coParenting & the Healing Power of Pets
Pets can be some of the most incredible and powerful sources of comfort, so they are great for helping cope with your new coParenting relationship. There is nothing like a dog’s excitement to see you after a long day or the happiness you can feel when a cat snuggles on your lap. In fact, scientists have been reporting for years that the purr of a cat can actually heal.
My family has always been an animal family — owning dogs, cats, and fish over the years. So when I went through a divorce, I knew pets would be in our future. To this day, we have two dogs, a cat, and two fish tanks. They’ve helped us tremendously with our transition, and it wouldn’t be our home without them. Not only are they good for coParents but especially children going through divorce and big changes in life.
Now I know pets aren’t for every family. They require a lot of work, you have to walk them, feed them, and find someone to care for them when you aren’t home. But I can tell you from personal experience that the annoyance and frustration they can create is well worth it in the end. Plus, they can really help bring calmness, normalcy, and stability to a divorced, coParenting, or single parenting household.
In the past several years, we’ve added a kitten and puppy to our home. There were times when I wondered, “What have I done?” All in all, though, I would do it all over again. Because these animals have helped us all get through tough times. Now my kids’ dad and I both have pets, and here are some of the healing powers we’ve witnessed first-hand.
- Pets give kids something to look forward to. Whether you have your kids full time or part-time, your pet won’t care. They will always be glad to see the kids — welcoming them, licking them, and making them feel immediately at home. If you’re considering adding a pet to your home, make sure you involve your kids in the process. This will help them bond with the new addition and help them accept responsibility from the start.
- They teach great responsibility. This can be so incredibly valuable, as long you’re ready to be tough! Plus, it encourages responsibility at home, especially when kids are splitting their time. One big piece of advice: don’t let the pet chores to fall onto the adult. Make an agreement up front with your kids to help walk the dog, feed the cat, and clean up after the pet. Then on the days that they are with you, make sure they follow through. Enforcing these chores so they know they have a job at your house will build responsibility and character.
- Pets help meet the natural need to nurture. Most of us have that natural need to nurture, and a great way to channel this urge is through a pet. Kids have this need too, even at a young age. Encourage your kids to share stories and photos with their other parent. They should be proud that they are helping take care of the pet.
- They turn a house into a home. Pets really do bring life into a home, even if they sometimes bring it at inopportune times (like 5 AM). Don’t let the occasional early morning potty break stop you though. Pets will eventually fall into a routine with your family and when they do, the warmth and love is worth the trouble. Plus, when you’re challenged with establishing new surroundings for your kids, pets can really help ease the transition, making it easier and quicker.
- Pets give unconditional love. It’s true, especially for dogs. You can yell or be mad at your dog one minute, and they immediately forgive and forget, wanting you to give them love and affection the next. Your kids get unconditional love from you, no doubt, but somehow when it comes from a pet, they really feel it and soak it up. With a coParenting situation, sometimes kids feel stressed or uncomfortable. They might not always be comfortable voicing those concerns to you, but a pet can give them the emotional support they need.
If you’re not quite ready to take on the responsibility of a dog or even a cat, no worries. You could test out having a pet by being a foster parent or even pet sitting for a friend. It might also help your coParent get used to the idea too. If you want to start out easy, consider a fish. After all, we know that watching fish can bring on a calming effect, and it’s a relatively low-maintenance place to start.
Don’t forget if you do go down the road of having a pet to make it something the whole family does together. It’s also good to mention it to your coParent upfront so they can help offer support and be part of the conversation with your kids. Good luck finding the right pet! May you find an animal that your entire family will enjoy for years to come.