I Finally Got It Right With My Third 'Child'

woman with dog
Budimir Jevtic/Shutterstock
We have quite a big gap between our second and third children -- eight years, to be precise. We didn't plan this gap, mainly because we never planned to have the third child. 


But when we decided to move to South Africa and realized our daughters, then 6 and 8, were not going to be happy about this decision, we knew we had to offer them something radical as a sweetener.

So we told them we would get a puppy.

Yes, that's right -- our third child is a miniature schnauzer called Cooper. And I can finally say I've nailed the parenting thing.

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Cooper came to us as a 10-week-old, already fully house-trained. So I really can't take credit for the fact that I didn't have to clear up more than one little mess on the floor. 

But I am going to be a little bit smug about the rest because I was never allowed to be at all smug with my real, human babies. We could never get them to do what everyone else's babies seemed to be doing. Sleep? Pah! Lie contentedly on a playmat and let me get on with my chores? Not likely. Feed without ripping my nipples to threads? That would be too easy. 

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I struggled with both of them, for months on end, feeling like I was doing it all wrong as they cried and vomited and woke up half the night. My eldest wouldn't sleep anywhere but on one of us. My youngest was hell to breastfeed. I was supposed to be enjoying motherhood, but all I really wanted was to get through those days until things got easier.

At the same time, it really did feel like everyone else knew what they were doing. I would meet up with my "mommy friends" -- those women with whom I had absolutely nothing in common except the fact that we had all given birth within the same few weeks -- and they all made it look so easy. "Daisy" was sleeping through the night at 12 weeks. "Harry" took to the breast like a duck to water. "Rory" ate everything that was put in front of him.

Retrospectively, I know that this isn't the whole truth. Every parent has struggles, and even for those who find the newborn stage easy, I am pretty sure there is some horror lying ahead -- whether it be the dreaded toddler years or the even more dreaded teenage years.  

But at the time, I always felt like I was the only one who was struggling, who was permanently knackered, who not only had a baby who wouldn't sleep but a toddler who wouldn't potty train. I felt like a failure on all counts. 

Fast-forward eight years and finally I have my perfect child.

miniature schnauzer
Clare Wiggins

In addition to being house-trained, Cooper also slept through the night from about three days after he arrived. He doesn't cry, he sleeps most of the day, he eats anything we give him without question, and he even takes himself off to bed at about 7 p.m. and stays there until the morning. In fact, so well-behaved is this dog, we are able to do that thing we always thought we would with children but never quite managed: carry on our lives just as we did pre-parenthood. Okay, true, we can't take him EVERYWHERE (he's not welcome in the supermarket), but we do take him to friends' houses for lunch or dinner, to restaurants, even for sleepovers...

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So what’s the secret? How did I manage to get it right this time but not with my first two? Well, the secret is that there is no secret: We got lucky, just as with parents who have easy children. Yes, we socialized him with other dogs and we went to puppy classes and read books and pored over Internet forums -- but in the end, he is the way he is because he is Cooper.

And Daughter One is Daughter One and Daughter Two is Daughter Two, and although we may bring our children up the same, they are all different, all individuals who come with their own particular quirks.

So while I would love to be smug about getting it right with Cooper, I can't. Because by saying I did something right to get such a well-behaved dog, the flip side is that I must have done something wrong to have such difficult babies. And I don't think this is true: In the end, we all do our best and our children will be who they are, regardless.

Although my dog, of course, is always going to be a little bit more perfect than everyone else's.  

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