I always wanted a dog and my kids had been begging for one for years.
I had romantic notions of what it would be like to own a dog. He would be soft and furry and curl up at my feet while I was writing. We would go shopping together and take long walks. I envisioned walking my happy kids to school, the dog on a leash by my side. I planned to make him homemade dog treats and the kids and I were excited to plan a birthday party for him—we were going to invite all his puppy friends. I truly believed a dog would melt our collective troubles away.
I thought our new addition would be therapy for all of us. An antidote that would be cuter and cheaper than a professional therapist. Everyone advised me against this—even my therapist. And so I hesitated for three years after my divorce. Then, a few months ago, my six-year-old son seemed to be depressed. It was breaking my heart.
“What’s the matter?” I’d ask.
“I need a dog to replace a man,” he told me. It’s all I needed to hear. No matter what it took or how hard it would be, I had to get my son a dog. I took a few more months to give it careful consideration. I did my research and I had finally settled on a breed and a breeder and a puppy. We went to visit our puppy when he was a six-week-old shivering bundle of fur. We fell in love. I was certain it was the best decision I’d ever made.
It turns out, what I made was a mistake. From the minute we brought Theo home, it was chaos. I was having trouble managing my two boys as well as the puppy. He crapped on my carpet—in the same spot every day—even after I’d taken him outside and said, “Make a pee, make a poo,” like the trainer advised. He barked in his crate all night and woke the kids up at 5am barking and howling some more. He needed constant attention, and my kids did too. At one point, I had more dog food in the house than people food, and I had to feed my kids eggs and slightly expired turkey bacon for dinner. I just didn’t have the capacity to do it all by myself.
Several dog owners came by as I was crying, begging the dog to “Make a pee, make a poo,” and they tried to help with training tips. The vet served as my therapist during our first appointment. He was really eager to help and it felt nice to cry to someone about my puppy troubles. Several people encouraged me to keep trying. “You’ve been through worse and are raising two boys. You can do this, too.”
I bought all the right toys and food. I hired a trainer and consulted the vet. But I am one person and I suddenly realized that I was now stretched too thin. The truth is I couldn’t manage. My kids quickly realized this too. They were just too little to help and, after three days with Theo, agreed to give our puppy to another loving family—one who could help train and raise him properly.
I know I will be vilified by dog owners everywhere. They will tell me I’m irresponsible and selfish and cruel. But after three years of being a single mom—three years of trying to stand on my own feet and going to any lengths to make life good for my boys—I’m going to choose to look at this experience differently. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. I’m not an idiot or a failure—things I would have called myself even a year ago. I tried to give my kids something they desperately thought they wanted. I was brave and I took a risk at my own expense and it didn’t pay off. I’m big enough now to admit my mistake and not beat myself up for it.
2. I am still a good mom. I wanted to make them happy by making their dreams a reality, but now I’ve realized how little my kids still are and how much love they need. I’m not in a position to add anything extra to our lives at the moment. They are five and six after all. For some reason that started to seem big.
3. A dog isn’t a quick fix for anything. Happiness and healing comes from within. You can’t rely on others to alleviate your troubles, eliminate your loneliness or provide comfort. It takes a lot of work, self reflection and time. Even for kids.
I’m going to spend the next several days cleaning my carpets, yes, but also appreciating my solitude and my children. I may be one person, I may have discovered my limits, but I’m going to devote whatever I have to raising them to be happy boys even if they are raised without a pet.