Last week, when Pope Francis made some remarks that drew a negative comparison between childfree people with pets and couples with children, the pet loving community lashed out angrily.
My blogging cat, Sparkle, has her own post about it, and the vast majority of the comments were pro-pet. But there was one commenter in particular that pointed something out that was so logical and so sensible that I wanted to share it. I’ve edited it down a bit, but here is the gist of what Susan Helene Gottfried said:
“Cats provide companionship. Children aren’t here to be your companions. They are here to enrich your life, to challenge you, to provoke you, to give you something to nurture and then set free. Cats, though, cats are companion animals. They sleep on the foot of your desk while you work, snuggle with you on the couch, and share your bed. They’re the ones you bitch to when the ex is being difficult, when the kids’ grades are low, when money’s tight, when the best friend isn’t available. The stuff you can’t tell your kids. Kids are great. I’ll never regret having them despite the price they exacted, but cats are where the companionship truly is.”
People spend so much time comparing cats and children that everyone forgets that they serve two completely different purposes. You raise children to become loving, responsible adults, to be the best they are capable of. Ideally, parents want their children to grow up and lead happy, independent lives, and leave the world in a better place than it was when they were born. Cats are expected to do none of these things! When you have a cat, you love and take care of her for her whole life (at least, if you are a responsible cat caretaker). Cats will never be independent, even if they think they are already, and the majority of them won’t do anything earth shaking, even on a small level (internet cat sensations aside).
When people have children, the end result, a happy, well-adjusted adult, is always somewhere in the back of their minds, sometimes conscious, often unconscious. When kids are babies and toddlers, parents make sure they are developing properly, both mentally and physically. As growing children, there are always teachable moments to be had. Teaching your cat to sit up for treats is not exactly in the same league. But as Susan noted, cats provide something that children aren’t really meant to give you on a constant, every moment of the day level: companionship.
Of course parents can pal around with their kids and there’s that unique lifelong bond that will always be there. But barring any physical disability, no parent expects their child to be their constant companion. That would be unhealthy for them both. The bond remains but at some point, the cord gets cut. One of the core reasons for having a cat – or any other pet – is for the unconditional, loving companionship they provide. It’s a mutual devotion that, really, you can’t have with another human being. And that is special in its own right.
I always knew that I would never be up to the challenge of having kids, that I had a personality and a lifelong agenda that made me extremely poor parent material. Having cats in my life is purely about companionship. I don’t feel particularly maternal towards them. They are more like furry roommates who don’t pay rent (well, Sparkle does help a little with her blog). They are not going to grow up and lead their own lives someday. If there are any teachable moments, it is them giving me the lessons.
People treasure children and cherish cats. It’s not an either-or thing. One does not replace the other. You can have one or both and either way your life will be enriched.