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Dear Doula: My Family Hates That My Dog Is My Baby And I Am Her Mom

Dear Doula - 

I can’t have kids myself and it’s taken me a long time to come to terms with that. Last year, I adopted a dog and my dog is my baby. I’m her mom and my partner is her dad. But my family laughs at us and refuses to call me her mom. My parents consistently tell me that you can't be a parent to a pet, and that I'll only be a mom if I have a child of my own. It really hurts - this might be the only way I am ever a mom and they don’t even acknowledge it. How can I get them to accept my furbaby as my baby?

Sincerely, She’s My Doghter

 

Dear She’s My Doghter

I’m so sorry to hear your family has been so hurtful! And I’m also sorry that you’ve had to deal with infertility. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to hear that news and process it. But let me say: you seem to be making the best of your situation by inviting love into your life in the form of a pet. Good on you!

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Woof. This is a tricky one, Doghter. On one hand, I understand exactly how much a pet can be a member of the family. On the other hand, I understand how frustrating it is to feel one’s work as a parent is disrespected or diminished by comparing it to having a dog. Some people might even feel insulted that their child is being put on the same “level” as a domestic animal. (But as mom to two toddlers, I can assure you that human kids sometimes act like FERAL animals!)

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The rebellious streak in me wants to tell you to ditch the unfeeling family. I don’t speak to my own father because he brings so much toxic behavior into my life; would this be something you might consider? It’s hard to tell if this is a new development or an old, annoying habit of theirs. You’ve gone to the lengths of DM’ing me so I’m going to assume you’ve reached your breaking point. You tell me, Doghter: is your family good for your mental health and wellbeing?

If not, I’d feel no shame in limiting contact with them. My dear sister, who is also an awesome dog-mama, once gave me a piece of advice she picked up along the way. “Some people are good for you and some people are bad for you. Sometimes the people that are bad for you happen to be family.”

Does that sound familiar?

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But that’s not your only option! If you’d like to build a relationship with them and you’re willing to bear through some rough patches, it’s just a matter of having a serious discussion. Ugh. I say “just”, but you and I both know that’s going to be a bit of a struggle! Put this into your own words, but maybe something along the lines of this might help you get started?

“I feel very hurt and belittled when you don’t call me and doghter a family. In our family, I am her mother and she is my baby. This may be the only way I get to experience motherhood, so understand that I am embracing it and won’t be changing my mind about this. For some reason, this choice doesn’t seem to sit well with you, because you make fun of me and refuse to acknowledge our relationship dynamic. I feel alienated and humiliated when you dismiss us. To be clear: I’m asking you to call me my dog’s mom and to consider my dog my baby. It costs you nothing to provide this basic consideration.”

And stop there. No need to say, “And if you don’t…” You should never need to make conditions or “threats” when you ask someone to change their hurtful behavior.

Be prepared to hear an earful of how “dogs aren’t humans” and so on. Of course they aren’t! I’m sure you’re not under the impression that a dog is exactly the same as a child. After all, human parents can’t board their kids in kennels to go on vacation. Human parents have to provide for a formal education by law. Human parents must daily clothe their kids. Dog parents may not have the same responsibilities and you should acknowledge that. BUT - none of those facts make your love for your doghter any less valid.

I hope this conversation goes well, Doghter! And if it doesn’t - well, your dog will always love you!

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