Lately, I have found myself in a saga called “my child wants to have a pet”. The problem is, that I am not ready for extra responsibilities at this stage of life, and the bigger problem is to explain this to the little growing organism that puts all the energy, creativity and effort to convince me, that my life is not going to change a single bit.
There is a cartoon movie I like where a 7 year old boy craves for a dog, which his parents refuse to buy at first. Then, when at the boy’s 8th birthday he discovers he is not getting a dog as a presents he bursts into hysterical, bitter cry (the heartbreaking sort of cry every child learns from birth). Eventually, his parents give up and the next scene we see is a small puppy and a bouncing boy swirling around the room. Of course movie scenes are meant to convey a specific message and here it is – pets are good for kids, if your kid wants a dog and you’ll get him one, he will be happy and so on. The other part of the picture, or better say – a question less people are asking is – are you, parent, ready for that dog? Because you are going to be the one taking it for walks and you will be the one making appointments (and paying) for the vet. You are also the one making sure there is enough pet food (and if not, guess who will have to buy/order/carry it home?), in most cases you will have to wash the creature, brush it, make sure there are no parasites (or whatever organisms might find your pet attractive). To put it shortly – you are in charge.
Having said that, I have no intention to diminish the obvious benefits of owning a pet – this article is not about the benefits and no one is arguing that pets are great for kids. All I am saying is – do not to mislead yourself by the pleading of your child and by the endless promises “to take care” of the animal. If your child is under 12 (or even 15) probably, you will be the one to bear the consequences.
As with my particular case, I’ve been through major stages of child attempts to beg, reason, blackmail (if you don’t buy it I will get it myself), and even strategically hypnotize me by putting small notes in every possible place in the apartment. Below I will show two main stages of “pet war” every parent might go through and the optional solutions that helped me to explain myself by respecting my position and my child’s desire.
Stage 1: calm begging, moderate crying:
“All of my friends have pets”
“Mommy, please buy me a pet”
“I will take care of it, every day”
My respose: explaining softly that there are certain things that only adult can do: a child under 12 cannot go out by himself (concerning dog walks). Only adult can take a pet to the vet, only adult can pay with their own money for vaccinations (I know how much these cost, no pocket money will suffice) and so on. Briefly put – the idea is to show a bigger picture of responsibilities, that only a grown-up can take.
I would suggest not to use sentences like: “you don’t even clean your room, how can I expect you to take care of the parrot/kitten/turtle?” These phrases insult and humiliate, and the child might temporarily improve their organizing skills and then expect you to fulfill your “part of the contract”. So, this is the area you don’t want to be in, even if your only goal was actually to make the child clean their room. Because – I repeat – the effect is temporary.
Stage 2: child threats and manipulations
“if you don’t buy me a pet I will… feel miserable/buy it myself/find one and keep it secret etc., etc”
There is one thing I can say about children and pets.
I admit, my first reaction was a feeling of mother guilt. How come I make my child feel so miserable, express himself in that way etc., etc.
But after a short shake-off self-therapy I realized
again who the responsible adult in all this situation is, and who is the one not be bound with manipulations.
My respose: explain, that we are a family, we live together as a family and we make decisions as a family. A pet is another family member, and before bringing this family member home, all other member must be content with this decision. Bring up an example of you doing something as an authoritative parent – knowing your child would not like it – and ask whether your child thinks it’s acceptable?
I see some parents ask on forums what pet to buy for a 4-year old child. To me it’s the same as asking some folks in the street whether I should bring a baby because my child wants a friend?
This sort of question is not something to be decided on forums or even in a circle of relatives. Taking a pet is a private decision, and it’s a decision made by the person who takes care of the household. Not your child, not your parents not even your partner unless he is willing to fully share the responsibility (consider excuses such as “lots of work”, “work trips” and so on). I’m trying to keep on the realistic side of life: in the end of the day you will be the one to take a pet to the vet at 2 a.m. with diarrhea, high fever or whatever may happen.
The creepy feeling of mother guilt
“But what about my child?” you may ask. “I want my child to be happy, but I don’t feel completely confident about another four-legged family member”.
The answer is – if you are not completely confident, then it’s a straight and simple “no”. There are thousands of ways to make your child happy and buying a pet is just one of them. The worst scenario is taking a pet and then realizing it has been a mistake and you have to give it away. It will be a much more traumatic experience for the entire family, especially for the child, comparing to not taking the pet at all. So put your feeling of mother guilt on a high shelf, you might use it on another occasion.