It’s a huge responsibility to care for a domesticated animal. With a family of five with ADHD, sometimes I wonder what we were thinking. After all, who needs another mouth to feed, much less one that can’t communicate effectively when she’s hungry?
Frankly, it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, I hate the feeling of not knowing if the dog was fed. The bowl is empty, but is she finished, or did someone forget? On the other hand, I can’t imagine life without a four-legged dependent cruising around my house (though I might have to limit the bones lying around as my age advances—they’re dangerous!).
In the end, the gifts of having a pet far exceed the challenges—even when the family has a heavy dose of ADHD.
When you have ADHD, your greatest challenge is to learn to live with it effectively. If managed with awareness, raising a pet can actually be a helpful support strategy for ADHD. It can provide:
• adults with practice before having a child
• kids with training in responsible relationships
• accountability for using systems and structures
• practice managing impulsivity
• comfort and companionship (and energy release)
These are five really good reasons to include a pet in your family. Let's talk about the first two this week. Next week we'll cover the last three.
Pets are good practice
Raising a dog is a lot like raising a child, really. You are responsible for another living being, and for everyone and everything she or he touches. It requires emotional investment and significant resources (both time and money).
Shortly after we began our married life, my husband and I tested our parenting chops with an adorable puppy named Hobbie. We arranged our weekends around walks to the park and laughed endlessly about the antics of a puppy. We went to owner training school (let’s be serious, we know who’s really being trained!), and installed a doggie door to foster independence.
When Hobbie was six months old, we created Irish twins with the addition of a new puppy, Sasha. Those two lovely animals raised each other well, despite our nervous, hyperattentive new-parent overinvolvement. By the time our daughter was born, Sasha and Hobbie had trained us well to give ourselves over to the love of a child.
In a strange but genuine way, we felt at least somewhat ready to take on the awesome responsibility of raising a child. Do any new parents ever feel completely ready?)
Training ground for responsible relationships
To have a pet is to be in relationship with another being—and that requires skills all children can benefit from cultivating. A pet offers the chance for kids (and sometimes grownups) to care for another being who is completely dependent. It’s an awesome obligation, if you think about it, like a tail-wagging, panting, magical training ground for responsible relationship building.
Now, I know there are some adults who just can’t imagine having a pet—and that’s fine. It’s not for everyone. Like children, pets make noise, and messes, and need occasional emergency care. (Okay, I’m not so sure that turtles have ER visits, but my nephew’s gecko did!) Caring for another being is not to be taken lightly, and I have immense respect for people who choose not to have a pet rather than manage the responsibility less than honorably.
But I will say that if there is a part of you that is so inclined, or wonders if it’s right for your family, it’s worth exploring. There is something magical about exposing your children to an authentic relationship with another being who cannot speak to them, but is wholly dependent on your family for survival. Most pets require attention, interaction, and a sense of obligation to another. Any way you slice it, that’s a healthy life skill for people with ADHD to learn.
A longer version of this post appeared in the April 2013 issue of Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
Join conversations about parenting kids with ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!
A member of CHADD's board of directors, Elaine Taylor-Klaus is a certified coach, parent coach, writer, educator, speaker, entrepreneur, and mother. She is the co-founder of ImpactADHD.com.