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The three parenting life-lessons I learned from my rescue mutt

The three parenting life-lessons I learned from my rescue mutt

Sometimes, advice on how to best bring up your kids can come from the most unlikely source – a faithful friend who serves also as a role model.

"Between my mommy-role-model-slash-dog and I, I reckon the kids will be okay."

Once I was a perfect parent. Then I had children. The end. This pretty much sums up my parenting journey thus far. I read all the books and subscribed to all the newsletters. I was going to be a rock star school governing body (SGB) mom.

10 years in, I know how foolish I was at the start and I’ve learnt some lessons. And some of those lessons came from a rather surprising source.

Three years ago, we adopted a mom-and-puppy duo who were thrown out of a second story window of an office block. We assume our Izzie is the runt of the litter, as Violet has a lot of border collie in her, so there must have been lots of black and white puppies that were way cuter than Izzie, our little curly-haired, tan-coloured runt.

They came with a lot of trust issues and once we dealt with that, it was humbling to see how much love they had to give and how pure and selfless that love is.

But at the moment, both mothers in the house are feeling challenged and almost defeated by their sprouts. We often find ourselves seeking refuge in the same corner of the house, trying to catch a break from the shock and awe.

It was during one of these shared moments that it dawned on me that Violet has been teaching me some valuable lessons.

Kids need affection and attachment

Izzie was a destructive puppy. We tried puppy school, unsuccessfully. In the end, her mother’s love, touch and guidance calmed her down a bit. On days when we have lots of foot traffic or people at our house, Violet goes into mom mode and grooms and touches Izzie, just to let her know everything’s okay.

This is especially handy for me, as my tween starts sprouting wings and braving the big, bad world. He might no longer want to hold my hand when we’re crossing a street or kiss me at drop off, but I know when he’s feeling overwhelmed or stressed, he comes looking for me, and there’s nothing that calms a confused little tween down as quickly as a back rub from mama or being able to put your head on her chest or tummy to make you forget about the scary world out there.

Let your child be the boss sometimes

Once upon a time Izzie was smaller than her mom. She is now the same size, and even though there’s still the unwritten hierarchy, she sometimes gets stroppy and tries to overpower her mom.

Violet will allow this up to a certain point, and when she has reached her limit there will be an I-mean-business-now bark or even a nip if Izzie is not listening.

My boundaries and rules are also constantly challenged, and sometimes there’s a straight-up coup attempt, usually done by trying to co-opt the other parent or a grandparent.

Just like Violet, I sometimes let it play out and I love seeing the empowerment my son feels when he thinks he has autonomy. His behaviour changes and he’s more cooperative, because he thinks he had a choice and say in the situation.

It’s okay to let them fail

There’s a raised rockery in our garden that gives a dog a bird’s view of our road. You can bark at perceived threats and show the world what a ferocious, man-eating beast you are.

The rockery is jagged so a dog has to know her way. When Izzie was younger, her mom would physically stop her and growl. I’ve watched Izzie suffer all sorts of undignified falls, and as she got older her mom allowed her further and further up until one day, she got to the top and barked her little heart out in triumph.

This made me realise that we should be a safe space where our kids can try and fail and learn about what it takes to get on your feet again. And to remember to be conscious about always being my son’s safe space where he can crash and burn and learn how to get back up and try again.

Izzie is never going to be Pup-of-the-Year at puppy school, and I’m never going to be the rock star SGB mom I envisaged when I saw my positive pregnancy stick. But between my mommy-role-model-slash-dog and I, I reckon the kids will be okay.

Rochelle Barrish

Change expert, Rochelle Barrish, believes that the big change equals big opportunity.

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