Motherly Collective

I sat in a bed of my neighbor’s peonies stifling a sob. My four-year-old called me from the sidewalk, one foot planted on the board of her scooter: “Are you okay, Mommy?” A moment earlier I’d been watching her scoot ahead, coaching her to look out for sticks that’d fallen in a recent storm. Behind me, our seven-month-old puppy, Max, sniffed at the grass from the length of leash I’d given him. That was a mistake. A big one. 

At the sight of a squirrel springing across my neighbor’s lawn, Max launched all sixty pounds of himself over a brick retaining wall flanked with gorgeous flowers. Since he was still attached to the end of the leash, I flew backward until my right thigh slammed into that same wall. I pulled it together and told my daughter I’d be okay—it was only a bruise. But once we reached the driveway back at our own house, I lingered several paces behind her and muttered very softly, “Sometimes I hate this dog.”

Two months before the squirrel incident, I watched Dr. Becky, the ubiquitous child psychologist, explain in an Instagram Reel why she would not be getting her children a dog, even though they asked for one on a near daily basis. It’s not that her kids wouldn’t benefit from a dog, she said. It was that she was at “maximum capacity” in her life. “[K]nowing your limits as a parent is a sign of your strength, never your weakness.” Her words haunted me that month as Max grew large enough to grab plates of bacon and spaghetti off the kitchen counter. Things really hit a fever pitch a few weeks later when Max relieved himself twice in the kitchen in rapid succession, the sight of which activated my toddler’s generous gag reflex. In short, there was a lot of mess to clean up, and I was starting to worry I’d taken on more than I could handle.

It’s fair to say I had plenty of warning about how much work dogs could be, especially a high-energy and food-driven breed like labrador retrievers. I grew up with two labs—Milo and Otis—and they made careers of escaping the yard and eating things they shouldn’t. Even with all their hijinx, Milo and Otis offered great companionship, enough that I always hoped we’d have a family dog someday.

Fortunately, I was so overwhelmed by the first decade of parenting that I deflated our three children’s requests for a dog like a pin to a balloon. But after our youngest turned three, my husband started sending me pictures of dogs. They were very cute, yet I remained worried about the responsibility. I knew the kids weren’t going to help in any impactful manner. And even though my husband promised it would be “his dog,” going so far as to assume responsibility for all nighttime wakings, I understood that was like saying the kids would be my kids or his kids. We’d all be pitching in at one point or another. 

As the primary caregiver, stay-at-home-parent, the flexible one—whatever you want to call it—I’d handle the mental load:veterinary visits, worrying about whether what he ate would kill him, wrestling with guilt about leaving him for too long. Our toddler had just started sleeping more reliably and was in preschool four days a week, which afforded me a workable routine that felt like a good balance between family obligations and my creative ambitions. My plate, it seemed, was just full enough: Didn’t I deserve to enjoy it without being completely stressed? 

Despite all these reservations though, I did want a dog, and I came up with creative ways to ignore the little voice telling me now wasn’t a good time. Maybe now wasn’t the best time, but was there ever really a good time to drop everything and integrate a new member into your family? 

Much like I’d reviewed the literature on milestones, sleep training, nursing, and convincing your own children to eat vegetables like French children, I found myself nose deep in a book some monks had written about dogs. But similar to the way reading up on raising kids just can’t do the actual thing justice, the books on dogs can’t truly prepare you for what lies ahead. 

My life changed much more than I’d anticipated. 

At first, Max ate three meals a day and required constant supervision when he wasn’t in the crate. Toys, rocks, furniture—he wanted to eat it all. And despite my hovering like a helicopter, he had several accidents inside the house, as I’d expected. I was surprised to visit the veterinarian quite as much as I did: at least six times in those first two months. It seemed Max was constantly experiencing stomach issues. The vets ran parasite panels and ordered X-Rays to rule out infection or bowel obstruction. I bottled up any serious complaints though, because I thought this phase would soon pass.

But with my schedule revolving around Max, time seemed to drag. It became difficult to do simple things, like attending writing classes or exercising or running consecutive errands before picking our youngest up from school. And the morning routine grew even more chaotic. I’d race Max out to the yard to convince him to pee while my toddler screamed inside about not wanting to wear socks. Who knows what my older kids ate for breakfast or wore to school? I was too busy cleaning up a shattered Pyrex Max had knocked over or a pee puddle he’d made.

Months later, limping up the driveway after Max chased that squirrel, it became clear that I’d overextended myself, and I felt such guilt about resenting him. None of how I felt was his fault. I feared that, like Dr. Becky, I was at maximum capacity and sacrificed the little time I’d carved out for myself to be thrust back into an intensive care-giving role. I’d forgotten an important principle: Puppies are going to be puppies, regardless of your timeline. And while they’re busy doing that, they will stress the weakest points of your whole family operation. Barely running on time? You’ll definitely be late now. Laundry overflowing like lava from a couch mountain? You’ll be on a permanent bowel obstruction watch. (Socks are particularly pernicious!) Max also laid bare a personal weakness: I was either unaware of or unable to respect my limits. Just like the volunteer position at school and the too many extracurriculars I’d signed my kids up for, I’d ignored the loud alarm saying: not now. I’d be more careful not to make that mistake again.

On a recent evening, my husband and I sat on the couch with Max curled between us. As I snuggled up next to the dog, my husband said, “See? You love him.” He was right. I love how he greets us in the morning, how his high-energy needs get us out walking in the evening when we otherwise wouldn’t. I love how he plops down on my feet when I’m doing the dishes. Whether I’d love Max was never in question, though. It was whether I was up for the sacrifice, the pain-in-the-butt period, at this point in my life. I can say now that I probably wasn’t. But that’s beside the point, too.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.