I loved this recent post over at PetMd by Dr. Khuly talking about the association between becoming a new parent and having your pet pack on the pounds. I think anyone who has had a new baby as well as a pet can relate. Sure, everyone tells themselves, “Oh no! I know other people put their pets on the back burner but not me! I’m going to carry my kid around in a papoose and just go out with a jogging stroller every day at 5 am and we’ll be just fine!”
And yes, some people actually do that, and kudos to them. On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who can’t even be bothered to try and put in a little effort, dumping their loyal companion at the shelter with some excuse about “no time now that I have something really important, like a kid.”
Most of us, I would venture to guess, fall somewhere smack in the middle. In the bleary-eyed sleep-deprived miasma that is the fog of new parenthood, we neglect not only our pets but our other kids, our spouses and ourselves. It’s a huge adjustment no matter how well you think you’ve prepared, like jumping into the deep end only to be shocked by the icy smack of the water on your face.
5 weeks after my daughter was born, my Golden Mulan had a cruciate surgery. I scheduled it right before she was born, figuring, geez, how hard can this be? It’s just a cruciate surgery. I’ll be home to take care of her. This will be great.
I remember it vaguely, her x-pen set up in the living room next to the swing that was the only place my colicky daughter would sleep other than strapped to me. There I was, kid in sling around my chest, hoisting the dog up in her towel sling for her walks 4 times a day, staggering out into the backyard like a pack mule with tears streaming down my face for no apparent reason other than that is what happens when you’re stewing in post-partum hormones. Going on regular walks was the furthest thing from my mind at that time. I had to focus on remembering to brush my teeth.
At least Mulan, with her necessary post surgical care, was getting some attention. Emmett, up until then the center of the universe, took to eating diapers and other naughty behaviors he had never before partaken in, in an attempt to get a little attention. It was a grim time for all of us.
Getting through that newborn experience involves a little bit of fighting to the surface. We get there eventually, gulping for air and looking around to get our bearings. We look to the horizon to get oriented, and paddle for shore. Once you’re acclimated, you figure out how to accomodate this strange new world order.
It took me about 5 months to really get that sorted out. For me, the big turning point in my dog-kid relations came when my daughter started eating solid foods and throwing stuff out of her high chair. Yes, they were fast friends after that. No wonder dogs pack on the pounds with a new kid. We’d go on walks, my daughter tossing goldfish out of the stroller like Gretel leaving navigational crumbs, Emmett and Mulan trotting obediently behind.
I’ve stated many times I’m not exactly the model mother, which is one of the many reasons you’ll not find me writing a mommy blog. I love being a parent but it doesn’t come particularly naturally to me, and I find myself constantly wondering how so many people float through it all with beatific smiles and proclamations that it is the Single Most Rewarding and Consistently Wonderful Perfect Thing Ever. They’re either lying to save face or just have a gene I seem to be missing.
So when people ask me for advice about acclimating the pet to a new baby, I tend to address it a little differently than other people, because I’m answering for myself and my own experience as someone who felt more than a little totally overwhelmed with a new baby. All of that training advice and counterconditioning and daily jogs and playtime perfectly coordinated with the child’s tummy time to create positive associations and avoidance of placating the pets with food? Solid advice, every bit of it. And not a single bit of it something I was in a place to do at the time.
I say: yes, you’re highly likely to neglect your pet, at least temporarily. Forgive yourself in advance and move on.
So this is my advice to new moms struggling with either the adjustment period or guilt about the inevitable long slow descent of their pet down the totem pole:
- Make someone else help you out. Assign the spouse or another family member the duty of making sure your pet receives extra attention and care. It’s good bonding for them, too, and you deserve to demand a little help.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you’re dropping the ball. So many people give up their pets a couple months into having a new kid because they feel so overwhelmed and think they are ruining the pet for life. It gets so much easier a few months in. Pets have short memories. Do what you can when you can, and as your life gets easier, promise yourself to get back into a routine for your pet. It can be done.
- And whatever you do, don’t read those smug SuperMom blogs. You know the ones, who make organic baby food every day from vegetables they grew themselves while training for a marathon pushing a triple stroller and breeding championship Jack Russells. You’ll want to commit harakiri from the shame of your inadequacy.
You’ll be fine and they’ll be fine, once you start getting some regular sleep. If I can survive it, anyone can.