Apples & Oranges
(Disclaimer: I’ll need the mothers reading this post to bare with me through this one.)
Walking my dogs around the neighborhood this evening I was thinking on how much I enjoy these moments but how much more I’m anticipating taking my little son on walks in the near future. I began thinking through what all that meant, and though I spend most of my thoughts trying to prepare myself for the realities of what motherhood will mean, I wanted to spend this crisp evening thinking on all the fun parts. Playing outside, exploring and adventuring, cuddles and kisses, his little fingers wrapped around mine.
But am I ready? Probably not. And yet, hopefully so. Watching my fur babies prance happily along beside I got this strange urge of confidence. There are many ways I feel being a “dog mom” for the past seven years has prepared me (in some basic ways) for being a “human mom.” But bare with me, I’m going to be comparing apples to oranges…
If I don’t feed and water my dogs, they go hungry and thirsty. If I don’t take them outside to go potty, they’d go inside. If I didn’t take them on walks and give them exercise, they wouldn’t get it. If I didn’t bath and groom them, they’d be a stinky, ratty mess. Basically, they rely on me as their basic caregiver.
A baby is coming into our world in the next five months. I’m not going to lie, that’s a terrifying thought. A baby is even less self-sufficient than a dog. They have to be taught a lot of things that are innate to animals. If I neglect my animals I can be fined $250,000 or up to a year in prison. If I neglect my child, it could be a life sentence. Obviously, I would never intentionally neglect either, but even the law understands the weight of this caregiving role. But I can do it, I must. I take care of myself well enough, and my pets and my husband I might add. What’s one more? Well, we will see.
“She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” (Proverbs 31:27-28)
My dogs are a product of our training and discipline, especially the little one that we raised from a puppy. Their good behaviors, and bad, exist because I allow them. My dogs know sit, stay, and lay down because I taught them. My dogs know they are to walk beside me on the leash, not in front, because I taught them. They know my angry tone and my happy tone. The little one gets too excited when people come over and will jump on your legs, because before we realized that wasn’t something he would grow out of, we allowed it. It isn’t his fault. But as we work on good behaviors, and try to fix bad ones, I have to be patient with the training and consistent with my discipline. My consistent behavior encourages theirs. They need to learn: “If I do this, then this will happen.” Cause and effect.
Humans are the same. We learn behaviors based on how we’re taught to behave, what is acceptable and what is not. From childhood we learn: “If I touch a hot stove, then my hand will burn.” Cause and effect. “If I talk to my mom that way, then I will get in trouble.” Patient teaching and consistent discipline is vital to a child’s learning. Easier said than done, certainly. Especially when you’ve told/shown/explained to the subject a hundred times and they aren’t seeming to understand. Or when you’re exhausted and have nothing left to give.
If I want to go out of town, my first thought is, “Who will watch the dogs?” If I want to go out to dinner after being at work all day, I have to think about how long the dogs have been put up, how they need to go outside, and how they need to eat. On a less significant scale, when I’m comfortable on the couch watching a tv show and they need to potty, I have to stop what I’m doing to take them. Because I remember that if I don’t, then no one else will. (Of course husband helps when he’s home.) I’ve learned to arrange my plans with them in consideration. They don’t take up a largely significant amount of time or money, but they do take up some.
On a much larger scale of mental shifting and general selflessness, a baby will require practically all of my time and energy. I will learn selflessness as I have never known it before. My first thought when considering going out of town will certainly be, “Who will watch our son?” And if I want to go out to dinner, well, I’m sure this will go in varying stages but in the beginning it will be about how I might have to breastfeed in the ladies restroom. My whole life will be arranged by this darling, helpless, entirely reliant little human.
Many of you, especially those who aren’t “pet people,” will not relate with this one. But I love my dogs. A lot. They bring comfort and warmth to my life and home. When I’m out of town, I miss them and can’t wait to be reunited. When I’m gone all day, I look forward to coming home and seeing their wagging tails and snuggling with them on the couch. My dogs, in many ways, mean home. So needless to say, I’m a bit attached to the fur-balls. But I do remind myself (in a totally healthy and non-morbid way) that they are just dogs. And they will only be with me about 10 – 12 years before they’ll leave me. And as much as I like to believe they do sometimes, they don’t have souls. I have friends whose attachments to their pets outweigh my own, and sometimes it’s unhealthy. Unhealthy for the pet, you can usually tell by the behavior of the pet, and unhealthy for the human.
Likewise, you can tell the mothers who have an extreme attachment to their children. I understand all (or most) mothers have a maternal attachment to their children, but what I’m talking about is something so much more. The mothers who allow their children to rule their homes and lives, who find their identity in their children. These mothers risk suffocating their children and neglecting their marriages. I would know, I’ve been on the receiving end.
But then I hear the voice of one of best friends, “My job is to raise healthy, good humans to go out into the world and make it a better place.” In my opinion, this friend has a healthy attachment to her girls. She loves them, serves them selflessly, and is the most patient teacher; but she doesn’t try to be their best friend, she understands the majority of her influence on them will last approximately 18 years, and she prioritizes her own marriage, health, and life in a balanced way (or the most balanced way she can). And her girls are wonderful humans, they’re pleasant to be around, they’re smart and kind. That’s what I want.
I also want to take that same totally healthy, non-morbid way of thinking and remember that life is uncertain. I could be taken from my son or my son could be taken from me. Life isn’t guaranteed, it’s a gift. And God is sovereign and I don’t always understand His ways or reasons. It is even possible, though unlikely, that we could walk into that hospital some snowy day at the end of January and one of us (or both) might not make it out. A terrifying thought of course, but a possibility. I think about these realities not to be depressing, but because I want to always be mindful of eternity and where my identity is found. More importantly, I want to teach my son this. When we have all come and gone, God is what remains.
Yet if the Lord wills it, then I will live a long life teaching my son about the love of a perfect Father.
“So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)