I know that some folks vary as to how they consider their cats. To some, cats are simply animals. To others, cats are fun companions, but not necessarily “children.” To many, cats are our babies. I am in that last category.
We had a friend once who thought it was the most hilarious thing when I called my cats my babies — it would never fail to send him into uproarious laughter. But I was not offended (he was a kind person and meant no harm). Regardless, his laughter did not dissuade me from my position. They are my babies, and I feel strongly that I am a parent. It might sound strange to some, but that’s the way I feel.
This is muddled further by the fact that I have no human children, and I don’t even know what that would be like. But I think I’m able to guess what being a parent to a human child must be like, and I’ve come as close as I can to approximating that experience with my cats.
I know that there are people who think I am crazy to call myself a parent in this context. And I wonder if they are right. Is being the parent or guardian to a cat equivalent to human parenting? Is human parenting harder? Superior? Higher on some kind of evolutionary or relationship chain? I am not asking in sarcasm; I am simply curious.
Here’s how I think parenting a cat compares with parenting a human child:
I have heard people say that their children are their greatest teachers. I believe it. Children are powerfully innocent. Cats have been some of my greatest teachers. They’ve taught me (and if you read my articles, you’ve heard this before) about really being able to love, about living in the moment, about facing fear, and about letting go. There are many other lessons they teach me every day — patience, mindfulness, even something as simple as stopping work to enjoy a moment with a cat. I am sure parents of human children have had similar experiences.
I’d like to hope that parents of humans love unconditionally, but somehow, it seems that it might be easier to practice this on pet children. Our pets demonstrate unconditional love so well. Humans don’t always demonstrate it so well.
We are completely responsible for their care, and they are completely dependent upon us. However, pets are always dependent upon our care, our decisions, our actions. Human children might be early on in their lives, but as they grow up, they become increasingly more self-directed and make their own life decisions.
However, there are many ways in which the parenting scenarios might differ. Pets don’t talk back, for one. Ha ha, you say. My cat does talk back. And it’s true. I’ve had it happen as well. But they don’t usually talk back to the extent that a human child is able to pull off.
We are not the same species, and there are some things about cat and human that will always be different. There’s a quote that I love that expresses this well, from Henry Beston, author of The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod. I first saw this quote in my veterinarian’s office, and I think it really captures the different worlds that a human and a cat occupy.
We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.
Is parenting a human child more honored than parenting and caring for cats? Probably. Does it matter? Well, if you’re doing good, and you know that in your heart, you’ll have the strength to carry out your convictions, even if one of those convictions is that you are parenting a cat to the best of your ability.
What do you think? Is your cat parenting equivalent to parenting a human child? Does society give more credence to human parenting than pet parenting? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!
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About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr (cat fantasy novel out June 1), the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.