I don't have any kids – but I still identify as a parent

I don't have any kids – but I still identify as a parent

August 19, 2023

Raymond is spoiled rotten.

My days are planned around my caring responsibilities for him, like practising our yoga poses and curating his bedtime song playlist.

He eats breakfast before I do, and only ever dines on food with 100% natural ingredients. He’s even the only one in our household with life and health insurance.

It may sound like I’m talking about my child. In a way, I sort of am – but Raymond Reddington is my beloved cat. I treat him like my baby to the point that I identify as a parent, even though I’m child-free.

My husband Christian, 41, and I adopted seven-year-old Raymond from Cats Protection in 2017.

He peed on our couch within 10 minutes of first exiting his carrier. By the end of that day, a fine coating of his hair covered everything we owned.

I panicked, thinking: ‘What have we done?’ But from the first time he climbed onto my lap and pushed into the crook of my arm, I felt a rush of motherly love.

Ever since, we have celebrated all his birthdays and adoption anniversaries with cakes made of tuna and ‘pawsecco’ (prosecco for cats).

He also has his own stocking on the chimney at Christmas filled with gifts from his loving ‘grandparents’, which are mine and Christian’s parents.

We have even paid for a professional family photoshoot with Raymond – known as a ‘pawsome portrait’ session – and commissioned paintings of him by national and international artists.

From a graphic portrait in the Pop Art style of an Andy Warhol to acrylic earrings made from photos of his face, Raymond’s likeness covers almost every surface.

On top of that, no holiday has been the same since we welcomed Raymond home.

He, of course, has stayed in luxury kitty cabins with round-the-clock care, but whether I am sipping a Riesling in Germany or sunning myself in Greece, I am always scrolling WhatsApp for updates from the cattery.

From Raymond’s health and wellness to his comfort, happiness and safety, I consider his needs before my own. Ever since he turned 13 in March this year, the thought of losing him to illness or injury is enough to bring me to tears.

So, if I feel like a ‘mother’ to my cat, I believe that makes me one. The term ‘parent’ should not be solely applied to people with human children.

A 2021 Pew Research Center study in the US found that 44% of non-parents aged 18 to 49 don’t think they will have children – and not because of medical problems or the lack of a partner.

More than half of those questioned declared ‘not wanting to have children’ as the main reason – something I completely relate to. Luckily, my husband is on the same page.

It is clear millennials are open to having some form of dependent though. This group has overtaken Baby Boomers as the largest group of pet owners in the United States.

And, of the 3.2million households who adopted a pet during the Covid-19 pandemic, 59% were aged 16 to 34.

So, given that the average millennial would seemingly rather have a terrier than a toddler, do we need to reevaluate what definitions of parenthood might look like for future generations?

For me, one kind of dependent is no more meaningful than the other. Some people centre a child in their lives. Others centre their pets.

Yet, culturally and legally, parents of children sit at the top of the hierarchy when it comes to accommodating their caring responsibilities.

I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked to provide work cover for a parent who had an emergency involving a dependent child. Yet, currently in the UK, there is no legal right to take time off to deal with a pet-related emergency.

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Compassionate leave is solely at the discretion of the employer, so if your beloved cat or dog were to die unexpectedly, there is no legal obligation to give you time off to grieve – even though most pet owners consider their animals to be members of the family.

Similarly, while there is a statutory right to up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave or one or two consecutive weeks for paternity leave, there is no ‘paw-ternity’ equivalent.

If your cat or dog has a litter, or you are welcoming home a kitten or puppy, your boss often gets the final say in whether you can take any time off.

We are moving towards a society where the traditional concept of ‘family’ is changing. Birthing a child no longer defines parenthood.

Adoption, fostering and surrogacy are all recognised pathways to becoming a parent – both for individuals and for couples. Children can have multiple legal ‘parental responsibility’ – including people with whom they share no genetic links.

Being flexible about what ‘parent’ means in those circumstances is typically the sign of a compassionate heart and an open mind, whereby the welfare of the child is prioritised before outdated labels.

We pet parents may not birth our animals, but we are their guardians to the grave. We have entered a relationship with a dependent and must ‘act as a parent’ to ensure their survival.

I may not be a ‘parent’ legally, but I will forever choose to identify as a cat mother.

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