as being a healthy example for their children.
The other important lesson that kids can learn from caring for animals is that service is an expression of love. We feed, water, clean, clip, medicate and even pick up nasty stuff because we love our pets and want them to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible. In addition to this, kids can see that discipline can make for a happier animal. An animal that is taught to behave is more welcomed, included, and appreciated. This is an amazing opportunity to talk about your children’s happiness.
The last point to make is that there are times when the best thing to do is to NOT buy, adopt, or grow your animal family. We all love the sweet puppies that we come across. However, the discussion needs to be held about responsibility and what is best for the dog. There are many situations that do not lend the best care to an animal. Therefore, refraining from bringing them home can in of itself be an act of love.
The concept, love, and learning experience that our kids can have with animals are amazing. However, we still need to guide during this time. We need to have open communication with our kids concerning the benefits and hurdles that this lifestyle has. We need to examine the needs and resources of the family to make the best decisions. I hope you can enjoy this amazing experience with your kids. I hope that it can be a small part of YOU being the best dad possible.