Why having pets doesn’t make you a parent

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A new survey shows that people on average lose 750 hours of sleep in the first year of parenthood, and that’s the easy part. School admissions, homework duties, the rebel years, drugs and dating, career and marriage -seeing just one child sett led in life leaves most people grey and tired. So when someone throwing a ball to their dog in the park says without irony they feel like their pet’s mom or dad, the urge to roll eyes at them is understandable. “I should be able to say, `Please don’t equate your pet with my children,'” writes M A Wallace in an article for New York magazine, “but something stops me; it now feels rude, practically reactionary , to insist on the difference.”

 So, can pets really take the place of children for the human race? It’s an unsettling thought, writes Wallace, who has two (human) children. “Parenting is our connection to the future, the means by which we attempt to influence what tomorrow’s world will be.” Wallace points out the paradox of pet ownership: “We love them because they aren’t human, then spend their lives treating them like people.We project onto them what we wish we could see in ourselves and others. We don’t really want them to be animals -wild, free, ultimately unknowable -we want them to be like us, but more static and predictable. Something we can control.”

Pets are not at all like children, who are “dynamic individuals, immediately asserting their will, out to change the world around them. In stark contrast to pets, children are always trying to outgrow, outflank, and outsmart their parents.” While “pets don’t do any of this. They are not involved.”

 Wallace’s advice to those who proudly display `My Child Has Four Paws’ bumper stickers: “You can’t `parent’ a pet because you aren’t teaching it how to leave you and become an independent being. Your pet is stuck with no choice but to love you…Having a pet is like playing with a living doll, a chance to enjoy the activity and ritual of parenthood without any of the purpose, consequences, or hard work.”

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