*declares post complete, closes laptop, goes to the kitchen, eats a cookie in celebration of a job well done, eats a second cookie in celebration of how good that first cookie was, reconsiders answer, returns to computer*
Here’s the thing. The answer is really that simple… and yet, it’s not. All at the same time. Allow me to explain.
I don’t believe that “you” (in the broadest sense) have to choose between kids and dogs. I don’t think it’s a zero sum game. At the same time, do “you” (in the narrowest possible sense) have to choose between kids and dogs? I can’t answer that one. However, I have thoughts. Lots of them.
What prompted this topic, you might wonder? Well, it’s all due to a link-baiting, absolutely infuriating article I read on Slate yesterday: The One Thing No One Tells You Before You Have Kids. That one thing? Don’t get a dog. Little did I know that a fulfilling life containing both pets and children is the stuff of fantasy.
So, if you were hoping to someday have a child and still love your pet, I suggest you hop on your unicorn and have Scotty beam you both back to Narnia. (If you currently have children and dogs, yet manage to love them both, I believe that qualifies you as the Eighth Wonder of the Modern World. Congratulations.)
After all, it’s a well-known fact that each of us has a finite amount of love to give, so you’d better not give it to a bunch of people. If you’re not careful, you can run out. Then, if you want to love a new person, you’re probably going to have to stop loving someone else. Sorry, third cousin twice removed. I’ve met someone new. You’re cut. It’s tough, but that’s life…
Oh, wait. That sounds insane, doesn’t it? So does the author of that post (we’ll call her AB, for short). Before I go on, I suppose I should give you the high points. AB’s boyfriend got her a surprise puppy, which she describes as “the best surprise a man can give to a woman he loves.” (I beg to differ, but that’s a post for another day – how about getting a puppy after some thoughtful consideration, people? That’s romance.) Anyway, she totally loved this dog. He was the center of her universe, until…
She got pregnant. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not foolish enough to think that your life remains exactly the same when you have a child. Whenever you add responsibilities and stress to your life, priorities change and balancing them can be tough. That being said, this post could have been a thought-provoking and interesting piece about how to deal with those challenges and what to consider before bringing a pet into your life. Or a cautionary tale based on AB’s experience, reminding us that maybe having both kids and pets really isn’t for everyone. Instead, it’s a flippant essay that almost made my head explode. It’s obvious that AB is going for hyperbole and shock value – at least I hope that’s the case. If my response sounds harsh, I’m only taking my cues from her. (To put it in schoolhouse terms, she started it.)
A few choice quotes, and my reaction:
John took the newborn hat from the hospital for Velvel to smell, to prepare him for the tiny human heading his way. That was probably the last nice thing we ever did for him.
Well, that’s depressing. (Cue sad trombone.) I’m sure she feels bad about it though.
A friend of mine once told me that before he had a kid, he would have run into a burning building to save his cats. Now that he has a kid, he would happily drown the cats in the bathtub if it would help his son take a longer nap. Here is how I feel about that statement: Velvel, avoid the bathroom.
Hilarious. By which I mean, not even a little bit hilarious. That’s supposed to be a joke, right? A poor one? If not, for the love of Kelly Taylor, get a new friend.
It’s not that I don’t love my dog. It’s just that I don’t love my dog. And I am not alone. A very nonscientific survey of almost everyone I know who had a dog and then had kids now wishes they had never got the dog.
Damn. Perhaps it’s time to scrap that whole friend list and start over. I shared this story on Facebook, and the responses there gave me some hope. Apparently this is not the “universal truth” that AB claims. Plenty of parents were chiming in to say that they couldn’t imagine life without their dogs and that they still love those furry faces.
I could share a few additional quotes, but it’s really just more of the same. The dog whines, he sheds, he needs to go for daily walks, he barks, he occasionally gets sick… can you believe the nerve of this furry guy? I guess before she had kids, he was hairless, silent, and managed to walk himself. He also had the gall to stop being a cute puppy, grow older, and have the occasional health issue. Needy much?
Listen, nobody’s perfect. We all get busy. We neglect friends, family, and dogs that we love. Having kids isn’t easy. It can be stressful. I know people that have struggled with finding that kid/dog balance, and I have nothing but sympathy for those facing that challenge. It’s a big change. Those people, however, at least seem to recognize that it’s an issue. Unlike AB, who doesn’t even sound sorry.
It almost sounds like she finds the whole thing funny. There’s a pretty big difference between admitting that you’ve been neglecting someone you love and deciding that you don’t even love them anymore. Difficult is not synonymous with impossible. (To paraphrase her post: “For years, I’ve neglected this being that depends on me for his every need. He’s just so annoying and always… there. I wish he didn’t exist! I’m not heartless. I have kids, so it’s okay! See how funny and shocking I am?”)
I know I said no more quotes, but I can’t help myself. Here’s the last one:
There are many lessons I’ve learned from my parents, but one in particular I wish I had followed. They didn’t get a dog until my sister and I were grown. They loved him like a dog should be loved until the day he died.
That’s funny. I learned a lesson or two from my parents as well. My parents had a dog when they had me. They adopted more animals over the years, as our family grew. At one point, my parents had two kids, five dogs, two cats, two turtles, and some goldfish living in our house. Do you know what I learned? That pets are awesome. That it’s possible to have children and take care of your pets at the same time. That it’s possible to consider the well-being of both your children and your pets. That your pets are part of the family. That you made a commitment to those animals, and you should honor that commitment. That it can be done.
So, do I think it’s absolutely necessary to choose between having kids and having dogs? No. However, if you’re even asking that question, then maybe you do have some choices to make. At the very least, stop and think.
(Honestly, part of me wants to send AB a thank you note. Perhaps her essay will keep other people like her from getting a dog and later regretting that choice.)
When I posted this article on Facebook, it inspired a lot of discussion. (Check it out here.) I’d love to hear your thoughts on the article, on having both pets and kids, and anything else you want to talk about. In spite of this overly long post, I think I still have more to say on this subject.
Given that it’s a sensitive subject, a few ground rules in the comments: (1) Play nice; (2) don’t make assumptions about reproductive plans and status (as a society, we run the gamut from child-free by choice to child-free by circumstance to just not there yet, so be cool, okay?); and (3) don’t rely on “if you don’t have kids you can’t possibly understand” as an argument. (With regard to that last one, as humans we’re capable of empathy and understanding things even if we haven’t experienced them directly. I also believe that a statement like that is a lazy argument being played as a trump card. Let’s dig into the substance of the debate instead.)
UPDATE as of 7/31: I asked Jodi from Heart Like a Dog (the Louise to my Thelma) if she would be introduced in doing a companion post about this issue from the perspective of someone with both dogs and kids. She obliged me, and has written a beautiful, moving, and brave post. Go check it out: Free To Good Home.
UPDATE #2 as of 8/1: Jen from My Brown Newfies has added her voice to the conversation in this honest and thought-provoking post. Jen writes from the perspective of a mom and a dog lover who found herself in a tough situation. Her post – unlike AB’s – is a revelation. Go read it!