Many a writer has compared having dogs to having kids, exploring why one path might be better than the other or how “fur babies” prepare you for human ones. A recent article on this topic has caught the interest and even outraged quite a few dogs parents: Elizabeth Broadbent’s assertion that even comparing the two is insulting to “real mothers” (with human kids).
She argues that every detail of life with, and caring for, human children (toddlers in particular) is a far greater challenge than that with dogs. She concludes: “Don’t call your dog a baby. Don’t call him your ‘furkid’ or ‘furbaby.’ Because baby, it’s not even close.”
As a longtime dog mom, and also Mommy to a five-year-old child, my reaction to the article was bafflement. It all rang hollow to my ears. Broadbent mentions similarities in the two experiences and attempts to show that the human version is ever so much harder than the dog one. For example, she suggests waking up with a baby in the night (and getting baby back to sleep) is harder than waking up with a puppy who needs to go outside. She insists child-proofing a house is harder than puppy-proofing. And so forth.
But, to me, it’s these very things that are much the same with both puppies/dogs and kids. It’s the fabric of day-to-day life while caring for another being who’s dependent on me. It’s also these aspects from which, I think, other writers have made an excellent case for how puppy raising and dog ownership can prepare someone to be a parent. These practical matters – cleaning up after someone (kid or dog) and making sure that they are safe and fed – ultimately, they’re much the same.
In the short-term and the small picture, I would say there is a lot of overlap between having dogs and having children. This is the problem with Broadbent’s article: The very factors on which she puts her focus – the nitty-gritty details of everyday life with dogs or kids – are the ones with the most in common, yet she tries to draw them in contrast.
And yet, I could say that I agree with her larger point. Having kids is completely different than having dogs. But it’s in the longer term that the two enterprises start to diverge greatly.
Dogs can always come up with surprises, but one of the luxuries of my dogs is that once they passed the age of about two, I have had a comfort in feeling I know who they are, and a security in their general predictability. My daughter, Emily, on the other hand, will take much longer in “becoming,” and with each new stage along the way, she becomes more complex. So far, I mean, she’s only five years old, but the process of her development as a person has been awe-inspiring to me. I’d describe our relationship as close, but she’s so amazing and mysterious that I don’t see how I could ever be worthy of the task of being her parent.
Someday, Emily will ask me deep questions that I’ll struggle to answer. Not so with my dogs… we exist in our simple harmony, in bonds built of instinct and emotion.
And then, of course, it’s the end goal that makes raising a human kid so vastly different. After all, my dogs will always and forever be my dependents – forever my children, as it were. But Emily will grow to become independent. I’ll always be there for her, sure, but she will become an adult, making her own way, her own decisions, responsible for herself. So for now, I have to somehow try to impart to her the knowledge, skills, confidence, and character that will enable her to navigate this world on her own.
Last week, Emily attended her pre-school “graduation.” It was themed after Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! That isn’t a question for my dogs. They’ll go with me. Where will Emily go? Who knows!
Maybe someday, I’ll visit Emily in her first apartment in the city. Maybe she’ll have gotten a dog of her own. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll call that dog my “Grand-Dog,” and with no apologies to anyone, including the likes of Broadbent and others who feel as she does.
Let’s hear from you, readers. Do you use labels such as dog mom and furkid? If not, does it bother you when others do? Share in the comments!
Read more about dogs and kids on Dogster:
About the author: Dawn Taylor-Church lives in Rhode Island with her daughter, Emily, who is five years old; her personal pack of dogs, Chachi, Sally, Rain, and Reddy Teddy; and a constant stream of foster dogs and puppies. She has been involved with shelter rescue since 1996 and runs a small, homegrown rescue group, Southpaws Express.