Pet care on our children’s shoulders

Our pets are there when we need them, providing companionship and love. And they’re consistent — they seem to always be up (except for cats — who can figure them out?).

Pets provide our kids with a wonderful opportunity to learn responsibility. Most of us agree to take pets into our homes with the proviso that they are our kids’ responsibility. Our kids must feed them, clean their messes, and tend to their houses, cages, or tanks. But all too often, we end up trudging along behind Fifi with the pooper-scooper or transferring Goldie and Hawn into a mixing bowl so we can scrub the rocks in their fish tank.

It doesn’t have to be like that. We can keep the responsibility of pet care on our children’s shoulders, but it takes real parental chutzpah. One mother of two girls lived by the mealtime motto “I feed only four mouths.” If her daughters hadn’t fed the family’s cat and dog by 5:00 p.m., then the four mouths were Mom, Dad, cat, and dog. “You’re not eating dinner tonight, ” Mom would explain to her daughters, “because I used my energy feeding Fred and Charlemagne instead.”

If that technique doesn’t get results, then wise parents will attempt to find the pet a different owner. Explain kindly and without criticism to the children, “Buster really needs somebody who will feed him on a regular schedule, ” or, “Budgee needs someone who will always clean the cage because he really must have his cage cleaned.” Then give the animal away.

Another point of view that is acceptable to the authors of Love and Logic is that parents take care of the pets, and the kids take care of the parents by doing adult chores to replace the time and energy expended by the parents.

The other alternative is to take care of the pets ourselves. But if our children know that Smokey will be fed by Mom or that Rodent’s cedar chips will be changed by Dad, they’ll cease to worry about Smokey or Rodent. Pet care is then our problem, not theirs. The choice is ours.

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