I got a dog. I unexpectedly became a better parent.

Instant Prozac

Every few days one of my kids will ask, “Do you love Chloe more than you love me?”

Or some variation like, “If the house was on fire and you could only save one of us or the dog, who would you choose?”

We first spotted Chloe zipping around a front yard, tossing an empty yogurt cup in the air before attacking it with fury.  She was a long-haired Chihuahua mix and the last of the litter. My husband and I still marvel at that today in the mushy voices reserved for dogs and babies. “Why last?  You’re the cutest, most special, most beautiful, most goo-goo eyed good girl in the whole world.” The owner of the puppies must have shielded Chloe — her favorite —from the public until no more puppies remained. That’s how we explain that.

We drove home with Chloe in my lap, her chin resting on the yogurt cup between her paws. She was to be my 8-year-old’s birthday present.

But it was clear to everyone: Chloe was mine.

She follows me from room to room. She greets me with the joyful relief of  a rescinded Amber Alert when I return home.  When I’m napping and a kid disturbs me, she brings the same fury to them that she does the yogurt cup.

Right to be suspicious

My kids have their reasons for asking who I love more:

FaceTime photo bomb: I like having my picture taken.

  • I say hello to Chloe first when I come home. Because she’s there waiting. My girls may not be bothered to look up from their electronic devices.
  • I labor over her snacks at the supermarket. Will she like this one? And didn’t my dental hygienist say these snacks were bad for dogs? The kids get Goldfish, some fruit and I’m done.
  • I used to record video and snap pictures of my kids on my iPhone. Now I more often video and photograph Chloe. She’s a better subject. The girls stick out their tongues or snatch the iPhone from me and erase the most adorable pictures for fear it will ruin their street cred.

And why shouldn’t I lavish some extra attention on her because unlike my kids:

  • She comes when I call, tail wagging. My kids claim they fail to hear me. Every time.
  • She never says this is yucky at dinner. (At least not audibly.)
  • When I say let’s go, she hops in the car. She doesn’t complain that wherever we are going is boring. She doesn’t make a rolling garbage can out of my car. She doesn’t make rude comments about my choice of music.
  • She only whines when it’s been too long since she’s been outside or we fail to share our popcorn. My kids whine when we’re out of their favorite cereal, their favorite school uniform skirt isn’t hanging where they expect or another kid changed the TV channel.

Little dog, big impact

Here’s the unexpected thing about being a dog owner. All 8 pounds of her have made me a better parent. Let me count the ways…

I am more chill.

I have bouts of teeth-grinding anxiety. But when she’s beside me and I stroke her fur, it disappears. The anxiety slips away — subtly and without labor, unlike the deep breathing I practice. She’s instant Prozac without the side effects. Happy mom, happy children.

I check myself before I wreck myself.

Chloe doesn’t like loud dissention in the house. Like most chihuahuas, she has the tremble factor. When I’m screeching at the kids that the living room looks like last night’s frat party and I see Chloe shaking under the table, I bring it down a notch. Or two.

I take breaks. More often. 

If I’ve been toiling away too long, usually on the computer, Chloe will offer a low growl. This means get up and do something else. She doesn’t care that it has anything to do with her, but she, too, has been in the same spot for too long. That’s good for me, but also my kids because after the break I’m reset. I’m out of my head and may actually be able to pay attention when one of my children is speaking.

Being near is enough.

I practice pack love.

When the kids want me to watch some TV show with stupid parents, condescending kids and jokes I see coming from a mile away, I don’t want to. But I do. Because Chloe demonstrates that being near your peeps is pack love and it’s important.

I forgive and forget. Faster.

I can think of no finer example of how to practice forgiveness than my dog. Step on her tail, she yelps and is over it. She even licks your toes to let you know it’s OK and she’s sorry if she did anything to cause it. Think that doesn’t translate into practicing fast forgiveness with your kids? You’d be wrong because the buoyancy of being let off the hook for a wrong is so liberating that I want to pay it forward. Even to the kid who has kicked over the milk glass she put on the carpet for the upteenth time.

Do I love her more?

So when the children ask, do you love Chloe more than you love us, I immediately say no. OK. Maybe first I like to watch them squirm a little.

I don’t love Chloe more. But I am, since she came into my life two years ago, definitely able to love you, dear children, better.