I identify as childfree, meaning I don’t have, or ever want, children. I have an enormous list of reasons for being childfree, ranging from my genetics and mental health needs to my lifestyle choices. Children wouldn’t be good for me, and I’m not interested in having any. So many people assume that being childfree means I dislike kids altogether, which isn’t true. A lot of my friends have children, and I often enjoy their company. However, there is a big difference between hanging out with your friends’ kids every once in a while and having your own. So even though I'm young, married and childfree, I do have pets, and I basically treat them as if they were my children.
While I’m childfree, I do have fur-babies, and I absolutely adore them. My family consists of my husband and our dogs, and I feel completely fulfilled with them in my life. That’s not to say that what makes me feel whole should work for everyone. Different things fulfill different people, and that’s OK! Still, as a childfree woman with pets, I’ve been the target of many hateful, spiteful, and judgmental comments over the years. There are a lot of misconceptions floating around about childfree women with pets. We’re often viewed as lacking fulfillment. Loving our pets is sometimes seen as us compensating for not having kids, and the strength of that love is hurtfully called into question when parents say things like, “You’ll never know unconditional love unless you have children.” With luxury pet products and services trending and people treating their pets more and more like actual children, dialogue between parents and the childfree can easily devolve into competitive banter. That’s so silly. We can coexist peacefully if each party shows a little compassion and is willing to see things from the other’s perspective. With that in mind, I’m here to clear up a few common misconceptions about childfree women with pets. Here’s what I’d like you to know.
We’re not all using pets to fill child-shaped voids in our lives.
I recently adopted a goofy, 120lb mastiff mix I named Snuffleuffagus. During my monthly therapy appointment, I brought him up excitedly in conversation. As I pulled out my phone to show my therapist some of the cute photos I’d taken of Snuffy, he sat back in his chair and sadly shook his head. He then had the audacity to tell me that I should adopt kids, because I’m clearly just compensating for not having children of my own.
His comment was one that I’ve gotten many times from strangers on social media, but, coming from a mental healthcare professional who was intimately aware of all my rationale for not having children, this felt like a total slap to the face.
I don’t want children for a myriad of reasons, and each of them is completely valid. In fact, any reason that anyone has for not wanting children is valid and should be respected, because having children is not an obligation. Why do people feel as though the nurturing love I feel for my pets is misplaced? Why do they feel that I’m just a wanna-be-mom, wasting my maternal inclinations on animals? My dogs are darling creatures who keep me company, depend on me completely, and love me unconditionally. They deserve all love and attention they’re given, and they’re not replacements for kids. They are my fur-kids.
Spending lots of time and money on our pets’ comfort and well-being isn’t “so extra.” It’s love.
People have said that my priorities are out of whack because I care so deeply about my dogs’ safety and happiness. I check online for dog food recalls weekly. I’ve spent an exorbitant amount on my dogs’ toys, food, beds, etc., and have painstakingly researched where and how these items are made to make sure everything I give them is safe and high-quality. I’ve been told over and over again by parents that they’re “just dogs, not kids” and that I shouldn’t go to so much trouble for them.
When my little dachshund mutt, Rumpelstiltskin, was about 1 year old, a cat scratched him in the eye. Our vet quickly referred him to an animal ophthalmologist. I braved a three-hour drive in a treacherous snowstorm to get him the very expensive surgery he needed to save his eye. It was all worth it, because he’s right as rain now, but some people in my life thought that going to all that expense and trouble for a dog was ridiculous. “You certainly don’t have kids,” a family member told me after I recounted the saga of Rumpel’s eye injury, clearly viewing the lengths I went to to care for my dog as extraordinary and silly. Would they think the same thing if he was human, though? PeTA founder Ingrid Newkirk and I may disagree about a lot of things, but she has a fantastic quote:
“When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness, and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy.”
Humans and animals are both capable of experiencing pain, so why is caring for my fur-baby viewed as going above and beyond the call of duty, while doing the same would’ve been seen as basic care for a person? Pets are critters we choose to take on, and we have a responsibility to provide them with comfortable lives and great care. Those who disagree are better off investing in a Tamagotchi than a pet.
Maybe the love I feel for my pets isn’t exactly like what a parent feels for their child, but this isn’t a competition.
I’ve been told time and time again throughout my life that I’ll never know what true love is because I’m not having children. Elitist comments like these have come from strangers on social media, friends, and even family. I’ve been told I’ll never know real fulfillment, real joy, or real sacrifice unless I have children.
Who knows? Maybe my love for my pets isn’t quite the same as the love a parent feels for their child, but maybe it is. Either way, looking at love as a competition is unproductive and ridiculous. All love should be celebrated. It shouldn’t be a matter of who loves more, or less, or differently. All that should matter is that love, in any capacity, is present, and that’s beautiful. Let’s love our children and pets in our own ways and not create a needless competition out of it.
My pets are family, too, and they deserve to be treated like it.
Kids are a lot of work, and they’re unpredictable. My parent friends have canceled, rescheduled, and been late to plans with me because something came up with their children, and I’ve never been anything but understanding.
As decent human beings, we’re collectively expected to make accommodations and allowances for kids and their schedules. Pets, however, aren’t afforded the same sort of consideration. I’ve had to reschedule plans when my dogs have gotten sick, pass on going to distant family gatherings because my dogs weren’t welcome and I didn’t want to leave them home alone for so long, and I’ve had to decline last-minute vacation offers because I couldn’t find anyone reliable to watch my pets. When things like this come up, people often roll their eyes at me and say I’m just being so extra or that they’re just dogs. People have shamed and belittled me for being compassionate and concerned about my pets’ comfort and well-being. My pets are part of my family. Their comfort matters to me very much, and that’s not something anyone should ever be shamed for.
I’m hopeful that things are moving in the right direction. Companies are starting to give out “pawternity leave” to employees when they get new pets, giving them time to bond and adjust to life with each other. The pet industry is booming, and luxury pet products are trending. People seem to be treating their pets more and more like children, and now is the time for all competitive dialogue between parents and childfree people with pets to end. Not all childfree women are using pets to fill child-shaped holes in their hearts. Caring about pets’ safety and comfort enough to go the extra mile for them is love, not something to snicker at. Pets are living, feeling beings that deserve care and attention, and their comfort should be taken into consideration when making plans with friends and family.
So, the next time I pull out my phone to show off my cute dog pictures while everyone else is showing off their children, don't roll your eyes! My pets are my fur-babies, and they take up a huge amount of space in my heart. It doesn't matter if I love them the same way parents love their children. I love them, and the very presence of that deep love is really all that matters.