People: Do you have children?

Me: Why yes, I have one son. He’s a canine and my pride and joy.

People: Dogs don’t count. They’re not real children and you’re not a real mom.

Me: … (possibly crying)

Really, what’s the best response to this conversation? I know you’ve been there! Do I weepily say “I am so a real mom!,” say nothing and walk away or throw a punch (just kidding on that last one, never punch anybody!).

Why does this matter?

More and more people are delaying and even forgoing having children. Studies show we love dogs more than people most of the time. Mothers with both human and canine children report loving them all equally.

So why can’t I think of myself as my dog’s mom?

Is it because the “mom” culture (you know, that idea that moms are more important than us “childless” women which is certainly more about the media than the moms) doesn’t want it? Is it because some experts think it’s bad for the dog? Perhaps the Universe doesn’t want me to be happy. No, that’s not it!

So, assuming – as I do – that the Universe wants me to be happy, what is the big deal about calling myself my dog’s mom that gets people so upset?

“Real” mom’s don’t like it. Hmmm…. The notion of who is a “real” mom is changing and we dog moms can also play a part. Ask any childless woman over 30 if she has ever experienced the weird “moms are better than non-moms” thing and I’m sure she’ll have a story or two like one place I worked where it was OK for parents to be late because kids are fussy but if a non-parent was late they were lazy or had been out partying too hard. This isn’t the fault of the parents, it’s a problem with the perceptions of the people making those assumptions.

Don’t get me wrong, I love moms. My sister is a mom and my mom was the best mom ever. I actually respect how hard it is to parent small humans and help them grow into decent adults with all the interference society throws at you. It’s hard work and most moms do it while also working full-time jobs and doing the lion’s share of the work at home to boot. Moms are awesome and there’s no doubt about that.

But those of us for one reason or another who never got to be a mom to a human child still want to love and nurture and guide a sentient being into adulthood. We want to share our wisdom and care about teeth brushing and bedtimes and birthdays. We want to be part of that larger conversation on the meaning of “good” parenting.

This brings me to the folks who say this is bad for dogs. Yes, it can be bad for dogs if taken literally or to extremes. I’m not suggesting anyone cradle their dog in their arms feeding a bottle and cooing over the cute onsie they are wearing. That’s not really to your dog’s benefit. Literally treating a dog like a human child can be harmful to your dog. That’s why good dog moms know that parenting pups is about providing the care, training and enrichment that dogs need to thrive and be emotionally stable and not about simulating the human mom-child dynamic. That’s just silly.

So, yeah, I AM a REAL MOM to a dog and not a human but it’s still valid and fulfilling and provides a framework in which I – and other dog parents – can think about and care for these amazing animals that have evolved alongside us for thousands of years and who are thinking, feeling, sensitive and sentient beings.

Using the revered title of “Mother” to describe the relationship I have with my dog is a way to express the depth of the lifelong commitment I have made to him. Like any loving mother, I will care and provide for him through life’s changes whether it’s convenient or expensive or frustrating.

We are so far beyond the idea that dogs are beasts who can’t feel and who are meant to live in the yard and are definitely not part of the family. When we moved dogs into our homes and into our very beds, we changed the nature of our relationship. I don’t want to be my dog’s “owner.” That may be legally what I am but it says nothing about what we are to each other. Mom, on the other hand, is much closer to the truth.

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