Dear medical researchers in Finland,
You have made my flipping day, and I want to tell you why. Your recent study linking pet ownership to healthy kids is the best news I’ve heard since … well, since my obstetrician said, “Okay, you can stop pushing; it’s out.”
I’ve read that Finland is the seventh happiest country in the world (source). With good health, a high employment rate, and more saunas per capita than cars, why wouldn’t it be?
But here in the United States, aka Land of the Free and Home of the Seriously Stressed-Out, anxiety is a religion — and moms are the high priestesses. From conception to college graduation, American motherhood is basically a series of humiliating episodes confirming that we’ve gone about parenting all wrong.
I’m no exception. I failed to introduce healthy vegetables to my kids before they could say, “Eww, get that off of my plate,” and neglected to start them on scholarship-earning string instruments before they could say, “Violins are for dorks.” I allowed them to eat sugar and watch television too soon — and sometimes, god forgive me, simultaneously.
I’m not a model mother. I’ve earned more than my share of glares from pursed-lipped strangers as my children threw tantrums in pharmacy aisles. I’ve lied to the dentist when she asked if I watch the kids brush their teeth to make sure they’re doing it right. I’ve kicked myself after reading that one bad sunburn in childhood doubles their risk of melanoma later in life.
But the day I learned of your study — I forgave myself just a little, tiny bit.
Children who live with a dog or cat in their first year of life, your research showed, get sick less than kids in pet-free environments. They have fewer respiratory infections. Require fewer antibiotics. They are “significantly healthier.” The best part? It’s because pets are filthy and exposure to germs is unexpectedly awesome, allowing kids’ bodies to build up strong defense systems.
Listen, I may not be the perfect parent, but if my boys are asthma-free because I allow an infrequently bathed, ill-mannered animal to paw at their faces, shed in their dining room, and leap up onto their beds to lick himself inappropriately before plopping down to sleep on their pillows — if, in short, my babies are healthy because my house is dirty — then, yeah, I want full damn credit for that.
If I’ve done something to protect my precious progeny from the scourge of illness — even if it was by sheer accident, general laziness, or deep disregard for household hygiene — I’m going to snatch up that badge and run with it.
Can I ensure that my kids get a steady diet of dog hair in their dinners? Yes, I can. Do I guarantee that our floors will be perpetually dotted with muddy paw prints, our sofa dusted with dander, and our windows streaked with puppy-nose slime? Why, yes. Yes I do.
In fact, in this lone parental feat, I may even exceed other mothers’ success. How many of them will hold their children down, as I do, so that the stinky family mongrel can lick their faces until his tongue invades their noses? It’s heartening to know that in addition to the endless amusement it brings me, this exercise is also making my boys nearly superhuman in their ability to keep influenza at bay.
Now that you’ve tackled this project, dear researchers, I wonder if you might turn your expert attention to investigating other correlations that would make us American moms feel better about ourselves. Is it at all possible, for example, that the happiest adults tend to have grown up in homes where wine is consumed frequently and in copious amounts? Just asking. No real reason.