We should all be more like parents and dog owners

How to take care of your inner child or animal

Milena
5 min readJun 19, 2024

Image credit: Christian Castillo, Unsplash

When my sister got a puppy, her life changed quite dramatically. She chose a Weinmereiner, a big hunting dog, with lean muscles and a lot of energy. Daily walks were a must for a dog meant to explore. A few kilometers in the morning and a few in the evening. Lots and lots of walking, lots of steps, lots of podcasts, audiobooks, and phone calls with me (yay!). Those walks are the reason I say I have a virtual dog. As many dog owners will attest, dogs are demanding.

A friend who has a 1-year-old son told me that she now goes to the parks a lot because of him. Every day after work, she would pick him up and head to the new outdoor adventure.

“What else can we do? He loves to be outside.” she told me.

And I agreed. What else can you do? Take the kid outside and let him get his hands dirty.

You don’t need to be an expert to conclude from these stupidly simple examples (and some common sense) that kids and dogs have big needs. One of them is to be outside and explore. And their caregivers do their best to help them meet those needs.

But do you know who else needs to be outside and explore?

You and me.

Every person, for that matter. The only difference is that we are desensitized. When you take your kid or dog outside for a walk and play, you often don’t think you need those same things too. It’s so easy to forget.

We were never supposed to spend our days sitting on our butts in cubicles, windowless, neon-lit rooms, glued to the screens, hypnotized by glowing images for hours on end. But because we do, we end up distanced from our true nature, which is playful, energetic, and curious. We dread the time of workout, yet our bodies, minds, and souls desperately need movement and healthy physical stress.

An average person in the US walks only 3000–4000 steps daily, which is a joke. Our ancestors walked way more than that, doctors recommend 10,000 steps. Fitness experts will tell you that even 10k steps is not enough, you also need to have strength training, cardio, and many other types of physical effort. Yet, for so many, even 10k steps is a lot. There is always something else to do.

During the pandemic, when we all switched to 100% WFH, some colleagues raved about signing up for the grocery delivery.

“Isn’t it great not to have to leave the house at all?”

“No,” I thought, embarrassed. For me, going to Trader Joe’s was like going to Disneyland in those days. I desperately needed to leave the house. I needed to see that other people existed and that the products (including chocolate hummus that no one wanted) were on the shelves. I needed to see that life goes on and that, in a small way, I was a part of that dynamic too. Amidst gloom and death, I wanted to feel alive, even briefly.

Soon after, I started riding my bike a lot more. After a long work day inside, I needed to move and conquer space. The animal inside me was hungry for movement.

I know that many people felt like me. But many didn’t. And I am not here to say that those others did pandemic wrong. Who the fuck knows what is the right way? We all did the best we could to survive. But what surprised me is how for so many, the pursuit of comfort and convenience was stronger than the need to move and be outside.

Compared to my colleagues, I felt needy and high-maintenance. What is wrong with me that I need to walk during the lunch break and hop on the bike as soon as I am done with work? Why am I not delighted to watch Netflix on the couch after the day, in front of the computer? Why do I have all these needs? Because I am an animal, that’s why. Nothing wrong with that.

In her famous poem Wild Geese, Mary Oliver says:

“…you only need to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

When I read these verses, I feel as if I am wrapped in a warm blanket. I feel like I came back home to my inner animal or child. When we are in the presence of a creature that hasn’t been socially conditioned, like a dog or a young child, we see our nature reflected in them. For a moment, we can remember our nature. We are all animals. We are all children. We all have similar needs. We just forgot.

But then, watching dogs and kids and their unmistakable need to break free, move, explore, get in trouble, get tired, and go back to sleep is such a powerful reminder of our own true nature. The nature we conditioned out of ourselves to fit into the capitalistic society. Being outside and moving is not only good for our health, well-being, and productivity. Of course it is but that’s not the point.

Acknowledging and satisfying our needs brings us closer to who we really are, to our animal- and child-selves, who are free, creative, a bit naive, but ultimately liberated from all the societal BS weighing on us every day.

We should all be more like parents and dog owners but in the way we treat ourselves. Anticipating, recognizing, and taking care of our essential needs, rather than shaming our­selves for how high-maintenance we are is a much nicer and gentler way of being. We are all demanding. We all have needs. Let’s stop giving ourselves cheap, digital, dopamine-inducing, hacky ways to get our needs met. I hope this inspires you to take good care of yourself.

Your turn? What have you learned from dogs or children? How can you be more like a dog owner or a parent to yourself? Leave a comment.

This post and many others are a part of my Substack newsletter Breakthrough Labs. Click HERE to read it on Substack and subscribe for free.

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Milena

Engineer. Creator. Sustainability researcher. Obsessed w/focus, mental health, sobriety. On the quest to find gentler and more meaningful ways to live and work.