For some of us, life without pets is inconceivable. In fact, there are even some who’ll admit they love their family pet more than anything. The National Institute of Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, offers a substantial list of big potential benefits to owning a pet, including lowering cortisol levels, a stress-related hormone. So sure, pets can make our lives better, right? Maybe not. What if your pets cause more stress in your life?
I’ve been lucky with most of my pets, though they haven’t been without problems. A recent conversation with a close friend made me wonder just how much stress pets are causing grown-ups. She and I were chatting about her upcoming family road trip they planned to include their pup on. When her kids were out of earshot, my friend whispered, “I can’t stand Rocky, and I don’t want him to come with us at all!”
Rocky, their rescue dog, could be an absolute sweetheart — but he was also a handful. So, not wanting to take a ten-hour road trip with a high-maintenance dog wasn’t surprising. What was surprising is that I’d had no idea how much she secretly disliked the dog.
Establish Boundaries Upfront — Or Learn to Live With It
As moms, we put up with a lot. We put a smile on our faces for our kids, play when we don’t feel like playing, craft when we’d rather do anything else but craft. But enduring life with a member of the household you can’t stand? That’s a new level of mom-pression (when mothers suppress their real feelings for the sake of their kids’ happiness).
Even if you don’t adore your kid’s pets as much as they do, we all know you’ll end up tolerating them. Whether that’s a hamster, a surly cat, or — in one mom’s case — a jar of pillbugs, it’s not exactly rare to have an aversion to pets. This can stem from childhood trauma, it can be a lifestyle choice, or you might find pets a hassle.
One mom I spoke to, Emily, inherited a cat with major behavioral issues, including “smothering plants and eating clothing.” This cat does not get along with other cats, even after years of living together. When her ex left the cat behind, Emily’s kids were too attached to it for Emily to rehome it. And though Emily’s now 16-year-old daughter is responsible for Coco’s care, Emily’s relationship with the cat isn’t exactly lowering her cortisol levels.
“She sometimes cuddles with me, but mostly, we share a mutual dislike and distrust of each other,” Emily told me. And to complicate things, Emily’s daughter will be studying abroad for a year in the fall. “I’m trying to persuade my oldest, who is 19 and plans to move in with their partner, to take the cat in,” she said. “We’ll see. My fingers are crossed.”
Writer and mom Jamie Davis Smith has had an aversion to pets nearly her whole life. Despite this, she allowed her daughter to get a hamster. Even after Vice President Kamala Harris came and hand-fed the hamster kale, Jamie still wasn’t a fan. “I was kind of glad we got the hamster for about five minutes after that,” Smith told me.
Encourage Your Kids to Do Their Research
Jamie suggests parents like her make sure their kids are ready. Before they got the hamster, Jamie had her daughter do all the research for supplies, care, and a budget. “If kids aren’t willing to get ready for having a pet, they aren’t ready to care for a pet,” Smith told me. Plus, as Smith pointed out, “Since hamsters have a pretty short lifespan (usually two years) compared to other pets (like dogs or cats), I figured if the kids didn’t take care of our pet well enough, it wasn’t a long-term commitment if I had to fully take over.”
My friend Liz was traumatized when a dog mauled her as a child. When her daughters were young, they begged her for a puppy. Eventually, Liz allowed them to adopt two small-breed dogs, and now the family even has a large-breed dog. Though she has largely overcome her fear of dogs, they’ll never be her preferred company. There’s no shortage of love for animals in her household, but she really doesn’t like them. “I’d honestly rather not have a single pet,” she told me.
Tough Out Some Quality Time
So, apart from just enduring and encouraging your children to be the ones to be the primary caregivers, what else can you do to make the situation more tolerable? Alysper M. Cormanes, DVM at Veterinarians.org, advises parents to spend more time with the pet doing some of the more enjoyable tasks their child loves, like feeding, grooming, or playing.
Ultimately, she reminds parents, “If you have done everything and still can’t seem to find a reason to bond with the pet, dealing with it is as easy as asking the question, ‘How much does this pet mean to my child?’ Every parent only wants happiness for their children, so by extension, caring for their beloved pet also guarantees this. You can gradually form a connection with their pets if you see them as an extension of your child’s happiness and comfort.”
Consider These Tried-and-True Tips & Tricks
Still struggling to deal? These ideas might help make things easier:
- If you have a dog that doesn’t listen to you, consider obedience classes (taken with the pet) to encourage the dog to respect you and possibly help you bond.
- Hire a dog walker. Was this a task your kids swore they’d do? Been there.
- Likewise, if you’re stuck cleaning the hamster cage, consider paying a pet caregiver to do it and take it out of your kid’s allowance.
- Cats are finicky, but there are some tricks to curb bad behavior, like jumping on counters. This might make a difference in how you feel about them.
- Try to designate at least one room in your house where your pet is not allowed. For example, you may have a home office, spare bedroom, or primary bedroom you can make a pet-free zone. (“Sanctuarrrry!”)
- If your kid begs for a pet, try something shorter-lived, like a fish, to test their engagement.
In the end, as long as that pet is being properly fed and cared for, it’s not a crime to dislike your child’s pet. Like humans, animals are individuals and have individual personalities. Not everyone has to be besties; it just helps.