Cats vs. Children: is that the right question?
“Cats are like yoga,” my vet said to me, looking lovingly at my kitty on the table. I guess she meant that they force you to slow down and observe. Otherwise, good luck getting close to these sensitive and fickle creatures.
According to her, my cats seemed calm. Like the kind of cat, you would use to demonstrate handling to first-year vet students. I took a strange pride in that fact and found myself prompting the vet to tell me more about the influence of owners on their pets. Was I calm, and did my zen-like qualities show through my cats? Like some kind of proud parent a bit too eager for affirmation, I wanted to know, was it nature or nurture?
Imagine how truly invested biological parents are
Of course, cats are not the same as children, but I did find myself imagining what parents must feel. After all, I was getting this invested in a little creature from another species that didn’t bear any resemblance to me or even come from my body. Imagine how truly invested biological parents are?
Now, I have been a cat mom, a stepmom, but not a “bio-mom”. I know that there are a ton of stepparents, foster parents, or just people with parental guidance roles that excel at it, and would consider those kids their own. But as a thought exercise, I like to imagine the intensity of the impact of hormones and that invisible evolutionary pull that cements the bio parent and child relationship. Is it stronger than non-bio ones? How much is nature and how much is nurture? I can imagine if a neglectful ‘bio’ situation was pitted against a nurturing and loving one, the latter would triumph- doesn’t love favour growth?
Can we decide to love, and act like parents regardless of biology and evolution?
So even if cats are not the same as children, maybe we can use the example to pose the question differently. Can we decide to love, and act like parents regardless of biology and evolution? It certainly seems so. Sure, pets don’t replace children, apples are not oranges. But maybe we’re simply focussing on the wrong end of the equation. The decision to love and protect small creatures in our care, is that not the end of the stick we are all holding? It’s a real question.
I don’t think anyone is saying that animals and children are the same- if they were, there would be no discussion. The pope would not be warning us, the Church and national reporting wouldn’t take notice of the sinking birth rates, voluntary or not, and link them to lifestyle trends. Somehow, this imaginary conversation between opposing camps feels like two ships in the night, each party sailing past the other and completely missing the point.
Lifestyle choices are not the root cause of sea change
The Church and state are losing their power to guide family decisions, and see a rising trend in pet ownership and childless or “childfree” homes as a culprit or cause. But trends are the result of multiple colliding factors across politics, economics, climate and society. Lifestyle choices are not the root cause of sea change. They are the long-term result of political decisions made long ago. I could go on…
And so here I am again, with my cat, who is like yoga. To nurture this creature in my care, I have to observe and be mindful. I let her come to me, even though I’m aching to pounce on her and scoop her up high above the ground. I don’t know what it would be like to have my own biological creature. But for now anyway, in this multitasking knowledge economy where 6 minutes is the maximum time between checking a chat app or other communication tool (according to Quartz), I’m happy to have a yoga cat. Her 10-hour naps and little outdoor adventures remind me of a different pace and let me get my work done. Maybe it’s as simple as deciding to love a creature how they need to be loved and sharing the journey as far as it takes you. Maybe that’s universal whether we are bio-parents or not.