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What would a monkey do?

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DO you have kids, or want them at some stage? Ever thought that your veterinary training would stand you in good stead for raising a child? That your biological knowledge would guide rational decision-making?

Prepare to be disillusioned.

Before I reproduced, I felt confident: I enjoyed my chosen career; my patients couldn’t recover fast enough; and my colleagues treated me with the utmost respect and deference.

I foolishly believed that this would translate to parenting. I thought producing and rearing a small primate without claws, teeth, or a tail was going to be easy. I’d seen many mothers, of many species, raise offspring apparently effortlessly. Nature seems to make these things work. I decided, when in doubt, I would have a mantra: ‘What would a monkey do?’

Learn from my story. Non-veterinary parents don’t think quite like us. When babies are involved, it seems there’s always someone insisting that’s not how it’s done in people. The whole process is like a final-year viva, in which the examiner keeps trying to catch you out.

When they ask, at antenatal class, ‘How often should you wash your baby?’ they’ll mark you wrong if you sensibly reply, ‘Whenever they roll in something unpleasant’. Similarly, none of the midwives has ever heard of a calving jack, and you should never, ever, call labour whelping.

No-one likes being told they are wrong. These episodes did not bolster my self esteem. Never had I felt so unsure. It seemed that for once, I just couldn’t find the right answer.

It only got worse when the small primate actually arrived. Who knew that midwives use cat scales? Apparently not midwives. And don’t raise concerns about your baby’s hindlegs. My doctor had to ask for clarification, ‘Her WHAT legs?’

However, with perseverance, you may find that your alternative methods pay off. I had read that one should take one’s child to puppy-party-equivalents during critical socialisation periods. During one such melee, I took my eyes off my baby for a moment. Hearing a scream, I looked back to find she had captured another infant by the hair.

Pandemonium ensued. The other owners all panicked, but, like any good vet, I’d clicker-trained my preverbal primate. My little monkey looked up in excitement at my ‘Drop it!’ command. She released her grip instantly, letting her prey wriggle free. I clicked. She beamed with satisfaction. Peace was restored.

Since then, my unorthodox methods have gained a little credence. My fellow parents have been requesting behavioural consults. Unfortunately, their questions overlap poorly with my knowledge, but I have managed to dispense sound, evidence-based advice on toilet training, preventing dietary indiscretion and discouraging biting.

So don’t abandon all hope. The veterinary parenting method carries a good prognosis.

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