Whether you are a dog mom, rabbit mom, lizard mom, plant mom, or human mom - mom guilt is real. It’s absolutely something I’ve experienced while raising Pax. I use to be what the books call, “accommodating”…. Now that I am aware of this tendency I try to do it less but I’m not perfect, and it’s something I deal with often.
I feel guilty if I didn’t get Pax to the park and only took him on two walks. I feel guilty if I’ve spent the whole day immersed in my work while sitting in one spot the entire day and forget to check Pax’s water. I feel guilty if I haven’t taken him out around the same time in the morning. I feel guilty if I’m not playing with him. I feel guilty if I leave the house for over 3 hours. I feel guilty.
It’s tough for me to accept that I can’t do it all. It’s extremely, extremely, challenging to think, “wow I did so much today I should be proud.” Instead, I think “wow, I didn’t do enough today”…It’s something I am constantly working on in my life. I am constantly reminding myself that I am deserving, that I do enough, and that I am worthy. We really need that as Moms (and again, it' doesn’t matter what kind of mom you are because if you are taking care of someone besides yourself, you are “nurturing” or “mothering” that person/thing/animal, etc.)
The absolute best part of starting Pax’s account is the thousands of dog mom’s I can connect to daily. I know that I’m not alone and that there are people I can reach out to if I have questions on something related.
Sarah Varan is one of those people. Sarah reached out to me months ago wanting to contribute to Leader of the Pax. She has also offered me encouragement, support, and engagement with both my accounts, paxthedood and Leader of the Pax. I was so excited when she wanted to do a piece on dog mom guilt because it’s such a real topic. Below Sarah transcribes her experience with raising her puppy, Mina... AND she adds in what she’s been doing to combat the guilt! Enjoy! xoxo
Dog Mom Guilt IS REAL!
by Sarah Varan
Did you happen to read Nikki’s post on 7 things to think about before you get a puppy? See number 5 – Ready to be less selfish? Well, that’s exactly how I felt when we welcomed home our sweet girl, Mina, in May 2018. I was ready. I knew that getting a puppy meant putting her needs before mine and my husband’s, and I was ready to embrace it. Like Nikki, I’m also of the opinion that being less selfish is not a bad thing! Putting other’s needs ahead of your own is one of the most loving and kind things you can do for another, especially when it’s for your new pup. And that’s exactly what I did from day one, Mina came first in almost every way. What I didn’t realize was that Ialso openedthe door for some serious dog-momguilt.
Guilt is a sneaky bugger and grabs a hold of our thoughts when we least expect it.
Here’s how it played out for me….It was clear that our beautiful Mina was a very active, curious and social pup, often needing hours of exercise and stimulation every day. We established our family routine, which meantone of us playedwith Mina, while the other hada quick bite to eat, dida few choresor errands, and maybe hada 5 minute shower – just the bare minimum so we could get back to playing with our girl! Because Mina needed a lot of activity, I spent my evenings outside with her, either playing, walking, or trying to teach her new things. I poured most of my time, and all of my energy into her.
Fun Fact - Mina never got tired! Whoever said young puppies nap a lot, lied.
I started comparing Mina and myself to other dogs and owners, in real life and on the internet. I tried not to let it all get to me, but I definitely spiraled a few more times than I’d like to admit. Why couldn’t I get Mina to walk nicely on leash? How come she didn’t understand potty training as well as her brother? She’s peeing in the house 20 times a day, that couldn’t be normal. Why doesn’t Mina cuddle with us? Why does she hate me?! I really thought I’d be a good dog mom. Why am I so bad at this? What am I doing wrong???
My confidence was lacking and I refused to give myself a break. All I wanted was to be the best mom and give her the best life. I felt like I would be letting her (and myself and my husband) down if I couldn’t keep up with it all. Don’t get me wrong, most days the good outweighed the bad. We fell deeply in love with Mina, and she brought a joy into our home that we never imagined. Loving her has been the most positive experience I’ve had. But at the time, I was confused, exhausted and very emotional. As the puppy-moon phase wore off, my mom guilt started to grow…
In the beginning, I temporarily lost my love for self-care, and although I’m working on it, it’s still a challenge for me today. The guilt of leaving Mina during the work week really affected how I chose to spend my free time. And 99% of the time, I chose Mina. I would book appointments and then cancel them because I couldn’t bear to leave her (I didn’t really need physiotherapy for my bad shoulder). I barely did groceries or cooked real food because it meant taking time away from my girl (hello Instacart, take-out, and boxed mac & cheese!).
My husband and I used to go on dates regularly, but it was hard to justify leaving Mina crated for longer than absolutely necessary (cue huge amounts of guilt, both for crating Mina and for not getting enough one-on-one time with my husband). I used to do yin yoga each night to wind down before bed. But Mina would bark at the sight of my mat, and chew on me as I tried to relax on the floor. So I completely stopped. Before Mina I was a regular at my favorite barre fitness class, used to go for a power walk each weekend, and went to yoga class. But why would I leave my puppy for a silly workout?? I simply couldn’t go to the gym anymore, who cares that my body ached from lack of exercise and stretching.
It was guilt on the daily for one reason or another, which meant I spent a ton of time with Mina to make up for it. But why was that so bad? I knew getting a puppy would mean being less selfish. I knew being her mama meant that her needs come first, and mine and my husband’s second. And being with Mina is absolutely the best feeling in the whole world. Igive her unconditional love, and I get it back tenfold.
Well, in January 2019, after 9 months of feeling “not good enough” in so many ways, I knew things had to change. I needed a shift in mindset and priorities. Calm the guilt and self doubt, find my confidence and live more in the moment.
Here are 6 things that i’ve learned:
1. I had to take away the idea of being the “perfect” dog mom, it’s unrealistic, and I can’t possibly live up to it. Adjusting my expectations and changing my inner dialogue eased so much of my anxiety.
2. I had to understand that giving Mina quiet time is not hurting her. I now use a soft harness on her inside the house when it’s time to calm down and relax. She doesn’t love it, but she doesn’t resist it either. When it’s on, she lays down and takes a nap, and sometimes she even cuddles! And surprisingly, the harness has dramatically helped us with potty training.
3. Self-care! For me that means going for a walk, a relaxing bath, a workout class, movie, and sometimes it means reading a book with no interruptions.
4. Date night! Spending time with my husband, without Mina.
5. Change the way I internalize social media…honestly I’m not sure how I feel about social media, or what role it will play for me going forward, if any. I do, however, enjoy the community of dog-mamas, supporting each other, and sharing stories, tips and advice!
6. Make my time with Mina count – I take her on longer walks, go to a new location, try a new activity, attempt a new trickor new trainingitem. We form a better bond when we’re not just doing the same old thing (and hopefully tire her out!).
I was actually worried about making changes, especially changing my mindset. I almost feel a sense of comfort in my own guilt, self-doubt and anxiety, so if I work on getting over the things that are holding me back, what will keep me going? Turns out there’s a lot of good stuff! I’m a great dog mom! I’m finding my voice and confidence and it’s so empowering. Mina is a wonderful, happy, silly and smart dog. It’s also no coincidence that I find her calming down lately, as she approaches her first birthday (she’s also so close to being potty trained!). Comparing Mina and myself to others isn’t serving a purpose in my life, it’s actually devaluing what we have. And we have a pretty awesome life! We have amazing friends - human and fur buddies - that we never would have met were it not for Mina. We spend time outside, appreciating our beautiful city and the nature all around us. We have so much fun, we’re constantly laughing and at how silly and crazy Mina is, and yet she brings peace and balance to our lives. There will still be times where I question if I’m doing a good job, and feel guilty for crating her, or not spending enough time with her. But I feel more equipped to handle those feelings. I choose to focus on what a blessing Mina is. I choose to live happily in each precious moment that I have with her. I’m so grateful to be her mama.