You Are Not a Pet Parent. Really.

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02 CyrusSo I’m not sure why the phrase “pet parent” irritates me so much, far more than pet owner.

Actually, that’s not true. I am sure, but that surety actually had a couple of people willing to argue about it with me yesterday, even after I offered a better word.

What’s the word?

Guardian. You’re not a parent, you’re a guardian.

Someone is shouting semantics at their computer screen right now, but it’s not. The difference between parent and guardian is not like the difference between big and large, far and distant, or brother/sister and sibling. Parent and guardian are not synonyms, they define two different relationships.

As a parent, your job is generally to raise a child from birth (or sometime later in childhood in the case of adoption) to adulthood, gradually teaching them how to think and act for themselves and to become a functional member of society.

This is not what you’re doing with your pet. (There are exceptions with children, too, but these are not the rule, and then I’d suggest both parent and guardian as relationship titles.)

Any animal you bring into your family—and that’s absolutely what you’re doing, no matter how small they are—you’ve taken responsibility for every aspect of their life, from the moment of their arrival to that horrible day when they die in your arms or you have to make that decision no one wants to make. You’re a guardian.

Children eventually start to detach themselves from you and find their own place in the world. Pets don’t. You’re never going to explain sex, love, death, or other complicated things to your cat. You’re never going to teach your dog to drive or help your Guinea Pig study for a math test. Your gecko isn’t looking for dating advice and your corn snake won’t need to be taught the realities of social media.

Your child will eventually learn to feed her/himself, but you’re opening a fresh can of dog food every single day for as long as that dog is with you. Your child will (someday) clean things up on their own, but you’d better keep scooping the litter box.

Pets are not children. You are not their parent. Think about it. Really think about it. To your pet, you are everything, the bringer of food and warmth and affection, the solver of problems and the cleaner of messes, and the absolute centre of their world. Your child will learn how to do or be all of these themselves and if it takes longer for some than others, it also takes longer than most pets will be with you.

Guardian. It’s a different kind of relationship than parent. To your pet, it’s all encompassing.

“Pet Parent”, I’m fairly certain, is a term coined by some marketing whiz to help sell us stuff for our pets we don’t really need.

Be well, everyone.

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Lance
Lance Schonberg is an eclectic genre fiction author with more than two dozen stories published or on the way. 2019 is the year he dives into independent publishing, starting with "Thorvald's Wyrd", "Skip To My Luu", and "Turn the World Around". And he needs a more exciting short bio.

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