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John Cowan on get­ting a pet – or baby

John Cowan on get­ting a pet – or a baby

I of­ten say things that con­fuse peo­ple. A cou­ple of times, I have be­wil­dered some child by

say­ing, “I can re­mem­ber when you were a kit­ten.” What I was al­lud­ing to was that I had

known her par­ents for a long time; they, like sev­eral young cou­ples I knew, were child­less

un­til they got a pet and then, be­fore long, a baby was on the way. It seemed to be a pat­tern.

Those were pretty non-sci­en­tific anec­do­tal ob­ser­va­tions but it seemed to me that

some­thing about pet own­er­ship (maybe the cat dan­der or fleas?) stim­u­lated a parental

in­stinct in cou­ples. I thought that maybe all the cud­dling and car­ing and train­ing, the

sac­ri­fice and love, gave them a taste of what it must be like to have a fam­ily. It could also be

that get­ting a pet in­di­cates some­thing about your re­la­tion­ship. Harry Ben­son of Bri­tain’s

Mar­riage Foun­da­tion cites a study which sug­gests that get­ting a pet is a sign that a cou­ple

has the right stuff to be­come par­ents. “Re­search on co­hab­it­ing cou­ples show con­clu­sively

that get­ting a pet is a bet­ter in­di­ca­tor of stay­ing to­gether than hav­ing a baby,” he said.

That is so amaz­ing I am go­ing to have to write it again: if a cou­ple gets a cat they more

likely to stay to­gether than if they have a baby.

I think I can un­der­stand why. Very few peo­ple ac­ci­dently have kit­tens or end up with a

puppy be­cause the power went off one night. Pets usu­ally re­sult from a thought-through,

long-term com­mit­ment. Not many peo­ple would bring a pet into a home where they

sus­pect the re­la­tion­ship has a limited

shelf life. But ba­bies don’t come from

com­mit­ment, they re­sult from pas­sion.

Even in the twenty-first cen­tury, ba­bies

just ‘hap­pen’. Hav­ing a baby might

be­come a huge com­mit­ment but it is not

nec­es­sar­ily de­lib­er­ate one.

Even though I know sin­gle par­ents

can and do raise awe­some chil­dren, I

earnestly be­lieve a lov­ing sta­ble re­la­tion­ship be­tween par­ents is

the op­ti­mum nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment. Ro­man­tic love and sex­ual

fizz are fan­tas­tic but the bedrock for a re­la­tion­ship that will last is

com­mit­ment. (I re­ally wanted to say ‘kit­tens’ but I know it would

never get past my edi­tor). Heart and glands play their part but

com­mit­ment springs from char­ac­ter and grit.

Chil­dren thrive in a home headed by a com­mit­ted cou­ple.

Heart­en­ing in­di­ca­tors of true com­mit­ment have been high­lighted

in var­i­ous stud­ies. A poll of 3500 Bri­tish cou­ples rated buy­ing a

house to­gether and get­ting mar­ried as key signs of com­mit­ment.

So was get­ting a joint bank ac­count, though

al­ter­ing your will in favour of your part­ner

rated even more highly. An­other study

showed cou­ples who in­vested in house­hold

ap­pli­ances were more likely to stay to­gether.

(In­ter­est­ing thought: do some cou­ples quit

when their white­ware starts to wear out?)

Do you want a great

re­la­tion­ship? I wish

I could say buy­ing a new fridge and

labradoo­dle should do it. Hu­mans are

a lit­tle bit more com­pli­cated than that.

But part of the an­swer will def­i­nitely

be com­mit­ment. The rest of the

an­swer will vary from cou­ple to

cou­ple and will take quite a

bit of think­ing but walk­ing a

dog is a great way to think.

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