Welcome to the June 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Animals
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and wisdom about kids and pets.
When I was growing up, we always had pets: always at least one cat, for a long while a dog, and a pair of gerbils or a goldfish here and there. I knew when we had kids, I wanted to give them that same experience of growing up with animals to love, care for, and form attachments with.
But I also had commonsense. Here are some of the basic facts I've learned — as a child and now as a parent — about how kids and pets interact and what to expect if you're adding a fur friend to a baby family, or a baby to a fur-friendly family.
Kids and certain pets aren't always best friends.We had an older cat when I was very young who did not want to play with me. Most of my interactions concerning her were asking my mother for another bandage to cover the latest scratch. I've had smaller pets such as gerbils and fish who didn't relish any human companionship. So when Mikko was born when Sam's and my first cat, Mrs. Pim, was already firmly an adult, I didn't expect love at first sight — and I was right. She let Mikko adore her from afar, and that was good enough for both of them. As she became used to him, she let him brush her, and as a toddler and preschooler, he helped me feed and water her, scoop her litter box, and play with pole toys. Forcing ornery pets and babies or toddlers together before the animals are ready is just asking for trouble — and a dwindling supply of Band-Aids.
Pets might not mean the same thing after children.Before I had kids, I was a cat sitter, and I'd become concerned anytime a client who was a parent mentioned how little attention they had for their cats now that they had children. Once I became a parent, I got it. Kids take up so much more energy that there's often little left over to give, and you realize that your pets don't need you as desperately as your children do. I don't mean to suggest that neglecting animals you already have is acceptable, but be aware that your feelings for your pets might change. Continue to go through the rote actions you need to take (feeding, grooming, playing, petting), and the feelings will likely come back, even if they're different now. And try not to bring in more pets than you have the capacity to care for, along with your parenting duties. Speaking of which:
Whatever family pet you get is your responsibility.No matter what your older kids promise you, expect that you'll be supervising and maybe taking over care of any pets that come into the family. I've heard horror stories of parents "teaching kids a lesson" by letting neglected pets die, and I'm just going to assume no one here would be so cruel to both an animal and a child. I know as a kid, my brother and I swore up and down that we would care for our own kittens — but my dad ended up doing the bulk of the feeding and scooping unless we were reminded — often (and, to his credit, he did it without complaint). I did have a friend who successfully cared for her own hamster as a preteen, so it is possible to transfer responsibilities, but you're still going to need to set expectations, check that they're being carried out appropriately, and be prepared to take over if needed. Even if a tween or teen child is competently caring for a pet, consider that such children might age out of your home before the pet does — when I went off to college, my dad was now sole care provider for my cat. My rule for our family is we don't get pets I don't want to care for. This is why we don't have a dog. We live on a second-floor condo, and I know I'd be the lucky one walking the dog twice a day, rain or shine, and scooping up warm poop with my baggied hand. No, thank you! Not until and unless we ever have a yard.
Find child-appropriate tasks that work for your kids.this is the best one ever) for a certain number of minutes to earn some coinage. Other tasks might include giving a pet water, brushing, cleaning out a cage or tank, taking a dog for a walk, playing with or picking out toys, scooping poop out of the yard (that sounds like a good money earner!), exercising a small pet, bathing a dog, participating in obedience classes, visiting the vet, and — how could I forget? — giving treats. Giving treats is firmly in the domain of our kidlets. They love fish flakes themselves, so it's one handful for the cats, one for us, repeat. (Do I have weird kids? I'm just glad they're eating some protein!)
Pets can teach kids about aging and death.Speaking of downers, animals tend to age faster than humans, and sometimes they catch diseases or have accidents or other complications that are untreatable. If you have pets, you're opening the door to frank talks about getting older and dying, and some potentially heartbreaking moments. Mrs. Pim died when Mikko was three and I was pregnant with Alrik, and that led to many (good yet hard) discussions about illness and death that continue to this day, three and a half years later. Sometimes pets have to be rehomed due to incompatibilities with other residents (allergies, aggression, etc.), and that can be a difficult process as well. I still remember all the pets' departures from my childhood, and each one was a small trauma. But my parents were there to help me through them, as you can be for your kids.
Pets are worth it.adopting a hedgehog, but I'm waiting till the pregnancy's over (there are a few random nasties one can catch from small critters that I'd do well to avoid during my little one's most vulnerable phase) and, thereafter, until I catch my breath again from having three not-so-furry babies to care for. I also wouldn't mind having fish or some other tank-bound creature at some point, but I want to think carefully about what I'm up for. So, even though Mikko begs pretty much weekly both for a dog and for his own new kittens (more than two huge cats in our tiny apartment? No, thank you), we're sticking with our kitties for now, and I'm so happy to see our kids bond with them. One is still plenty skittish about both of them, but the other is warming up enough to sit on Mikko's lap and let Alrik accost her. I think there's something meaningful in teaching kids from a young age how to care about and care for a creature who needs attention and love. You're helping kids understand that other creatures have needs as real as and sometimes different from theirs, and that they need to learn how to interact respectfully with their fur-relatives. I'm glad my kids will be growing up with memories of these cats we picked out and adopted together and now help to feel part of our family. Next on Mikko's docket: Throw them a birthday party! (I have no idea when they were born, but that sounds like a fine idea!)
What have your experiences been with kids and pets, either as a child or as a parent?
Visit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
- What Animal Rescue is Teaching My Children
- Tips on Picking the Perfect Kid-friendly Dog — Lactating Girl at The Adventures of Lactating Girl shares some tips she's learned on how to find the perfect child-friendly dog for your family.
- All New Animals Are "Woof" — Baby Boy is still learning animals. Life Breath Present doesn't yet have any at home, but he still believes that all animals are "woof." Here's the proof.
- Dude, where's my Horse? — Adora loves horses, but Erin at And Now, for Something Completely Different really doesn't. However, Adora's longing wins out; learn about their interactions with horses here.
- Weighing the Pros and Cons of a Family Pet — When is a family ready for a pet? Donna at Eco-Mothering discusses her worries as well as the benefits of adopting a dog, including how it will affect her seven-year-old daughter.
- Parenting Challenge--Learning from Animals--running the emotional gammut — Survivor at Surviving Mexico writes about the emotional learning her family has experienced through sharing their lives with animals.
- Puppy Love for our Family — In case you didn't catch it from the blog title, Pug in the Kitchen, the family pet is an integral part of Laura's family and home life!
- Vegetarianism and Animal Rights: Explaining to Children — Becca at The Earthling's Handbook is mostly vegetarian...not 100%, and not because of animal rights...yet she has found that the idea of not hurting animals is the aspect of vegetarianism most easily understood by a young child. She explains what her son has learned about not eating meat and how it has affected his social life.
- Pets & kids: The realities — Lauren at Hobo Mama lays out the benefits and drawbacks of pet ownership when young kids are involved.
- HOW PETS CONNECT WITH EMOTIONS: KIDS & PETS AFTER 9-11 — Parenting Expert Laurie Hollman at Parental Intelligence discusses the importance of pets in lowering stress after traumatic situations, why children choose certain pets, the loss of a pet, and the role of parents in teaching care-giving to animals in a warm, gentle way.
- It's not our house without a dog! — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work describes why giving a loving and disciplined home to at least one shelter dog at a time enriches the life of her family, and has become a vivid memory in the minds of her children.
- Canine Haikus —
Kids, dog, haikus, at
Dionna (Code Name: Mama).
- Beanie's Bunnies — Our Mindful Life's Sofi Bean has gotten her first pets!
- Montessori Care of Pets — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells about her experiences with kids and pets and shares Montessori resources for pet care.
- How to Nurture Your Child's Awareness of Spirit Guides — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama hosts a post from her regular contributor Lauren of SpiralElixir.com. Lauren looks at the concept of animals as spirit guides and how deeply children are connected to this realm. She also encourages us to open ourselves up as parents to the reality that children are naturally more connected to the animal world, giving us ideas on how to nurture their relationships with their Spirit Guides.
- No Puppy! — Meg at the Boho Mama shares her tips for dealing with toddlers and the (very real) fear of animals.
- Year of the Pets — Jorje of Momma Jorje wasn't sure she ever wanted pets again, but things have changed a lot this year!
- 3 Reasons Why Keeping Backyard Chickens is Good for my Toddler — Bianca, The Pierogie Mama, started keeping backyard chickens for the benefit of their eggs, but what she wasn't prepared for was what they would teach her two year old daughter too.