Pampering your pet as you would a child is much less of a commitment than actually having children
About three months after I’d given birth, I was invited to a recently-befriended mum’s house for a gathering of new parents and babies. As my bleary brain tried desperately to remember each adult’s name, and at least the gender of their corresponding tot, I suddenly realised we were one cooing, spewing infant short of a full set. How odd.
Later, as I happened on the lady I’d identified as childless refilling her mug in the kitchen, I inquired about the “little one”, wholly prepared to praise her willingness to leave him or her with someone else at such a young age. The tiny dote, she explained, was indeed with a neighbour. I gave her an encouraging smile. Then she got out her phone and proudly showed me a snapshot of her bundle of joy, on Instagram, of course. Blinking into the sun from the comfort of his very own swaddle, Buster was the smuggest schnauzer I’d ever seen.
Buster, it turns out, was just over two months old – a true “fur baby” in advanced social media parlance – and his doe-eyed owner assured us that she was just as consumed with sleep training and feeding regimes as we were. It was only when chatter turned to nipple cream, and how it serves wonderfully as lip balm, that her contributions to the conversation dried up.
Buster’s owner is among a growing breed of young people opting for pets over kids as the burden of raising a tiny human is losing its appeal for commitment-phobic, cash-strapped, travel-obsessed or simply career-prioritising millennials. Government data published this week shows that, for the first time since the ONS began collecting data, more women are getting pregnant in their 30s than in their 20s.
Dog walkers, though pricey, are a damn sight cheaper than nannies and nurseries. Sticking your pup in a kennel, while you swan off to a festival, destination wedding or occasionless weekend of debauchery, is far more socially acceptable than doing the same with a young child. Canines don’t exterminate your social life in the same way as mewling tykes tend to do, and, although I’ve never had a dog, I’m struggling to imagine that owning one causes quite the same level of cranium-cracking, body-battering, tear-inducing sleep deprivation that’s part and parcel of early parenthood.
There are facts to support my observations that people are opting for pets over babies. Mars’s Pedigree and Nestlé’s Purina have for some time been witnessing a slump in sales of many of their basic dog food products as pet owners pivot to premium nosh. Only the finest for the little darlings. One owner of a doggy daycare centre in the US, who was recently interviewed by the Wall Street Journal about the trend (yes, really), agreed that many young adults are treating their pooches like a firstborn child. Natural, organic, free-range: call it Fido’s answer to the avocado revolution.
But now that we’ve had a chuckle about it, it’s time to stop. The development sheds an unflattering light on the demographic struggles of today’s twentysomethings – and their understandable (and responsible) reluctance to bring a child into the world if they can’t get a foot on the property ladder or find stable work in an uncertain economy. It underscores that the current child-bearing generation – accustomed to easy, breezy global travel, unconditional independence and relationships that are created and killed on an app – is scared of lifelong responsibility. Whether or not to reproduce is probably the most personal decision you will ever make. But nothing can substitute for that. So don’t pretend that a canine companion is the same thing.
A dog is a huge commitment, a fabulous friend and, fine, call it part of the family. But having a baby is something entirely different. Procreation is allowing an extension of your own body to face the world alone in all its innocent vulnerability. It’s bearing full, unconditional responsibility for a person’s basic survival, but also their physical and emotional wellbeing at all levels, around the clock, for at least the next two decades. Parenthood is all-consuming. It’s an existence dictated by constant fear and guilt. It’s deeply fulfilling and relentlessly draining. It will make you change – even abandon – your career, friends and identity without so much as a second thought, and it will force you to re-prioritise every morsel of your life.
Waking up every two hours to soothe a helpless, screaming creature back into a short-lived slumber may be a total bitch at the best of times. But bless you, fur mama, if you think I’m talking about that kind.
• Josie Cox is a columnist, reporter, commentator and broadcaster