It wasn't long after we had returned from our honeymoon, sorted through our wedding gifts, and declared ourselves settled into our new home that I began to feel something was missing. Sure, I was incredibly happy to be married to my husband, but I really had the desire to share this new life of ours with something else... some living, breathing thing that required my care and attention.
Of course, my first thought was that we should have a baby. I tried unsuccessfully to convince my husband we should get pregnant right away - much sooner than the one to two years we had agreed upon. Eventually, though, we decided it would be best to start with a smaller commitment. Much to my delight, my husband finally fulfilled my long-time dream of being a proud cat owner, and we adopted my little orange pride and joy, Marla. As it turns out, this was just what I needed. It has filled my need to care for another living thing and provided an excellent stepping-stone for parenting.
If you and your new husband are thinking about having kids right away, consider getting a pet first. Here are five critical lessons we've learned as pet-owners that have helped prepared us for when kids actually come into the picture
Budgeting: "If having a cat is this expensive..." My husband warned me about the expenses of having a cat, but I vastly underestimated them in my head. I envisioned periodically paying for food and litter. After the $75 adoption fee, initial $200 trip to the pet store for supplies, and the $130 check-up at the vet, I was singing a different tune. Having a pet has painted a much clearer picture of the financial security we should have before adding kids to our family.
Discipline: "Don't dropkick the cat!" OK... my husband has never actually dropkicked the cat... but he's threatened to do it a time or two! Owning Marla has encouraged us to discuss discipline techniques - not only concerning our cat (who barely listens anyway), but also concerning our future children. We have gotten the chance to try out how we work as a team to consistently enforce discipline.
Shared Responsibility: "You hold her, I'll open her mouth..." Marla came to us with a condition that required an antibiotic. It was really a bonding moment when my husband and I joined forces to administer her oral medication, and it brought home the fact that we were jointly responsible for a living thing. We trust each other to make sure the cat is fed, watered, and safe every day, even in the other's absence. Building this trust and sense of shared responsibility is a critical step toward becoming a successful parenting team.
Lifestyle: "Do you think your parents would watch her?" My husband and I used to be able to take off for a weekend without thinking of anything but how much gas was in our cars. Now, we know we must take the cat's needs into consideration, whether that means providing the appropriate supply of food and water, asking someone to check in on her, or dropping her off at a gracious cat-sitter's house for a couple of days. This lifestyle change helps prepare us for the major adjustment we'll have to make when we need to plan our lives around our kids' care and well-being.
Selflessness: "But I just want to write..." I like to spend my evening hours (before my husband gets home) working out, eating dinner, cleaning, and writing. When Marla came into our lives, though, she had a different idea of how I should spend that time - namely, playing with her and allowing her to prance across my keyboard. Though I slightly resented her for it at first, it finally hit me that I had welcomed this little creature into my home, and it wasn't all about me anymore. Parenting is an extreme act of selflessness. From late-night feedings to spending money on them instead of us, we will have to sacrifice a lot of what we want to do for the good of our kids. Plus, I've gotten extremely good at multi-tasking!
Even though it's on a much smaller scale, having a pet has helped us alter some habits and attitudes that would have made us less prepared to have kids, and it has allowed us to practice some parenting skills ahead of time. If both partners are willing to make the commitment to caring for an animal, seriously consider getting a pet before you start having kids. Not only will you be training your pet, but your pet will be training you... to be parents!
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