I was childless from my first marriage late in my Twenties, and single the next ten years. Married, for the second and last time at the age of forty, I became an instant parent. Not that I was unaccustomed to taking care of others’ needs during my adult life. If you consider four-legged children, I have been a parent for two-thirds of my life. I once joked that the primary difference between dogs and kids, is that you can put dogs outside, even in the rain, and leave them unattended for a time. Do that with kids and you will find the Child Protective Services cops on your doorstep!
Dogs are very good training for folks wanting to become parents as it takes a lot of the same qualities: Selflessness. Endless patience. Lots of grace. Love. Needing frequent focused attention, dogs and kids share similar penchant for mischief when you least expect it, and can make a mess of themselves and their living spaces in the short span of time. However, unlike raising dogs, teenagers go awry – discarding all the careful instruction we have provided, and operate mostly due to hormones. Behavioral issues, discipline problems, inattention to their “pack” leader, and independence may be also in maturing dogs, but then, particularly with adopted animals, we can neuter them to mitigate those issues. With kids, we can only hope as parents that they will not procreate until they have the maturity to be parents.
Until retiring ten years ago, I had a career in the military with all the expected military behaviors ingrained. Instilling a similar mindset in my household has been generally ineffective. The dogs know what time is reveille. They know whom they can rely on to feed them and who will walk them. Kids had to set 3 alarms to get moving. Dexter bangs a cabinet to request a biscuit. Our children, while still living at home, would rarely make mealtime but knew to retrieve it from the fridge and re-heat it. Comet and Dexter know to follow my wife to the kitchen as they generally get something. I have through error instilled that we take the kitchen trash out, to the garage, or directly to the waste bins to keep Comet from his inner trash-demons. Though our two eldest sons know now the calendar routine -wife or partner probably enforce it, trash going out to the curb on set days was a novel concept for most of their childhood.
The eldest of our sons did a tour in the Army. I was so enthralled the first time he came home and immediately began cleaning the kitchen with military precision. However, several months out of the Army, and a parent of a toddler, his precision is all akimbo. When they call Gramma to say they are coming over to visit I add thirty minutes to their stated arrival. Most often, the optimism is expecting a toddler to nap or to be fed by a particular time, and then in packing all the accessories for a visit.
His next younger brother became a banquet and wedding planner, with a practiced eye to precise arrangements, fine food, and drink. When he visits he often brings a toy for both. Dexter engages while Comet looks on perplexed. On some of his visits, our son will bring gourmet treats to his mother in fancy boxes; for someone who routinely shops at Target, I more often share Comet’s same perplexed look. Sometimes I wish the adult who still believes Dexter is “his” dog would drop by a bag of dog chow or a spare dog collar to dear ol’ dad.
Our youngest adult son “boomerang”ed in our home for the most of the last seven months. I think the previous opportunity to live on his own was way too much liberty without the necessary maturation. Now he prepares meals for himself and for his working parents’ lunches – not microwaves; he contributes to the common area (kitchen) cleaning not just by wiping grease; and he knows how to get himself to work on a set schedule and return . Has a handle on most of his ‘poor roommate’ bachelor habits this time around. Though he does frequently leave out a folding chair on the driveway.