While having a beloved dog or cat isn't exactly the same as caring for a baby, there are a few similarities. For instance, you have to feed them, teach them how to use the "bathroom," make sure they get enough exercise, and show them affection. Both destroy toys, are undeniably defiant, and are constantly leaking bodily fluids. So believe me when I say there are more than a few ways your childhood pet prepared you for parenthood, you just didn't know it at the time.
Memories of my first cat, Princess, are few and far between. I was young when my family had her, but old enough to know that taking care of her was a great privilege. I had to make sure she had enough food and water to eat and drink, that her litter box was clean, and that her long fur didn't make its way into anyone's food. So while I can't really recall what it was like to have her around, I do know that she taught me a sense of responsibility and how to care for another life.
When I was in middle school my family adopted the most influential pet of my youth, though: my cat, Boo Boo. He was much more than a companion and confidant. Actually, he was a jerk, and he knew it, but that only made me love him more because, well, cats. He taught me all about unconditional love, and how to appreciate someone for who they are (and not who you want them to be). And now that I'm a mom, I can't help but realize all the ways all my childhood pets helped prepare me for life with two kids.
They Teach Responsibility
My childhood cats taught me how to be responsible, and now I see my family's cats doing the same for my two children. When caring for an animal becomes part of a child's regular routine, they can't help but learn that someone else is counting on and relying on them. Sounds familiar, right?
They Test Your Patience
You know how cats like to claw at things, like furniture? And dogs like to chew things, like shoes? How you deal with these inevitabilities may determine how you'll handle it when it's your baby putting everything in their mouth, or your toddler breaking everything in sight. It's not exactly the same, but it's damn close.
They Teach Compassion
There's nothing else that teaches compassion and empathy like a caring for a beloved pet, and that emotional capacity definitely comes in handy when you're a parent. If you can learn to put yourself in your howling dog's shoes, to better understand what's bothering them and how you can help, you can do the same with your baby.
They Require Doctor Visits
Part of learning how to care for a pet is making sure they're healthy, which, of course, means taking them to veterinarian appointments and making sure they're up-to-date on their shots. It's all one big setup for the dozens of pediatrician appointments your brand new baby will need.
They Get You Moving
Having pets is a great way to stay active. Honestly, when I was younger I wouldn't have gotten any exercise if it weren't for my pets. While cats don't exactly need to go for a walk, like dogs, they still need their play time. Taking the time to be active with my childhood pets set the foundation for all the playing I'd do with my children.
They Make You Think Outside Of Yourself
Pets serve as constant reminders that you're not the only important thing in the universe. If you're an only child, like my partner, they give you a reason to think outside of yourself.
They Teach Unconditional Love
I endured a traumatic childhood, but knowing my cat was there to distract me and listen to me without judgement reminded me that I wasn't alone: I was loved by someone. I knew what unconditional love not only looked like, but felt like.
You might not like it when your cat tears up the blinds, or when your dog pees on the floor, but you still love them — just as you will when it comes to your babies.
They Teach You How To Deal With Strangers
Oh, some random person has haphazardly decided to come up and touch your baby without your permission? Not today, Satan. Not only do your parental instincts kick in, but you remember what it was like to have some stranger come up to you and randomly pet your dog without asking. It didn't fly then, and it won't fly now.
Honestly, nothing captures the attention of strangers like babies and pets, so if you're used to handling an excited dog-lover who just can't help but try to pet your precious fido, you can definitely handle an overzealous stranger in the grocery aisle who thinks it's appropriate to touch a stranger's child.