Pet parents understand the deep-rooted love and wildly protective instincts we have toward the furry members of our household. But what happens when a human child is born into the mix? Are pets relegated to the bottom of the pecking order? Are their needs last to be served?
Do they become (gasp!) just pets?
Our household has been in upheaval for nearly four years since my oldest daughter was born. Just as our cats, Romeo and Pugsley, were getting used that strange creature, I went and had another daughter. The boys must be so frustrated with us!
There are many nay sayers when it comes to cats and kids coexisting in one household. But in my case, at least, those folks were wrong. I love and appreciate my cats even more now that I have human kids and the pet-human relationship has taken on new significance to me.
Can you ask for anything more wonderful than a pet’s steadfast affection? My cats have adjusted and adapted to the new family dynamic. Their loyalty and love is unwavering. No one else was interested in hanging out with me during late night baby feedings those first few months, but Romeo and Pugsley were. They snuggled with me, they followed me around and patiently waited by my side until I had a free hand to give them a scritch or a belly rub. As I rocked the baby to sleep, one (or both) of them would balance patiently on the back of the chair and rock along with us. Purring.
Not So Much Work in the Scheme of Things
Compared to the endless requests (um, demands) that I hear from my children all day long, cleaning the litter box – no matter how messy it is – is a relative snap. Popping open a can and feeding the cats several times a day is easy. Even making trips to the vet is rarely an issue. The cats’ needs are minor compared to those of the kids.
While my cat, Romeo, is notorious for his early morning breakfast calls, I’ll be honest: I’d much rather be awakened by a persistent meowing than a bellowing "MOMMY!" from down the hall.
And, on the rare occasion I’m alone in the house with just the cats, I always seek them out and just … sit with them. They have a calming presence that has an uncanny way of helping me put things into perspective.
Teaching Kids to be Gentle
Having pets has infused a tenderness in my three-year-old, who learned at an early age to be "gentle with the boys." I’ll catch her reaching out to one of the cats and just as I’m about to say, "Be gentle!" she’s already softly petting him with the lightest touch, just as we’ve taught her. Even when the baby starts heading for the cat to grab a fistful of tail, my little helper pipes up, "No baby sister! Be gentle with the boys!" It makes my heart melt.
This early understanding of how to treat animals is no more apparent than when we’re around other dogs and cats. Once she’s been given permission to pet, my daughter practices the same soft stroke that she’s learned to use with our cats. It’s a lesson I’m glad she’s picking up at an early age. It will keep her safer around unfamiliar animals – and keep the unfamiliar animals safer around her!
The Future Is Quite Literally in Our Children’s Hands
With so much suffering and need in our society with regard to our homeless and abused animals, I feel a responsibility to teach my children about compassion towards all living beings, including (ugh) spiders and stinkbugs. By sharing the story about how our cats came into our lives, I can educate my girls about rescue and adoption. When the time comes, I look forward to helping them volunteer at our local humane society so they can learn about giving back to the community. And I’m so grateful to my cats for putting me in the position to encourage and influence two youngsters who can make an impact on their own world.
So, for some pets and kids is an "either/or" scenario. And that’s cool; to each his own. But for me, my life just wouldn’t be complete without both.
About the author: Caroline Golon writes the popular cat humor blog www.romeothecat.com, and www.thehappylitter.box.com. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband, two daughters and two cats who (obviously) run the place.