Is Having Pets Rather Than Children a Psychological Disorder?

Some are claiming that the “urge” to have children is “natural”, and that replacing children with pets is unhealthy. Now everybody wants to get on the bandwagon of calling choices they dislike psychiatric disorders. Look at the following from an article in The Federalist entitled, “Having Pets Instead Of Kids Should Be Considered A Psychiatric Disorder”:

This urge [to procreate] is natural. It’s good. It was placed in us to let us know that our reproductive systems are in prime shape to marry, build a home, and raise children. As the father of three, I can also say what a joy it is to feel the tug of those parental instincts and fulfill them as God intended.

But for many in my generation who are also approaching 30, children (and the ideal prerequisite for children, marriage), are still out of the question because they’re too expensive, too time-consuming, and might cramp their style. Those nurturing instincts don’t go anywhere, though. A disturbing number of young adults are directing them toward substitutes—not boots or stuffed toys, but dogs and cats.

I’m convinced that psychology manuals 200 years from now will identify “replacement-baby syndrome” as a diagnosable epidemic in my generation. For an unbelievable number of millennials, pets’ original purpose—to be shaggy companions and useful partners in work and housekeeping—has been superseded by a role they were never intended to fill: replacement child.

“Never intended to fill” – never intended by whom? Whether you believe in God or not, or regardless of what kind of God you believe in, such a statement means to imply that having children is something you should want to do, because it’s part of your nature. “You’re able to reproduce and therefore you should, as Nature intended.” And, if you don’t want to have children, then there’s something psychologically wrong with you, to the point where it’s a mental disorder. Kind of like not wishing to breathe, or not wanting to have a healthy body.

The unstated premise is that because you’re biologically capable of something, you should automatically want to do it. Capacity implies an obligation. Seriously? Think about all the various life or career choices we could make. Many of us are capable of being accountants as well as interior designers or engineers. Some would make great basketball or football players, although they might prefer to be doctors, architects or store managers. If we make one life choice at the expense of another, should we shame ourselves on the premise that we’re also capable of those other things? Clearly it’s absurd, and nobody would even try. Yet that’s precisely the premise that this writer relies upon when making his smug assertion that you’re disordered if you don’t wish to have children. He’s treating the indefensible as self-evident so you won’t question his assertion. In the therapy and psychology world, we call that shaming.

A few years ago, I wrote the following on this subject:

Why do so many parents act, speak and appear to think as if having a child is the ultimate accomplishment?

Flies also reproduce. Primitive savages do it too. Cavemen did it. Having offspring is not a particularly human accomplishment. It’s a necessary act of biological survival, at least from a species perspective. But there’s nothing distinctively human about it.

…Rational, effective and conscientious child rearing is, indeed, distinctively human. Taking full responsibility for the competent development and maintenance of your child’s intellect and psyche is a great accomplishment.

My hat is off to parents who manage to accomplish this. But merely giving birth and expecting others to admire you for it scores no points in my book.

People do not develop relationships with cats and dogs in order to play out their nurturing “instincts”. Human beings are not instinctual creatures. We are thinking, reasoning and choice-making creatures. There are rational reasons to have children and rational reasons not to do so. There are rational times and places to have children, and times and places not to do so. Some of these are debatable, and a lot of them are personal. The only right or wrong, from a distinctively human perspective, is that you THINK out your choices and come to the most reasonable conclusions possible. I don’t think more or less of people for having children. I think more of them if they do so mindfully and rationally, and I think less of them if they do so mindlessly or compulsively, just like with any other major life decision.

If you choose to have a child and do a competent job in the enterprise of child-rearing, you have accomplished a major feat. If you do it mindlessly and brainlessly, with an eye exclusively toward biological survival and nothing at all regarding intellectual and psychological nourishment, you’re really not much better than that fly or primitive savage. In fact, you’re far worse, because you’ve failed to take advantage of what an advanced, scientific civilization has to offer and apply it conscientiously to the enterprise of raising a child.

The writer of this article, who bases his claims on his fundamentalist Christianity, tries to embarrass or shame people into wanting to have children. Such a tactic arises from a subconscious recognition that reason and persuasion will not work, not when one has a faulty premise. So the person making the point resorts to shame and emotional intimidation, which is all shaming is.

He extends this tactic to attacking people who dote on and love their cats and dogs. He implies it’s some kind of perversion, and offers it as proof that “Nature’s” real intention for us all is to have children, whether we want them or not, are capable of properly raising them or not or even consider it desirable. The other unspoken premise here is selfless duty. Just as Communists claim you must have the career that best suits the needs of society, these moralistic-naturalistic versions of Communists (who usually consider themselves quite right wing) will tell you that child rearing is a duty you must follow. And, just as the Communists throw you in the psychiatric ward (as in Soviet Russia) for disputing the government, this sneering writer wants to label you with a psychiatric disorder for declining to have the number of children at the time and the place he thinks you should.

Insecure people need to control. They need you to make the choices they feel you should make because it validates, in their own uneasy psyches, the choices they have made. They cannot exist with serenity unless you are forced or shamed into doing what they believe is right. They even feel entitled to live in a realm or world where others make the same choices as they do, and they become anxious to the point of rage when others do not. This is the mentality underlying any form of psychological disorder, not to mention moral corruption and sociopolitical evil (i.e., dictatorship). I encounter this mentality on the left when people shriek about socialism and environmentalism (different forms of religion), and I encounter this exact same mentality on the right, when it comes to social conservatives who think there’s only one proper way to live, in a traditional family context with lots of children.

The love and attention many people shower on pets today is not an indication of psychological disorder. It’s the product of economic growth. For all the relentless attacks by our government on the system of capitalism and economic prosperity, we have – up to now, anyway – continued to enjoy some measure of those beautiful things with each passing generation, especially in the United States. Pets have benefitted from the advancements of capitalism and economic progress. People are richer, on the whole, than they used to be, despite the repeated damage the government has been doing to the operation of a free market economy.

I want to live in a world where people who choose to raise children may do so in the most rational and intelligent ways possible. The same goes for people who choose to have pets or take on any other constructive endeavor. Pets are not humans. Yet they do bring a unique kind of love and visibility to the struggling, achieving human as no other connection in life can do. These moralistic shrews at The Federalist,  who seek to justify their own choices by imposing their attitudes on others, contribute nothing at all to our understanding of what makes people tick, and why so many people (many of them parents) deeply cherish their pets.

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