…please let your children know they come first in your heart. It’s totally understandable to love our pets, but it’s so easy for young minds to think the pet is favorite. It can cause quite a bit of damage for a child to grow up thinking they are second to the cats, or the dog, or whoever. I had just such a background and that’s why I want to reach out to parents. You may be thinking “of course my children know I love them,” but it may not be as obvious as you think. Besides, a extra hugs and “I love you’s” never hut anybody.
This happened to me.
Growing up second
When I was little, I had the distinct impression that my mother loved the cats more than she loved me. I wasn’t a planned pregnancy, partly because my parents were just getting out of college and very poor at the time. They both tried to do their best for me, I know that now, but at the same time it’s very plain that my mother wasn’t ready for a child. My father was a little better prepared, and he took care of most of my needs including bottle feeding, changing, etc. My mother always said she’d wanted to have a horse instead of a child. Even if she was joking, that kind of thing stuck in my mind from a very young age.
Every time she’d pet the cats before hugging me, or show them more affection than she showed me, I noticed. That was normal. She rarely said “I love you.” She wasn’t demonstrative with affection toward humans. She didn’t hug much, or let me sit on her lap very often. She hadn’t even breastfed me. Later, when we weren’t quite so destitute, I noticed how her cat always got his special vet-prescribed food no matter what, when I didn’t think I was getting equivalent care. I noticed how she was still far more demonstrative with her animals than with her human family and I grew up feeling like I was playing second fiddle to them. I developed quite a bit of jealousy toward her cats but I suppressed that, thinking I had to put up with it because it was normal.
What saved me
I nearly fell into the same trap after I’d grown up. In my formative years, I was far closer to my dog and goat than I was to my few human friends – after all, they would never hurt my feelings, disagree with me, or ask me to do anything that brought me outside my comfort zone. I identified far more with animals or aliens than with being human. I dreamed of a day after I’d grown up, and could have a lot of my own animals, because I felt happy and comfortable around them. My spouse saved me from this – it was hard to take her advice at first but gradually my relationship with her became important enough that I could see how being around people was better than being around animals. My spouse taught me to like hugs, and helped me learned that friendly comforting touch could happen between humans, not just between me and my pets. She taught me to cuddle.
Looking to the future
I’ve grown a lot since I met my dear partner. At this moment, I do have a cat – but not the two cats, dog, bird and pet rats I would have wanted when I was growing up. My spouse and I both love her, but we cherish each other too, and it’s obvious that the human relationship is as important or more important than the one with our cat. Neither of us have a doubt about that. If I had children, I would make a point of knowing how important they are to me.
I’m still coming to terms with how much anger I am holding inside me as a result of my mother’s neglect. I grew up thinking I was lesser, partly due to other factors but partly due to her, and I never felt free to even admit that anger was there. I wasn’t free to express it so it would explode sometimes. It helped feed in to a truly poisonous sense of self hatred, something that I’m still trying to shake. It could have been prevented with just a little more communication, as well as someone who was capable of teaching me coping strategies so I could handle what I was feeling.
Pets are great, and I still consider some of them members of the family. But I’ve learned from my experience and I would never set one above a member of my human family. My hope is that all animal lovers who also have children will give their children an extra hug – and a sincere “I love you,” so that they never doubt their parents’ devotion.
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All pictures in this post are from Pixabay.