Once Kids Are In College, Dogs Replace What’s Missing In Our Hearts

Several of my friends and I have entered a sort of Twilight Zone phase of parenting. Things just seem a little weird.

We are long past those elementary school days when we were all dazed and confused, with the shuffling and strategizing of so many family moving parts. Our calendars looked ridiculous, with almost every date square filled up with scribbled lines and colorful arrows of activities.

The doctor, dentist and orthodontist appointments. The sport practices and games. The school projects. The dance recitals. The piano lessons. The field trips. The birthday parties…

Most of us are also now past the high school years or have one straggler “caboose” kid who’s got their driver’s license and is just enjoying an existence of benign neglect. We’ve survived the brunt of the high school craziness. The club meetings, theater productions, athletic tournaments, proms, standardized testing and the rigmarole of college applications.

Dogs replace our kids in certain ways.
Our kids are in college and our dogs have replaced what’s missing. (@jenni.heller via Twenty20)

We’ve been there, done that, bought the countless t-shirts and other fundraising items and we are beyond over it.

Our kids have settled into college life, have recently graduated or are, for the most part, adjusting to adulting and figuring things out for themselves. We have some time to exhale, pat ourselves uneasily on the back (for who knows what tomorrow brings) and wait for the next phase.

So, what have we, in this strange little pause of parenthood, begun to do with ourselves? Where has a good portion of our collective focus turned?

How dogs fill our homes and hearts

Well, our lives have literally gone to the dogs.

We have become a group of middle-aged women who SnapChat and text pictures of our dogs to each other on most days. Yes, it sounds a tad pathetic, but cut us a little slack.

Unlike the Moms of little kids, we are deprived of taking the cute shots of our kids on Wacky Hair Day, or of them with small teammates holding up their bulky soccer trophies or standing next to their (absolutely annoying) science fair project.

We are past the charming trick-or-treat costumes, and the matching Old Navy Fourth of July t-shirts. Long gone are the missing teeth pictures and the climbing the tree triumphantly poses.

And I’d venture that we are still at least five years or so from becoming the proud grandparent picture-takers. A few of our friends, and some of our older siblings are already there. Texting us shots of the sweet newborns, and the unsteady toddlers. That still seems so far off and foreign to us.

So, our furry babies are now our peeps, our #squad, our photographic bread and butter. The ones who provide us with a great deal of comfort and laughter, and therefore, we have the urge to share with the other Pause/Paws Parents in our lives.

Because yes, our dogs come to replace our kids, in certain ways. When our youngest (or only) child leaves home, or is in their final year of high school, and seems to never actually be at home, or are holed up in their room so much of the time, there is an undeniable void.

At times the house just seems disturbingly quiet. The human need for emotional and physical connection does not simply lessen, because a child has moved on. There is some grief to process, no matter what your level of happiness is, surrounding an empty nest. Something is just missing.

And our dogs feel this loss as well. We are drawn to them for comfort, and in turn they are in need of some extra love and attention. The humans and the canines left behind seek each other out more, sensing each other’s confusion and heartache.

It’s natural that we begin to reach out to our pets more often, talk to them a bit more, and cherish their presence in a novel way.  The sad eyes resonate more deeply in your soul and the little wag of their tail when they first see you in the morning seems even more welcome and sweet.

And this is how my friends and I have evolved into our new habit. How we have transformed and filled our blank spaces during this phase of motherhood.

We have shared pictures and videos of new puppies, smiling at their lovable antics and frenzied energy. We send shots of our dogs rolling in grass, laying on tile, out on a walk or hike, sick with a mysterious malady, or snuggling with a grown child who’s home for the weekend. We have shared sorrow and tears at a picture of a dog collar and cherished toy, when one of our furry family members had to be put down to rest.

Call us sad, strange or melodramatic. Go ahead and roll your eyes like some of our kids do. We don’t mind, we can laugh about our somewhat silly situation, and we certainly won’t stop our daily SnapChats and texts.

We are enjoying ourselves, our dogs, and these photos and videos. Because Moms are masters of adaptation and ingenuity, and when your nest finally empties out, you have reached expert level in those skills. And that instinct “to Mom” doesn’t just vanish like the snacks in the pantry used to.

Enjoy your moments of well-deserved peace and new beginnings. Move through your moments of grief and loneliness at your own pace.

And if you don’t already have a pet companion by your side, now is the perfect time to consider all the love and great SnapChats they can bring to your life.

You Might Also Enjoy Reading:

The Wallet Years: The Worst Stage of Parenting?

Parenting Doesn’t End at Graduation: Our Kids Always Need Us

About Marybeth Bock

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing - as long as iced coffee is involved. You can find her work on numerous websites and in two books. Find her on Facebook and Instagram

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