Four ways to reconnect with pets after you have kids

May 31 | Guest post by Rodrigues
bad intentions anticipated
Photo by Petras Gagilas, used with Creative Commons license.

At 17, I was kicked out of my mom's house and sent to live with my dad. My father was highly allergic to animals and not open to pets. I was a lonely, angry, dog-loving shithead, so I promptly drove myself to the pound, where I found Sarah. She was all ribs and ears, sitting quietly in a kennel with a sign that read "Seven days left, please adopt me today." I did.

Sarah was the reason I came home and slept in my own bed in high school. In college, she kept me feeling safe and comforted in my string of lonely student rentals. She greeted my husband at the door on our first date.

When I became pregnant for the first time, I promised myself that Sarah would still be a cornerstone in my life… no matter who else entered. At first I kept my promise. I took Sarah and baby Jonah on a walk every day. I sat on the living room floor and played with Sarah and Jonah. I tied Sarah to a tree and put Jonah in his bouncer outside, and we all enjoyed our yard together. But somewhere between a cross-country move, another baby, and two college degrees, Sarah took baby steps toward the omega position.

Jonah and Sarah.
Last year, I realized how negative my pet relationship had become. Sarah walked into the kitchen, sniffed at a boiled egg our second baby threw on the floor, and then walked away. We had always joked about Sarah helping us keep the house clean, and for a minute I felt this bitter accusation: now you are completely useless. (That's right, I'm a jerk.)

While I wasn't neglecting Sarah on any grand scale, I knew I was neglecting her in my own standard of care. Not only that, but she had traveled through rough waters with me; she deserved to spend the last years of her life enjoying my appreciation. I sulked for while over what a terrible dog-friend I was.

Discussing pets at a playgroup, I realized I was hardly the only mother feeling like my animal had become a point of guilt-ridden irritation. I decided to slip out of my sad pants and zip up my proactive suit. (It's handmade!) Here are some actions I've taken to repair my post-kid pet relationship:

1. Outsource the pains in my ass

Before motherhood, I spent years working in vet hospitals, getting paid to do dog pedicures, baths, ear cleanings, you name it. I felt really uncomfortable paying someone else to perform pet care for me. But once I broke down and took Sarah into a professional to fuss over her hygiene, I felt a huge sense of relief. I realized I'd been resentful partly because bathing and nail clipping had become a major task, involving not only those two actions but also corralling the kids while I clip her nails, cleaning up hair-tumbleweeds, and finding a place for her to dry without getting dirty again. Pet care is one of those many areas where I had to learn how to let go of misplaced pride and let others help me.

2. Accentuate the positive

If you're feeling like motherhood has changed your ability to enjoy your pets, take time to do that wonderful thing which prompted you to get your pet in the first place. For me, as a dog ethology dork, this means working with Sarah on commands and little brain games. Maybe for you it is cuddling with your cat, photographing ferrets, or dressing your iguana for high tea. Milk it.

3. Let your pet tag along for "me-time"

Taking Sarah on stroller walks was nearly impossible, but I was passing up on other opportunities to involve her. I had unwittingly created two categories: things done with kids and things done alone. Now I take Sarah on errands, watch TV next to her, or bring the laptop to the floor while the baby naps. Now Sarah is once again a relaxing friend instead of a to-do list.

4. Celebrate

Make a big deal out of how long you've had your pet, how old they are, or what fraction of their life they've lived. Sarah is having a party for our tenth year together, but there are smaller celebratory options, too. Write something about your pet: a detailed blog entry, a funny story, a timeline of your time together, or what makes this animal different from others you've met. Make a photobook of them. Share it, in the name of celebrating your life together.

While I'll never be a "my pets are my children" person, I hope to be increasingly mindful of Sarah's post-kid life from now on. I would love to hear what pets other mamas had while transitioning to motherhood, and how they find ways to keep a positive relationship.

  1. this post makes me happy that I have such a great kitty friend that took to my daughter like a pal right away.

    • This is what comforted me to a degree when I realized how far from #1 Sarah had slipped. My boys LOVE her and spoil her rotten with everything from food to love to doggie checkups with their doctor kits. She gets a lot of love and is pretty well integrated into the family; most of the issues I was having were related to my stressed feelings regarding her.

  2. I was just thinking about this over the long weekend! I feel bad Spike has not had some quality one on one time with us since baby Samara has been home. Thanks for the great tips!

    • I feel the same way! Glad to read this post.

      On a side note….my daughter's name is Samara, too! We haven't met any other babies named that!

  3. I love this! I was soooo worried that I was ruining my dogs life by bringing a baby into our home (crazy I know!) I was so worried he would feel left out and neglected. They LOVE each other. Wherever the baby is he's always right there. So far I've made sure to have doggie time and baby time and family time. I totally agree with outsourcing the grooming and up keep. I've always said that he is more work than the baby.

  4. Thank you for this post!!! Mostly our new bundle of joy has meshed well with our original bundles of joy but I also have those moments of just being completely annoyed at the pet menagerie! Why did you choose NOW to meow/scratch like crazy/bark at the neighbors! I just got the little boy to sleep!

    I think bringing the pets back to "my buddy" status is best. Our guys still get two walks daily and our kitty gets snuggles. But I just realized that Yes! They love to go in the car! Anywhere in the car! Welcome back sidekick, I missed you. We got the pets to hang out with, so let's hang out!

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  5. wow, thanks so much for posting on this topic. I know it sounds ridiculous, but my relationship with my pets has been the thing causing most anxiety for me when considering having kids. I know that many animals end up in shelters after people have kids and thats really upsetting. I started to wonder if its possible to have a small menagerie and kids at the same time. Thanks for answering that question

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  6. I was feeling this same guilt last week. Our 4 year old Aussie has been put on the back burner since my son was born in October. We are making a concerted effort to take him to the park or on a long run everyday and he has been invited back up onto our bed at night so we can give him snuggles and show him how much we still love him.

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    • I rescued my 11yr old pup 8yrs ago. It was just me and her for a long time. She eventually accepted my husband and let him sleep in our bed, only to have us bring another one into the family!

      Our son is 14mo old and loves her, but she is a grumpy, old lady and always has been! I too feel bad that she is getting less attention, but she seems to be doing alright.

      Much of the stress I have about her is related to traveling with her and the kid, as well as the financial aspect of having a dog who is getting up in years.

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  7. I love how you defined the difference between a pet and a child, without making it seem like a negative thing! I love my dog, and as I don't have kids yet sometimes he is treated as our "kid" but in reality, I don't think of him as our child. That doesn't lessen my love for him any, it just recognizes the fact that he is a dog and now a human.

    Anyways, loved your post! It sounds like you and Sarah are lucky to have found each other!

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  8. Neglecting my dog after having a baby was one of those things that people kept telling me was an inevitability ala "You'll seeeeeee." It was really important to me not to let that be the case. Oddly, I've found that my dog Sassafras's life has actually sorta improved…since Dre or I are always home with the baby, the dog is almost never left at home alone. She has a series of visitors in the form of family members coming to babysit, and OMG SHE GETS SO MUCH PEOPLE FOOD now that we have a toddler in the house. I'm amazing the dog hasn't gotten really, REALLY fat.

    There are also ways that she gets priority over the baby: Tavi only slept in bed with us for three months; Sassafras is still there. Tavi goes to bed at 7:30, while Sassafras cozies up with us on the couch until we go to bed at 10:30.

    Granted, her life has DEFINITELY changed … I take less photos of her and make less silly dog videos. But she may not miss being the star of shows like this:

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    • That tortilla is clearly from outer space, containing millions of microscopic aliens.

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  9. Yes! Thank you. My biggest concern about having a baby is how my dog will fit in. We only got her in October, but she's helping us through some really rough waters. I waited for years to get a dog after moving out of my parent's place to ensure that I'd have a stable, caring home. Despite the fact that I've always had dogs and they work wonders for my mental health, I waited. And I'm so glad I did because Sadie is my constant side-kick and since my 2 best friends left town, she's happily filled the post (she doesn't drink as much wine with me though). I am terrified that having a baby will push her aside and make her feel left out, but this is great advice and I'll definitely use some of it in keeping her a big part of my life.

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  10. Love this! My relationship with my dogs is further complicated by one very aggressive male, and one very training-resistant female (we got her when she was already a year old, and she's just…too vapid, besides) that make it hard to interact with them at all if the baby is awake, and end up the brunt of a lot of resentment when it comes to letting the little one run loose around the house (as I have to constantly monitor every move he makes to make sure he doesn't get dangerously close to the male's food, or feet)

    I do feel bad, though, because I could spend a lot more time with them while he's napping and I don't. I will try to make a better effort, for sure!

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    • Good on you for making it work, regardless of the dogs' issues. So many people, rather than watch their child more closely around the dog like you say you do, would simply cart the dog off the the pound the minute they see anything resembling aggression. It's nice to see there are people like you out there with "difficult" dogs and kids and making it work!

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  11. Thank you for this article – with everything that's been going on in my new mommy life lately, I've definitely neglected (at least to my standards) my kitties lately. This helped me refocus and remember how important my first "kids" were during other just-as-important times in my life 😉

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  12. I loved this! My two pups were my babies before the baby… My husband and the dogs and I were a great little team. I remember being so worried that I wouldn't love them anymore once I had the baby. While I certainly still love them, it's been hard to give them the attention and affection they want and deserve (and they were starting to get chubby from fewer walks!). I recently started up with walking them more regularly and this post had some great additional tips. Thank you!

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  13. Ever since Cletus couldn't sit on my belly (due to a large baby bump) she has been feeling the neglect. Solly not so much, but he is not the brightest cat in the world. Cletus, on the other hand, gets those sulky eyes we all know about when she lays on the other couch, wistfully imagining my lap which is now full of toddler. Tonight I made sure to give her good pets and lots of ear massages, which she likes the very best. I try to remember that cats are easy, all I have to do is sit still and touch them to make them happy 🙂 Sometimes I am too tired for even that but I think they forgive me.

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  14. I found that I enjoyed my pets after having children because I viewed taking care of/spending time with them as part of my "non-mommy" time. If I was cleaning an aquarium or feeding a critter, then my husband knew he was on kid duty and they couldn't bug me LOL

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  15. I needed to read this. I too have had that exact thought. I have said out loud, "You are completely useless."
    I have found the opposite when it comes to dog care. When I give him a bath or clip his nails it makes me love him again. Whereas most of the time I feel absolutely nothing for him. He's just a nuisance. But when it comes to doggy hygiene, I remember that he's my sweet little guy who needs his owner to take care of him.

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  16. This post is great. I especially like #3 – lately I've been making sure to tote Ginger along with me on errands, walks, into school after hours to work on grading papers, etc – all the stuff she used to help with before the baby came along. I also think that her life has improved some since he was born – we take more walks together, spend more time in the backyard playing, and yes, there's WAY more food on the ground now. I can't wait until Miles is old enough to understand the concept of "gentle," because then I won't have to be so cautious about the two of them being together (I am super, super careful about toddler-dog interactions, because he's rough and she's sensitive).

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  17. Oh, I just wanted to throw something else out here – sometimes, in rare circumstances, a dog and a baby do NOT mix. When Miles was born, we had two dogs, both adult rescues. We did all the "prep dogs for baby" stuff. Ginger took to him right away and was always tolerant. Henry was TERRIFIED of the baby as soon as he was mobile. Our mellow, sweet dog would growl and bare his teeth whenever the baby crawled towards him, sometimes running away and sometimes (more worrisome) holding his ground and growling. I won't go into all the steps we took to try to improve their relationship – trust that there were many. In the end, we had to accept that Henry obviously had some issues with babies from his previous life that we weren't going to able to satisfactorily fix with our baby crawling around. And no matter how much we love our animals, our baby came first. Henry is now living with a young, single man, on 138 acres, and absolutely loving life. This is all just a reminder that your child's safety should ALWAYS come first – animals are animals, no matter how much we love them, and sometimes it's not a good match.

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    • I ran into this issue too. My old beagle ran across the room and almost bit my daughter who was 4months at the time in the face. It was a very hard decision to make but after finding the right person & doing a background check (I worked in a law office, very helpful!) I gave him a new child-free home (which included another beagle).

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  18. I love this! I am not a baby-mama yet, but I am totally a pet-mama. A dog-cats-mouse-fish-snail-mama.
    And I work in a grooming salon, and I wanted to share that I also have this feeling that nobody else could ever groom my pets! I am glad to hear that someone else felt the same way, hopefully I will be able to get over it too!

  19. I cried, no sobbed, bawled, and snotted all over myself the other day when i realized that my dogs had turned into, well, dogs. At least they turned into what I think most, um regular, not freaking insane gonna save every dog in the world dog people think of as a dog. I have 3 deaf dogs and they were my best friends and now my husband won't let em in the front room because he is afraid the babe will die of dog hair exposure i guess. They still sleep with us, but it's not the same as having 3 dogs to cuddle on the sofa with when you're cold. I am so crazy in love with my kiddo, but he doesn't cover as much area as a 100lb pooch to keep me toasty. My dogs were my first loves. My son is my one and only. I'm very torn on how to love them both at the same time… I feel guilty about loving my babe more than my pooches. On the other hand, my son doesn't lick the tears off my cheeks when i cry at sad movies. How do you make it okay for your dog to be a dog?

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    • Personally, I remind myself that my dog would RATHER be a dog – as long as they are well cared for and part of the family, animals aren't nearly as sensitive to shifts in roles as people are. If anything, they seem much more comfortable with change than their human counterparts.

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  20. thank you for this! I have a crazy nuerotic cat who had already been banished to mostly outdoors, (don't judge) i DID infact try EVERYTHING!!!! before bean was born I made time for her daily to be indoors so I could watch her and give her love. but things got busy and i was feeling terrible about my baby cat who i love as is, so now during storytime i take time for kitty too. and Bean knows not to pet her below the shoulders. the cats a maneater, my friends never believe me and they quickly learn.

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  21. My Husband and I are still in the planning for conception phase, but we are parents to two pups…who are convinced they're human babies!
    And even though I've been raised with animals my whole life, and a bit of an amateur trainer, I'm still worried about what will happen after we do start our family, and the focus won't be so acute on our dogs. (A Scottie and a Pomeranian, btw.) Despite all those annoying 'You'll seeeee…' comments that someone had mentioned already (UGH! I hate those!), I know that we'll never stop loving our furry babies, it will just be different.
    Thank you. <3

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