In addition to today’s trends of the Chinese seeing parenthood as a choice, the recent article on the childfree in China also spoke to how “Dogs are the new bundles of joy for some childless families, giving rise to a new phenomenon known as ding chong, or ‘double income with pet.’ ” Are pets bundles of joy for more families without children than not? My take…
The article refers to ding chong “childless families,” so it really is not clear if those are families who do not want kids at all or just don’t want them (or in this case one) yet. I can speak to trends I have seen with the former, the childfree.
Over the last decade and more now, I have talked with thousands of childfree from many different countries. I have not talked to many Chinese childfree, but have with many in North America, South America, Australia, Europe, Israel and Romania.
Many, and I mean many, say they have a pet or pets. Some childfree surmise that we are more likely to have cats than dogs. They seem to in Israel, at least according to Anat, the moderator of the only online childfree discussion forum in Israel; there seems to be a real trend for members to have cats, rather than dogs.
However, not so in other countries. I have to say that overall, between cats and dogs, I have observed that it is about even. Many childfree have dogs. Many have cats. Some have other types of pets from birds to bunnies!
But do they think their pets are their “bundles of joy” — that they are their “children”? To this my observation has been — sometimes.
Lots of childfree will admit that their pets are their kids to them. Others would say that while pets play a special role in their lives, they do not see them as taking the place of having kids. If they wanted kids, they would have kids. Being a pet owner is whole other deal. One woman named Carol in Families of Two described it in a way that sums up this view; they are not our children, they are a “special part of the household.”
Me–my 18 year old cat named nadia purrs at my feet as I write this. I love the soft sculpture , grace and beauty of this cat. I love her companionship, her sense of play (even at her ripe old age), and how she shows affection by putting her paw gently on my leg or shoulder. But is she my “kid”? To this I agree with Carol — she is a special part of our household and our lives–my kid? Not.
So if ding chong includes childfree families, that makes me one too. But if it means my pet is my “bundle of joy,” I remain a DINK and a GINK, not a ding chong~
Childfree–You? Weigh in your relationship with your pet! Others–what do you observe out there with the childfree and pets?
We have 2 dogs whom we tend to spoil and love very much. I spend a lot of time with them. We consider them part of our family, we care for them, so to outsiders, some may consider them our “kids” but they’d be wrong. They are not a substitute for kids, we didn’t say to ourselves one Sunday afternoon “Do we want to make a baby or get a dog?” They’re treated fairly and very well but we don’t lose site of the fact they are not “people.” They don’t even compare – I agreed completely with Carol in your book.
They don’t talk, aren’t financially or emotionally draining. We don’t get upset if they aren’t invited to weddings or events we are invited to. I could go on…
boy you are so right — a heck of a lot cheaper and far less complicated! I do find it interesting that parents can often think that our pets are our kids, and not really believe us when we say that is not the case. A possible assumption underneath that– since we all are supposed to want kids, if we don’t want them it must mean we just haven’t gotten with the program when it comes to parenthood and “remedially” have pets instead….That too – a Not!
I have one lovely rescue kitty named Brie. She’s more my cat than my spouse’s (neither of us would want it any other way), and we have an uncomplicated, rewarding relationship. She’s not a child surrogate, but she’s a good friend and one of my favorite companions, human or animal.
I’m not sure having a cat in my life has a direct correlation to not wanting kids, since I started having close friendships with animals when I was quite young. It does seem that a number of childfree people are animal lovers from an early age, even before we knew we didn’t want kids. Maybe I’ve just never liked other humans enough to want to make more of them!
I did not have my first pet until I was in my 30s if you can believe that! If my parents had been into it and we would have had animals, I bet I would have started having close friendships with animals earlier in life too~
I had to think long and hard about this one… We spoil our cats rotten, absentmindedly baby-talk them, and we’ve even had friends with children tell us that we are more dedicated to our cats than they are to their kids. Did we get them as “replacements” for children? Considering the cats came to live with us before we decided not to have children, I would say no. Has our relationship with them grown to a feeling of parental care-giving? I would be lying if I said no to that one. I love each of them dearly and it’s a horrible feeling to know we will outlive them and be devastated at their loss one of these days.
Stacey, You are not alone! I have talked to lots of cf that would not say they are “replacements” (even though their parent friends may think so!) but once they have them, do have a kind of parental care-giving experience. However, they know having the child experience is a whole other, well, animal ; )
My husband and I have four cats and a dog. We are devoted to these furry little beings because they are an almost constant source of comfort and joy (and an occasional source of annoyance). We talk to them and play with them and cuddle with them, but that’s just part of how we interact and care for them, and in return, we receive their affection, witness their beauty, and partake in their humor and fun. Our furbabies are all happy, healthy, fairly clingy, and affectionate, and they come when called. We jokingly refer to them as our babies, and I’ve been known to say “Daddy’s home!” when he gets back from work because they all get worked up and run for the door and it’s funny. Our cats are very vocal, and if one of them is yowling at him for dinner, he thinks it’s funny to ask, “Well, what did your mother say?”
That said, it is possible to care for and nuture a living being without likening it to parenting, and a lot of people seem to forget that. Is it parenting to care for the earth or to cultivate the land for your food? Is it parenting to care for a sick friend or relative? Of course not–these are just kind and worthwhile pursuits, not substitutes for parenting. Also, humans are responsible for the care of domesticated animals, since after all, humans domesticated those animals, making them unable to care for themselves. It’s a responsibility and a committment, but these animals have the potential to enrich human lives, and they do. That relationship is special, healthy, and important.
And all of that glosses over the core issue: If we wanted to have kids, we’d have kids. We wanted to adopt some homeless cats and a homeless dog, so that’s what we did. There are some similarities to children, but our “kids” will never grow up and will never be totally independent, and while they do need some care and supervision, they don’t need parents. But don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t trade them for a million bucks, and we’ll do whatever we can to make sure that they have happy lives for as long as possible. And since we decided long ago not to have kids, giving them the best of everything is easy.
::Sigh:: I find it annoying trying to defend my childfree lifestyle and/or sanity when it comes to the pet issue. Obviously I get that my cats are not human children. But, what’s wrong with thinking of them as my version of kids? Why can’t I be a kitty mommy? People adopt human children, and we adopted feline children.
I agree a lot with what Ang. is saying. My husband and I have 5 cats, and some people say we crazy spoil them. I’d argue that I give them everything they need to maintain their psychological and physical well-being, the same way one would (or should) a human child. And, indeed, we did domesticate these animals (although there is some evidence that dogs domesticated themselves). Humans, cats, and dogs have evolved a symbiotic relationship. To nurture them to a high standard as one would a human child is expected. The only difference is that my screened in porch for safe outdoor play, a pet water fountain to drink from, cat shelving in the livingroom so they can perch, and a diverse multitude of toys isn’t nearly as labor intensive or financially expensive as having even one child. Giving them a high standard of living is easy.
Obviously, not everyone views family pets in the same light. In my family, they have always been considered family. However, I usually keep my feeling on the issue to myself because I don’t want to deal with people who are going to tell me that my cats are replacement children (or attack my sanity). They aren’t replacement kids, they are my kids. If I had wanted human kids, I’d of had them. These are the only kids I want, and these are they only kids I’m going to have. Period.
Kate and Ang, So well said! If people stopped drinking the pronatalist kool-aid they would get that pet ownership and our relationship to animals is not a sub for kids–oy!