There are many similarities between the relationship and bond formed between pet owners and their pets – and those raising (human) children.
A pet owner will make many sacrifices and investments to provide a loving and suitable home for their family pet. In return, the bond of unconditional love, comfort and enjoyment a pet provides is immeasurable. The love shared between them is lasting and profound.
I have many people in my life experiencing this intense love with their animals, those of which that have not yet had children, are unable to have children or simply opt-out of having children all together.
I honor and embrace this love – no matter what the species.
This bond between owner and animal is so strong, you may eventually come across the comparison that a person’s dog or cat is just like having a child.
In fact, you may come across people who insist raising their dog is just like raising a child.
There is no doubt that animals generate the type of Love that is universal and that can be deeply felt by everyone regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or handicap.
With that being said, although similarities do exist, raising a dog/cat is not remotely the same as raising a child.
Parental Development Caused and Reciprocated By Kids (Not Dogs or Cats)
Growing and changing over the course of their child’s lives, parents experience complexity and diversity in relation to their growing child. As a child grows and develops, so does the parent – many of which transcends the owner/pet connection.
Some of the points below reference ‘The Six Stages of Parenthood’ by researcher Ellen Galinsky. [*][*]
Imagery of Future
Even before you hold a child in your arms, the journey for the parent begins.
A parent begins to create images and ideas in their mind of what lies ahead for both their child and themselves.
As time goes on and the parent (and child) develops, these images are modified and transformed – some may encompass siblings and even grandchildren.
When my daughter was an infant, I would imagine what her voice would sound like when she got old enough to talk and say my name, “Momma”. Over time, I started to generate ideas of who her best friend would be or what high school she would want to go to.
Creating these images of a child stimulate the parent to investigate their own values and they eventually must learn to respect their partner’s values and dreams for the child they share.
Imagery does not make the owner/pet bond less meaningful – it simply distinguishes it from raising a child.
Attachment, Autonomy and Priorities
There is no doubt that a bond between human owner and animal can be powerful and intense. I have experienced it myself.
However, another key distinction arises with children: Like a dog or a cat, parents create the bond of attachment through holding, touching and caring for their child – however, with a child a distinct variety of issues and questions arise regarding attachment, autonomy (both for the parent and the child) and priorities.
Parents are faced with meeting the needs of their child and the need to balance responsibilities to their spouse, friends and career. Child care and work schedules must be flexible as well.
Consider relinquishing the desire to relocate closer to family because you value raising your children in an area with a better school system - - or picking up a second job (giving up time spent with your spouse and family) to pay for private school or expensive, enrichment classes (ex. dance, musical instrument).
Attachment arises between both owner/animal and parent/child – however, the complexities and intricacies of the issues raised over time with children are dissimilar then raising an animal.
Authority and Freedom
In some cases, parents begin to generate ideas of what type of disciplinarian they might be before a child is even born.
“I swear I’ll never be like my mother, I swear I’ll never be like my mother, I swear I’ll never be like my mother.”
No matter what underlying issues a parent holds prior to kids, parents soon begin to understand and respect that their child is not an extension of themselves, rather they must guide, nurture and discipline their child’s unique persona.
Eventually, the unique dilemma of allowing enough freedom for a child to grow and develop arises – at the same time, communicating and establish limits (which also allows for further personal development, both parental and for the child).
This particular point is compelling when distinguishing between the type of relationship you have between a child and an animal.
True, you must train and discipline an animal, however, as a parent, one of the most difficult aspects is letting a child experience disappointments and failures – a parent understands that they must endure their pain of letting a child go because it is for their benefit in the end.
Parental Values and Outside Influences
Another intricate layer that exists when raising a child: As the parent recognizes that he/she is not the only core influence in their child’s life, they must decide and learn how they will translate their beliefs and values to their child (especially once their child starts learning new reasoning skills).
As a child grows, a parent realizes that “my child is not me”. This is essential in distinguishing between an animal and a child because a parent must learn to illustrate their beliefs while at the same time respecting a child’s birthright in choosing their own beliefs.
Parents must learn how to answer a child’s questions (ex. “what does ‘abortion’ mean?”, “why do people choose to be vegetarian?”, “what happens after we die?”) while promoting specific values and knowledge.
As children grow, a parent may find themselves playing damage-control as outside sources (teachers, friends, media) begin to influence their children in more profound ways.
Ultimately, parents are motivated to continually evaluate their beliefs and values – as the child grows, they must learn to differentiate their own personal perspective and allow their child to develop their own.
This particular facet is missing in the owner/animal model.
Inter-dependence and Independence
Preferences in clothing, behavior toward the opposite sex, language, hairstyle, physical growth – the list could literally go on forever. Children are forever growing, changing, and testing independence while, at the same time, demanding familiarity and intimacy.
To provide the most effective guidance and communication in times of growth and change, parents must have a superior understanding of themselves.
The relationship with a child is continually re-defined, swinging back and forth between closeness and distance which may leave a parent’s head spinning like a top.
Animals are quite different in this respect.
Another key discernment among animals and children: the child eventually grows up and leaves home.
Eventually, after all of the investment (monetary, emotionally, spiritually) the child leaves the parent.
Parents may worry and wonder all sorts concerns: how far away the child might go or how often they will be together. New habits and traditions may be created merely in search for new ways to stay close as a family.
The complexity deepens as a parent must learn to accept the separateness, eventually redefining their own identity without their children present in their everyday life.
Animals provide immeasurable comfort, love and enjoyment to their owners.
To those families that do not have children, animals are a pleasant joy that offers profound enrichment for many years.
However, as mentioned above, children largely differ from pets.
Ultimately, parenting a child is a process – one that promotes and supports the physical, emotional, social and intellectual development of a child and the parent.