Can Pets Take the Place of Children?
As a nation of animal lovers, we British can be really soppy when it comes to our pets. But, is it true that there is a move in the UK towards having pets rather than children.
Linda and husband Eric are part of a growing number of couples choosing pets over children to fulfil their nurturing needs. They've been married 17 years and refer to their two adopted dogs, Billy and Benjy, as "kids" to reflect their sense of parental responsibility.
But can pets take the place of children?
According to a study in the US, 61% of dog owners believe that caring for pets fulfils a need to be a parent, 69% said they give their pets as much attention as they would to their children and 54% said they felt an emotional dependence on their pets.
The suggestion is not that pets actually replace children but that they provide enough benefits and meet basic human needs to be a viable option for some couples. For some couples with busy lifestyles, having a pet rather than children satisfies these needs quite adequately. After all, coming home after a hard day at work to a waggy tailed dog who is pleased to see you or a cat who makes a fuss of you is much less stressful than coming home to screaming, fed up children. The lifestyle choice is easy to understand when looked at from this perspective. And no need to find babysitters if you need to go out for the evening!
This begs the question, will pet parents be deprived of a love and satisfaction that can only be experienced through childrearing? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Arguably, what they don't know, they apparently don't miss and what they do have, they cherish.
What about those proud, joyous occasions when parents finally see their children grow up, graduate from University, get married and have children of their own? Many pet parents point out that they enjoy greater freedom and satisfaction and fewer complications and maybe that is a fair trade for some.
Children and pets do issue similar challenges in rearing.
Children and animals will both "test you," so you need to set limits and reinforce them consistently.
And "time out" can work wonders on both two- and four-legged offenders. Some pets can be as fussy about their food as children are about their vegetables. And both species need love, attention and stimulation to ensure healthy, well-balanced development.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to pet parenting is that animal companions are only with us for a short time: i.e. 10 to 15 years, usually. But, in that short time, they do satisfy the need to nurture and protect and to love something that is uniquely part of you, even if not biologically. So many pet owners maintain that their pet is part of their family. And they give back what you give them - unconditionally. Whilst teenagers can be grumpy and moody, a pet will love you no more or less than they have ever done.
As pet owners, we should always regard our pets as part of our family but the debate will always continue over whether they should be regarded AS our family. For some, it's an easy choice to make.
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