Pets as Children, Children as Pets
Pets as Children
While sitting in one of my recent foster care training sessions, I heard a story that was rather shocking. A lady said that in a previous class, one couple had stated the reason they were pursuing foster care was because they had already been fostering for the humane society and felt like children were the next step. I was slightly taken back by this story, why in the world would they equate fostering dogs to fostering children? Pets and Children are two very different things (and if that couple completed their training and received their license, they have probably figured that out by now). Children are human beings made in the image of God- animals are just… well, animals. Unfortunately, the “dog mom” epidemic has heavily influenced our culture and this type of mentality has become commonplace in our society- even amongst Christians. More and more couples get married, adopt a dog, and maybe a few years down the road throw a kid or two into the mix to “complete” their perfect, ideal family. Others forfeit kids altogether choosing instead to become “paw parents” to “fur babies”. We have become a nation of pet owners rather than parents. In America, nearly 85 million households have dogs while only 35 million have children. Americans spend $3.6 billion on their dogs every year. PetSmart continues to expand while Babies R Us has gone out of business.
Those who do choose to have both pets and children often treat their pets as they do their own children- taking them to dog parks, strolling them around in dog strollers, buying them toys, and dressing them up in costumes for holidays. According to one survey, 80 percent of pet owners care for their pets like kids, 79 percent believe pets should eat the same food as people and 50 percent clothe their pets. While doing some research for this article, I stumbled across a social media support page for those who are adjusting from being solely “dog moms” to mothers of actual human babies. One of the posts said, “I grieve over the dog mom I used to be. It is easy to get frustrated with dogs when you are exhausted during the newborn phase.” Coupled with this post was a side-by-side picture, on the left side, there was a woman holding a small dog in the air and looking up at it fondly. Next to that picture was a picture of a mom holding her baby, gazing at it with joy as the dog tried to get her attention in the background, a pathetic attempt to guilt trip new moms into feeling like failures if they aren’t treating their pet as their newborn baby. Another post on this page stated that “The bond between a dog and their owner is similar to the bond between a parent and child.” There were other posts too sharing advice on how to respond to your dog’s behavior issues when they are jealous of the new baby, what kind of toys will keep your dog occupied once you have a baby, and have less time to spend with your pet, etc. Each of these posts assumed that pets should basically receive “child status”- God forbid, after all, that you treat your dog any less than you treat your own child.
While I am not saying that it is wrong to own a pet, or that it is wrong to love the pets you may have and to treat them kindly (Proverbs 12:10 has something to say about this in fact), I am saying that pets and children are not equals. If we are equating our pets to our children, it only shows us that there is something fundamentally wrong in the way we view those who are made in the image of God. Animals are a beautiful, fascinating part of God’s creation to be enjoyed but unlike human beings, they were not made in the image of God, nor do they possess souls. Sadly, in today’s society, we tend to think of pets and children as counterparts rather than viewing children the way that God does.
What the Bible Has to Say About Children
“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'” -Genesis 1:28
“Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
“Whoever receives one such child in my name, receives Me…” -Mark 9:37a
“Behold Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is His reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who has his quiver full of them, he shall not be put to shame but shall speak with his enemies in the gate.” -Psalm 127:3-5
“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” -Proverbs 22:6
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” -Deuteronomy 6:6-7
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being stained by the world.” -James 1:27
“Defend the weak and the fatherless, uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.” -Psalm 82:3
“Learn to do right; seek justice, correct oppression. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” -Isaiah 1:17
The Purpose of Children
As we see from the above passages, it is impossible for pets to fulfill the role and place of children. From the very beginning of time, literally within the first chapter of the Bible, God commanded His people to be fruitful and multiply. This was the first command God gave to His people and never once has it been nullified or retracted. God’s desire was for His people to multiply, His kingdom to expand. This goal can never be attained by replacing children with pets.
In the second and third passages listed, we see Jesus’s attitude towards children. Though His disciples viewed them as a nuisance and desired to send them away, Jesus received them with joy. Christ told His disciples to do the same, for “whoever receives one of these little ones,” He said, “receives Me.” When we welcome children into our home and family with joy, we are receiving Christ Himself. When we serve “one of the least of these” we are serving Christ, may we do so eagerly, never despising or rejecting God’s blessings to us.
Psalm 127 says that children are a heritage from the Lord. A heritage is something of value, something meant to be prized. God says that the fruit of the womb is His reward. Can pets be a blessing? Absolutely. But a reward and a heritage? Scripture never uses that terminology to describe animals. We can also see from this passage that children serve a purpose pets could never serve- they are like arrows in the hand of a warrior. They are to be shot out for the advancement of God’s kingdom. They are to be discipled in order to go make more disciples. Though animals certainly serve their purpose in bringing glory to their Creator, just as all of God’s creations do, they are obviously unable to fulfill the role and job of an arrow. Preparing an arrow to be sent off for the furtherance of God’s kingdom is an incredible and worthwhile, albeit weighty, task. Children have so much potential- they have the ability to grow up and become evangelists, pastors, missionaries or to serve Christ in some other great way. Children are the hope for our future and will go on to parent the next generation. Why would we forfeit the opportunity to raise people who could potentially impact the course of eternity and choose instead to raise “fur babies”?
Proverbs tells us to “train up a child in the way He should go” and Deuteronomy instructs us on how to disciple our children as we go about our everyday life. This is not something we can do with our pets. Sure, pets can be trained to do tricks or to obey certain commands, but they cannot be trained to understand the Scriptures. They cannot be discipled in the ways of the Lord and learn His commandments. Children, on the other hand, are capable of learning these things. They can be trained and discipled in these areas, and it is the role of Christian parents to ensure that they are. What an incredible opportunity is given to us, to shape and mold a life for the sake of the Lord! The day-in and day-out discipleship of our children is worth every sacrifice and struggle, in the end, it reaps eternal rewards.
In the last three passages listed, we see how much God cares for orphans and the fatherless- so much so that He requires His people to care for them as well. God desires us to both value and care for human life, especially for those who are most vulnerable. We are Christ’s hands and feet on this earth, He cares for the least of these through His people. Sadly, many in our society care more about dogs in shelters than they do about children in the foster care system or orphanages. Nowhere in Scripture are we called to go visit dogs in shelters or feed stray cats. Doing those things is not wrong but it isn’t required of us, caring for orphan children, however, is.
Children As Pets
There are many reasons why couples choose to have children today, but as we can see above, the purpose for Christians to have children should be vastly different than that of the secular world. We should not seek to have children for our own joy and fulfillment. Will children bring joy and fulfillment? Yes, but that is not the primary reason why we have them. Christians should have children (if they are able to) and care for fatherless children, for the purpose of being obedient to Scripture. Christians should have children to raise in the fear and instruction of the Lord. Christians should have children for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.
Don’t raise your children as pets to be cuddled and coddled forever. Don’t treat them in such a sentimental way that you are never willing to let go. Nurture them, love them, train them, disciple them, and when the time comes- let your arrows fly. You have such a short time with your children, use it wisely. Train them up in the way they should go, then when they grow up and God calls them forward, let them go. Ultimately, your children do not belong to you- they are God’s. They are given only for a time to be prepared for future service to Christ. Don’t hold a death grip on your kids. It’s okay to feel sad that they’re growing up so fast. It’s good to cherish each moment and season of life you have with them but hold them with open hands. Give them to Christ and let Him work out His perfect plan in their lives. Just as Hannah gave up her firstborn son, be ready and willing to relinquish your beloved children when the Master calls them, remembering that this was the goal all along.