I am irritated lately by a comment I heard Jennifer Aniston make during one of her Marley and Me interviews. She loves her dog like other people love their children... something to that affect. Oprah's said it, too. And I call bullshit on that.
You don't love your dogs like other people love their children. That simply isn't true. Yes, I can see how one might think they love their dogs, or pets, as much as other people love their children - but if you haven't got any children you don't know what the shit you are saying. You simply don't. Not that this is a fault of yours. Not that it makes moms better than non-moms. Because it doesn't - but there is simply no comparison between the love of a family pet and the love of a child in the family.
I love my dog. Do I love him so much that if he bit my kid he'd see anymore nights at my bedside? Hell no. Do I love him so much that if he harmed my daughter in anyway he'd curl up next to me on the couch? Hell no. I do feel badly that he plays second fiddle to my daughter now - because he did rule the roost just two short years ago. But he is a dog. She is my heart.
He is a great dog, too. He doesn't mind when she accidentally steps on his tail. He cleans up the floor when she makes a mess. I often wonder why other people's kids seem so messy? But they don't have a dog to clean up the kitchen floor. I will leave a piece of toast for him to get later, I'm not ashamed to say it. The dog needs a little boost every now and then, too.
I agree dogs are wonderful. On all accounts. He is great to snuggle, great to pet, great to talk to when I feel blue, he is always there, always loves me, always gives me that warm greeting when I get home, he makes me feel good simply because I occasionally pet him. He is great. He keeps humping my couch, but he's great.
But love of a child is completely different than dog ownership. Besides the obvious differences: if you leave your dog alone in the house no one cares - but if you leave your kid alone in the house you have to answer to the authorities; you can get away with rarely bathing your dog without anyone saying much, but you ignore the personal hygiene of your kid and the school is going to start calling the house; you can put your dog in a cage and nobody cares, but you put your kid in a cage and again the authorities will take issue with your child rearing techniques; dogs can ride unrestrained in a car or even the back of a pick up truck, kids - not so much.
The love of a child gives us cat like reflexes. My daughter was napping in my four foot tall bed the other day and it gives me the willies. I can't handle the "what if she falls out" so my mom senses go into hyper-over-drive when she is in there alone. I was in the kitchen getting a much needed hug from the spousal unit and out of the silence I heard, "MAAAAM." Within a second and a half I bolted out of the hug, up the stairs, and calmly entered the room. When I returned to the kitchen my husband said, "Now if only you'd move that quickly when I needed something.." I said, "Don't hold your breath."
The love of a child can allow for the greatest of discomforts for the longest periods of time with little concern for my sleeping limbs, cricking neck, or forming charlie horses. In an effort to get my daughter back into her own bed (the phrase "ma bed" is her latest fave) I have created a "sleep chart," and re-vamped the bedtime routine. Unfortunately, the re-vamping took me out of the large and very comfortable rocking chair, to perching on the ottoman right next to her toddler bed, lurching over the safety rail, and resting my temple on the corner of her bed frame - while reading books and rubbing her back. This approach to bedtime seems to be working: she is becoming comfortable in her own bed again. I have a stabbing pain in my temple for forty minutes afterward, but she's good, so it doesn't matter.
The love of a child can muster up a level of enthusiasm shared only by moms and pre-school teachers. At 5 in the morning my daughter woke from her first night back in her own bed, she called out, "MAAAM!" I angrily threw my feet to the floor, grunted at the husband "what time is it?" Only to cheerfully enter my toddlers room saying, "Morning babe! Mama is so proud of you!!! You did it!!!" Like a person with multiple personalities, I can be "on" for her but or "off" for anyone else.
The love of a dog doesn't come close to creating those unique motherhood instincts. When my dog wakes me at 5 a.m. do you think I'm cheerfully sending him out to the backyard?
I think child-less pet owners lack the frame of reference to make such grand statements as: I love my dog as much as other people love their children. I think in time if Jennifer Aniston ever has her own children she'll feel like an ass for having compared the two. Because in truth, there just is no comparison - kids trump dogs every time.