Much has been written about how hard it is to be a parent to teenagers and suggestions abound about how to maintain our sanity during these years: self-care, counseling, support, and conversations with friends who have been there.
These are all great strategies, but I propose another one that is guaranteed to satisfy. Every parent of teenagers needs to get a dog. I learned about the power of a dog a few years ago when, as a result of a planning glitch, my husband and I ended up bringing along our dog, Charlie, on vacation to Acadia National Park.
We rented a cottage that allows pets, and Charlie immediately made herself comfortable in her surroundings. She was completely indifferent to the lack of HDTV or the spotty internet access. She was all about being in the moment.
Every morning, Charlie would spring out of bed, thwacking her tail to convey how thrilled she was to begin the day—no sleeping in for this one. She was a champ on the trails, sure-footed and energetic as we explored the varied terrain that makes Acadia so extraordinary.
At no point did she tire out or ask us how much longer. She didn’t whine, mutter under her breath, or whistle incessantly and annoyingly. In fact, we felt guilty when we left her back in the cottage to go biking, but we made it up to her by taking her for a dip in the lake.
In addition to being enthusiastic, Charlie proved to be a friend magnet. Wherever we went, people would stop to pet Charlie and talk with us. She good naturedly allowed us to converse with fellow travelers. She enjoyed the camaraderie, never once rolling her eyes in exasperation or feeling embarrassed by our behavior. The only time she wasn’t welcoming was when she scared away the cat that frequented our cottage.
Charlie also proved exceptionally easy to nourish. As long as we packed a few Milkbones and some water, she was good to go for the entire day. Often, she was so well-behaved at restaurants that our server would bring her some cold water and a treat. In fact, she was so endearing that on one of our multiple visits to a local ice cream parlor, the scooper asked if he could give Charlie her own cup of vanilla. Our kids are cute, but they have never been charming enough to be on the receiving end of free food.
Charlie can’t talk, but through her constantly wagging tail and her keen licks she told us she was grateful for the opportunity to see amazingly beautiful vistas, exercise vigorously, eat well, and most importantly, spend quality time with us (said no teenager ever). And better yet, we never felt the need to stay up late strategizing about how we were going to broach a sensitive issue with our lovable lab.
I do love my kids, and I’m not planning on trading them in, but Nora Ephron was on to something when she said that “when your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.” I’m convinced that the perfect antidote to exasperating, exhausting teenagers comes with four legs, a belly that needs rubbing, and plenty of uncomplicated love to go around.