Then God said: Let us make[a] human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. (Genesis 1:26)
Our family recently bought a new puppy. My wife and I have toyed with the idea of buying a puppy for our children for many years now. Finally, as we began to settle into our new home, my wife decided it was time to add a new four legged, furry friend to our family’s ranks. Oh, what adventures lay in store for us as we welcomed an eight week old Great Dane into our home.
My wife and I wanted to name him something strong. Thor? Or better yet, Odin after the Nordic Gods of past mythology. It was a name fit for the noble Dane we would welcome to our family. He was to be a dog that would tower over others, so he had to have a strong name, right? Or so we thought. As we walked into the breeders home, sat down, and watched the puppies scurry around their mother observant and watchful mother, one separated from the pack, walked over to my wife, and began to lick her face. We were sold!
As we left with our newest family member in hand to take the one hour drive home, my wife and I were excited with the addition of Thor. We had joked how it seemed that he chose us, versus us choosing him. Maybe their is something of greater meaning to be explored. Maybe our babies choose us rather than the other way around? That was certainly the case in this instant. However, that will be a topic for further exploration, because the first major turn of events occurred within only a few minutes of driving away from the breeders home. My two sons, absolutely gleaming from ear to ear with a smile that money could never buy had already renamed our new our new puppy to something completely unexpected.
The puppy was a sight to behold. He was spotted marble and mocha. Because of his unique markings, my two son’s decided to honor him with a name that fit his birthright. They decided that he should be named “Spot!” It wasn’t strong, it wasn’t mythological, and it definitely was not Godly, but for some reason, it just seemed to fit? Right?
The verse in Genesis shows that we as people are charged with the task of taking responsibility for others. My son’s had tasted their first experience in the love that comes when we assume responsibility over another life. While this verse can be seen in a negative light, it does point to foundational values that promote healthy psychological development, especially as it relates to emergent family values. In earnest, we as people can only learn how to care for others by developing and practicing empathic response through the act of caring for others.
Our first exposure to parenting occurs from personal experiences we have with our mother and father. As we age, we gain experience caring for others outside of our parental triad through the exposure we have as children to pets. They are our feathered or fury companions, confidants, and even friends. They are our babies that show us unconditional love in this journey called life. We nurture them, clean up after their accidents, and even play with them at their rough and tough level of animal fun. I am absolutely amazed about how I see my 9 and 5 year old son’s interact with Spot, and in watching their playful frolics, I see an end result of the parent they will one day become.
Our ability to tame and work with animals empowers us to assume adult responsibilities. Through our work with animals, we are taught to love unconditionally, can bond with a creature that is not similar to us, and can learn the skill of nurturing and empathy needed to successfully raise future generations. In watching my children take care of their new (adoptive four legged, furry) brother, I see the spoils of my labor as a parent coming to fruition as I see their capacities to parent a next generation bloom before my very eyes.
We are meant to take care of those that are less capable then ourselves. By caring for others, we assume responsibility, and through responsibility, we are granted the privileges that love affords us. By watching my children interact with Spot, the Great Dane, I see the emergence of personality traits that will affect their future family lives; this, in turn, offers me a glimpse of the men they will one day become.
The Moral of The Story: Allow your child to have a pet. It is a journey that you and your children will never forget. So how does a practical parent integrate pets and the assumption of values into their daily parenting practices?
1: You will need to help them out initially by teaching them the responsibilities associated with taking care of another life. However, you WILL BE REWARDED for your effort. TEN FOLD. The lessons They learn will be lifelong and life-altering. Your children will learn to become better people, and therefore establish their own sense of family values at a young age. Through the development of empathy, compassion, and understanding, they will learn first hand the hard work needed to care for another being.
2: Empower them and reinforce their duty to care for their new family member. This is how they gain experience with TRUE RESPONSIBILITY. You can’t fake this. Just like caring for a child requires feeding and changing schedules, so does caring for an animal. Put your children in charge of this job. It will not break them. By assuming responsibilities, your children will learn the steps needed to care for others, which in turn will form the foundation for their own parental values, and secondarily form positive work ethics that will facilitate their healthy psychological development.
3: SHOW, DON’T TELL YOUR VALUES: Parents show their children how to do things through experience, and experience is what matters most for children. They make sense of their world through the experiences you expose them to, not those you tell them about. Enact your values first hand, and your CHILDREN WILL FOLLOW YOUR LEAD. You are the Alpha in this sense. If you want them to be a Good Parent, show them an unforgettable PARENTING EXPERIENCE. Teach them how to care for others, first hand. YOU ARE THEIR FIRST AND PRIMARY TEACHER at the game of LIFE.