Archive for January 18th, 2008

One of the benefits of never having a free moment to write a blog post is that the thoughts you have that you want to blog about have plenty of time to percolate until they become a full-on rant.  Like this one.  I must have composed this post ten times this week in my head, and each time I just got madder, and madder, and madder.  [Which also makes the final post longer and longer.]

It all started on Monday, when I read this little article about the strains on a friendship that can occur when one friend has children, and the other doesn’t.  This is a subject near and “dear” to my heart, since it very accurately describes my friendship with Emilie.  Where once we had so many things in common, including hobbies, workplace, goals, and even neighborhoods, there can be no denying that her life has taken a sharp right turn down the path of motherhood, while mine has not.  I love her, and I love her daughters, so I wouldn’t consider that our friendship is strained by any means, but it has become a long-distance friendship in more than one way.

The article itself was rather a “duh” article, as Emilie and I discussed later that day over instant messaging.  It’s not really news that new moms have new priorities and responsibilities that may take them away,  however temporarily, from their previous friends and habits.  Likewise, it’s not really news that women without children may not want to talk about children every minute of the day.  Like I said, duh

But what really got me thinking, and eventually got me riled up, was this comment by someone named Kris, who wrote:

This article fails to mention one phenomenon I’ve noticed since I had 2 kids (most of my female friends are still single/childless): The “dog mom syndrome”.  I have several female friends who are childless (by choice) who have decided to get a dog instead. Although I am glad they have creatures to love, who love them — afterall, I had two dogs of my own before I had kids — I do tend to get very irritated when any little tidbit of “what my kid did today” gets a response of “what my dog did today”. There are an astonishing number of single women out there who think their dogs are their children. As much as I love dogs, they aren’t children.

If I had the opportunity to write an email to Kris, this would be my response. 

Dear Kris,

Trust me: we know our pets aren’t children.  I know the difference between the relationship that Emilie enjoys with her daughters and the one I share with my dog,  Abby.  I am not looking forward to Abby’s wedding day, to the birth of her children, to sharing an adult relationship with Abby as I grow old and she matures into a beautiful and strong individual.  For that matter, I will probably not send charming portraits of Abby in my Christmas cards, I will not proudly look on while she performs in school pageants, earns merit badges in Girl Scouting, marches with the high school band or excels in track and field.  In fifteen years, when Emilie will be watching her daughter Eleanor graduate from high school graduation and go off to college and the promise of a bright future, I will most likely be looking at my dear dog, Abby, and sadly waiting for the day when I will have to take her to the vet and hold her in my arms one last time while she undergoes a  lethal injection to “put her to sleep”.  I completely understand that my dog is not my child.

That being said, Abby is the love and the joy and the opportunity to nurture I am given today.  It seems that, although I was called to be childless in my life, I was not relieved of the urge to nuture and care for innocent lives.  What I learn about my capacity to love and treasure life I often learn through my relationship with my pets.  I am still growing, learning and experiencing through this relationship and it’s important to me.

It’s not that I think my pets are children, or are even close to being human. When I tell Emilie stories about my pets, its not to compare my dogs and cats to her  children, it’s just sharing a part of my life that is important to me, and trying to find expression for the love and maternal feelings that I haven’t been able to explore via biological children.

Being true friends should involve more than just sharing things that you have in common, and is more about sharing each other’s thoughts, loves, and joys and pains, regardless of whether or not they are held in common.  Being true friends mean listening to each other’s stories and caring about hearing them because they are important to your friend, and that makes them relevent to you.

So perhaps, Kris, the problem is that you can’t be a true friend to the people you call your friends.  When you hear their stories, you are the one who draws comparisons between their pets and your children; you are the one who becomes intolerant of their stories when they share what’s important to them.  Because ultimately, friendship is not about children or pets, it’s about caring for the hearts and souls of each other throughout all the seasons of life, the ups, the downs, the weariness of late nights with sick children, the worry about a dog who ran away, the pride of Christmas pageants, the pride of new tricks learned, the shared joy and sadness at bittersweet college send-offs, and the bittersweet final send-off of a beloved pet. 

Friendship is about friends caring about the things that affect each other. It can be nothing less and still be friendship.

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