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Adulting 101: What being a ‘pawrent’ has taught me about parenting

It is 6am. My husband and I are jolted awake, bleary-eyed, by the sound of wailing outside our bedroom door.

Adulting 101: What being a ‘pawrent’ has taught me about parenting
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Adulthood is an invigorating stage of life as young people join the workforce, take on more responsibilities and set their sights on the future. But its many facets — from managing finances and buying a home to achieving work-life balance — can be overwhelming.

In this series, TODAY’s journalists help young Singaporeans navigate this stage of their lives and learn something themselves in the process.

It is 6am. My husband and I are jolted awake, bleary-eyed, by the sound of wailing outside our bedroom door.

This scenario played out almost every day and we were almost at our wit’s end. Then, in the nick of time, a friend’s brother gifted us the holy grail… An automatic feeder.

The wailing culprit is not a child, though we would argue that she is our kid, or rather, furkid. Her name is Biscuit and she is one of three cats that we adopted within the past two years, each with its own unique personalities and quirks.

We got them shortly after getting married in late-2019. It had always been our dream to have pets because our parents had banned them from our childhood homes, apart from the occasional fish or terrapin turtles.

When we got married and moved into our own home, it was understood that we would be adding pets to our living space. 

When it comes to children, however, we are not so firmly decided.

I am at the age where many of my peers are tying the knot and having kids, and although I've done the former, I have never had a strong desire to do the latter.

But I am gradually embracing the idea that if it happens, I'll be okay with it. And this is partly due to my cats — being a “pawrent” has helped me to visualise what life might be like if I ever do become a mother.

A disclaimer: I’m not saying that pets are just like human children. I know they are very different creatures. I am simply saying that there are certain routines I have had to accustom myself to, which have given me a tiny sneak peek behind the child parenting curtain.

Cats have strict feeding schedules, shed fur everywhere, track cat litter all over the floor and often act up whenever they want. They depend on you for almost all their needs, can cost exorbitant amounts of money and when they are young almost every waking moment is spent taking care of them.

After two years as a "pawrent", one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that things will inevitably go wrong and you have to work with your partner or resentment will breed. It is also impossible for everything to be perfect, no matter what it may look like on social media.

See? There are some similarities.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCES

My husband and I adopted Biscuit and another cat, Bluebell, in 2020. We had only ever fed community cats in our parents’ neighbourhoods on and off, so needless to say, it was initially a bit of a shock to have two little lives suddenly be dependent on us.

Both came to us while suffering from feline flu that they had picked up from their fosterer’s home and required a lot of “sayang”, or care, to get them used to their new environment.

Biscuit, only six months old at the time, was extremely mischievous. In fact, she still is now. 

She is extremely food-driven, hence her wailing for kibble in the mornings, and has broken numerous ceramic food bowls from running around the house at high speeds. We call her the young punk of the household.

When we were stuck at home during the Covid-19 circuit breaker period, she would persistently meow or “cry” whenever we were in virtual interviews or meetings. I once covered a High Court hearing over Zoom and could barely hear the judge speaking over her. We had to put her in lockdown in another room.

Nonetheless, they have brought us so much joy. Our mobile phone photo galleries began bursting with photos and videos of them, and whenever we had a stressful day at work, they would inevitably do something to make us laugh.

We adopted a third cat, Bobby, early last year after finding him wandering around near the peak of Mount Faber. We tried for a while to find out if he was abandoned or had run away from home, and finally got in touch with his feeder, who revealed that his microchip has been issued as part of the trap, neuter and release programme.

Bluebell (left), Bobby (centre) and Biscuit (right).

We took him in. But being a big climber, he soon smashed several things in our house. He was also riddled with fleas from being outside, which we had to meticulously comb out and treat with medication.

Bluebell developed an eye infection at one point which necessitated multiple trips to the vet. She remains the most "scaredy-cat" one but has come out of her shell a lot, even taking to perching on people's laps as long as they stay still.

As for Biscuit, she got much better after we got the automatic feeder, but she has recently learned to dig more food out of it than her allocated portion so we have to monitor her when we can.

Once, when we bought canned cat food online from our usual supplier, our cats began vomiting because it was nearly expired. We had to scramble to get new food and fretted over whether to take them to the vet. Luckily, they got better on their own.

When I got into houseplants, I also had to research pet- or child-friendly plants out of fear that they would chew on toxic ones and fall ill.

While caring for our cats and learning to deal with their idiosyncrasies, we often found ourselves saying: “This is like practice for having kids.”

Knowing how difficult it really is for parents of human children, we didn’t say it lightly.

WHAT OTHERS SAY

I spoke to a friend, Michelle, who has both a kid and a furkid, and an acquaintance who has a cat and no plans to have children.

Michelle, a civil servant, said that she and her husband initially struggled to care for both their dog — a four-year-old shih tzu named Monkey (apparently because they think his bark sounds like a monkey’s cry, though I disagree) — and their newborn son at the same time.

But she agreed that caring for the canine, which they'd had for two years before welcoming their kid, had prepared her in some ways.

More specifically, she said that Monkey had a peeing problem and they got used to cleaning up after the dog. “Not that (our son) pees and poops everywhere, but it was like we already had one baby that was more 'jialat' (Hokkien for ‘drain energy’), so it kind of geared us up,” she told me.

My acquaintance, who is also in the media industry, said he dismissed the idea of having children a while ago. His fiancee comes from a big family and agrees with him that they should not have their own kids.

He got a cat some time back and that cemented his decision, he added. Taking care of her gives him all the parental fulfilment and satisfaction he needs.

Luckily for him, his parents are fine with his decision to remain childless as they already have grandchildren.

As for me, I am not sure what life has in store for me on the parenthood front  — maybe someday I will give birth to a child, or maybe I won't and my husband and I might adopt more pets. 

Either way, I feel like our current set-up has helped me to embrace the messiness and joy of family life, whoever the members may be. 

ABOUT THE WRITER:

Louisa Tang is a senior journalist at TODAY, where she covers court, crime and legal issues.

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