My cats were my kids, until I had a kid, and my pet parenting had to change
I have three cats, which is kind of a lot of cats, and which I acquired over a period of three years while I desperately wanted to have a baby. I was in my mid-20s and single, relatively unstable, and I knew it wasn’t the right time for me to start popping out kids, so I didn’t.
But I did enjoy feeling needed and caring for others and the satisfaction of watching little ones grow. As each new kitten came into my life, they helped me to postpone my mothering days and to morph more and more into the ultimate lesbian stereotype: the cat mom. When I found the third kitten (orphaned in an alley) and named her Margot, I joked with my friends that I had officially become undatable.
I’m the kind of person who takes pets really seriously, and I do mean really seriously. I firmly believe in the cause of animals rights, refuse to set foot in a zoo, work hard to reduce my dependence on animal products and try to see animals as individuals. All my cats have middle names, and I have worked very hard to meet all their distinct and individual needs over the years. Blanche needs plenty of socialization, but Jonah and Margot are introverts and need their quiet time, or their stress levels go through the roof. Margot needs to know that there’s always food available to her, or she’ll eat too fast and make herself throw up. Jonah needs to know his water is fresh. It sounds too intense to many people, but it’s just the way life has always been for me.
And so, when my wife (surprise! I wasn’t undatable after all!) and I found out I was pregnant, we joked that we were expecting our "fourth" child. I knew that having a (human) baby in the house would change my whole life, but I didn’t expect it to change my pet parenting nearly as much as it has. The fact is, babies have a nearly overwhelming amount of immediate needs, and when it comes down to who I’m going to fuss over — adult cats or baby human — the baby wins every time. Here are just a few of the ways my pet parenting has dramatically shifted after growing our family to include a baby.
Before baby: Dry food twice a day, in multiple locations so the cats can choose to eat together or alone. Water freshened at least twice daily, but many times much more. Expensive wet food given to the cat who needs it (for medical reasons) twice a day at exactly 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., with added water, and given to the other two cats more sporadically as a treat. Vitamins given most mornings.
After baby: Dry food and water given in the morning because the cats are screaming. Wet food when we remember to buy it. Has anyone seen those expensive cat vitamins around? Come to think of it, has anyone seen my vitamins?
Before baby: We keep a wide variety of cat toys (that we’ve safety tested!) scattered about the house for independent play, and in addition we have a few toys that are only for supervised playtime. I try to make sure I spend at least a little bit of one-on-one time with each cat every day, and if I miss a day with one, I feel guilty and try to make it up later in the week.
After baby: If you don’t want the baby to pull your tail, don’t swing it right in front of the baby, for the love of everything that is holy!
Before baby: It’s important to at least brush them regularly, even though sometimes they don’t love it. Try to catch them when they are more relaxed — but not asleep — to make it go as smoothly as possible. Also, it is possible to give a cat a proper bath if needed; you just have to know how to do it safely and quickly.
After baby: It’ll have to wait until after the baby goes to bed. Otherwise it’s just going to be a lot of screaming all around.
It’s not that I’ve turned into a terrible pet parent — my cats are not neglected, and their basic needs are always met (though sometimes they wait a little longer than they used to for the food dish to be filled). But if I’m being perfectly honest, our relationship has shifted, and now they feel less like my doted-upon children and more like really terrible roommates who are always on my case. Hopefully it won’t be like this forever, but for the moment, this is the best I can do.
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