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Answer by Jonathan Brill, parent: three kids, two dogs, two fish:
I think it’s fair to make this comparison in certain contexts but ridiculous in others.
For example, when I see someone who is single and living in a one-bedroom apartment with very little stability in his life get a dog as a Christmas gift, I tell him I think he’s crazy, that if he wouldn’t choose to have a kid in that situation, he shouldn’t have a dog. (Having a dog has some similarities to having a kid: It’s a living, breathing organism that needs space and attention and at some point might need thousands of dollars for care and feeding.) Of course it’s not a direct comparison, but it’s a helpful guideline for people who don’t necessarily have context (because they’ve never owned a dog before).
But for people who have dogs and think they prepare them for having kids, I think this comparison is not accurate.
I owned a couple crappy dogs before I started having kids. Although I think it was helpful for me to have to care for dogs and alter work and rec schedule and always be aware of them, the amount of attention and focus I gave to my dogs is at least an order of magnitude less than what I found myself providing for my first child.
Dogs are pretty self-sustaining, and although they appreciate love and attention and physical affection, my dogs are fine spending all day at home by themselves playing in the backyard and tending to themselves with not more than minutes a day of direct attention. When I had my first kid, it changed everything about my life: my relationship with work, what I did with all my free time, my eating and sleeping patterns, etc. This seems to be normal for most parents I know.
I would correct someone if he told me that owning dogs had prepared him more than nominally for having kids. Nothing can really prepare you for having kids. It would be inconceivable to me that someone could do it without 50 percent of his life being fundamentally disrupted, and that’s just not true of getting a dog.
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