Parents Talk: Can You Be A 'Parent' To A Pet?

As a mother of a tuxedo cat, I think parenting can include more than children.

We adopted our little boy in June 2009. My husband, Corey, and I took him in about 30 hours after we first saw him on the streets of Wenatchee, WA.

He was scrawny and underfed, but he was healthy, according to his doctor.

Yes, we're parents—to a cat. His name is Moxie and he's almost 3 years old.

I realize some people might be offended by the fact that I'm calling myself a parent, considering I have a cat instead of a child. But couples with pets and without children are more common than you might think.

According to a USA Today story about the 2010 U.S. Census, "the share of households with children dropped from 36 percent in 2000 to 33.5 percent a decade later. … There are now more households with dogs (43 million) than children."

I'm not delusional; I know Moxie's not a human being. He's way too furry and independent at his age to confuse him with a child—and he doesn't have opposable thumbs. I doubt too many 3-year-old children love flaked tuna or trout from the can the way Mox does.

No, Moxie isn't a child. When done properly, parenting a child is the most difficult thing a person can do; parenting a pet is tough at times, but nowhere near as all-consuming.

The fact remains that having a pet and having a child have their similarities:

  • We get him a "babysitter"—someone to come in and feed him, check his water and play with him a bit—when we go out of town for a few days.
  • He whines when I spend too much time working and not enough time playing with him.
  • He wakes us up from a dead sleep whenever he feels he needs attention.
  • He thrives on habit: same food, same toys, same place to sleep, same daily events. When things change, he gets stressed out.
  • We occasionally have to clean up his messes.
  • We buy—and have even made—toys for him.
  • We have built furniture just for him.
  • He has a favorite blanket.
  • We feed him and "change" him—his litter box rather than a diaper.
  • We have had to "cat-proof" parts of our home.
  • He often brightens the day with the little things he does.

Finally, and most importantly, we love him. We worry about what might happen to him and we don't know what we would do without him in our lives.

We know in about 10 to 15 years—maybe even a lot sooner—Moxie will die. When that day comes, we'll be heartbroken. The knowledge of the pain that day will bring cements the feeling that we're his parents.


What do you think?

Eric February 23, 2012 at 10:11 PM
We have both, and treat our cat like a member of the family. We would prioritize our child without question if a conflict arose but outside of allergies that's unlikely, especially since we feel it is beneficial for a child to have a pet in the house. I have no problem with pet owners calling themselves parents to their pets. No one is suggesting that the two situations are equivalent, and everyone understands in context what is meant. In our case the cat is more like another parent than another child, but she's still not allowed to babysit our daughter on her own!
Nettie Pegors February 24, 2012 at 02:53 PM
I have both children and pets and have several pets to boot. I love my pets very deeply and am very committed to them the emotional tie is strong but there is no way no matter how much I love my criters that will ever compare to the love and feeligns I have for my actual children. Children are human beings and our love and feelings for them can never ever be even close to what we feel for out pets. Before I had a child I often though how am I ever going to love my baby the way I love my doggie big surprise I did lots more!! So I dont care what you wish to call your relationship to your wonderful and they are wonderful wonderful critter but until you have actually had human children you will never understand its not the same thing not even close. Keep loving those babies both human and not have a good weekend.
Kevira Voegele February 24, 2012 at 03:02 PM
You have a good weekend too, Nettie. And thank you for weighing in.
Emily B February 24, 2012 at 06:24 PM
I agree with Kevira and Michael. Our kitty is totally our baby right now, and while I know she is just a small portion of the responsibility of what kids will be, we definitely feel like pet parents. And besides, when my mom calls, she asks about her "grandkitty," so it must be true! :) On the note of folks who have pets and then have kids, it is important to remember that there are some people who will just never have kids. I have a good friend who is in this category. She and her husband have no plans to be people parents, but their dog is super important to them and fills that role in their family. I agree that no one is trying to equate pets with kids, but for some, a pet parent is exactly who they are. Some folks may prefer to be called a pet owner and that is just fine too, but for me personally, I feel that, in addition to touching on the love we have for our pet, calling myself a pet parent denotes a certain level of responsibility that maybe isn't there with "owner."
Joe February 25, 2012 at 02:07 AM
For God's sake, call yourself whatever you wish.


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