Would You Choose a Pet Over a Child?

Puppy sitting on grass

They call them “fur babies,” and many couples in the U.S. are opting for them. One headline aptly described it this way: “Americans are having dogs instead of babies.”

The United States isn’t unique in this trend. We’ve seen for a while now how birth rates worldwide are plummeting and the number of pets are increasing. Japan, a country where sales of adult diapers outnumber those of baby diapers, has a population of more than 22 million pampered pets versus only 16.6 million children under 15.

Why parent a pet?

I certainly understand why people love their pets. God created animals, and the benefits they give us –love, company and protection – are blessings. Indeed, the Bible says one of the signs of a righteous man is that he takes care of his animals (Proverbs 12:10). As a young boy, I was very fond of two dogs – a pug named Sir George and a Great Dane named Duke. They were both my sister’s dogs, but I loved them.

But what we’re seeing goes beyond a person loving and caring for an animal they own. It’s a combination of the growing trend of intentional childlessness among couples – and then satiating the God-given drive to nurture with a pet.

Why would some couples make this choice? The New York Post recently interviewed women who had chosen a dog over motherhood, and they cited factors such as convenience and freedom. One said, “I’d rather have a dog over a kid … It’s just less work and, honestly, I have more time to go out.” She also said her dog brings her more joy than a child.

Right … or wrong?

parents walking with toddler son Pope Francis most recently brought these trends to the news cycle when he warned couples not to substitute pets for children.

It seems almost silly to have to make the case for choosing children over pets, but we live in a time of increasingly divergent worldviews.

For example, Christians see marriage differently than the world does. While culture often views marriage as an institution designed to bring adults happiness, we see it as an earthly reflection of the Godhead and a union that gives stability to children.

Counter-cultural wisdom

Certainly, these types of ideas run against what the wisdom of the world offers. But we should be comfortable with being countercultural. This is why the apostle Paul stated that “the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Cor. 3:19).

Focus on the Family is launching “The Family Project,” a 12-lesson DVD small group curriculum that helps explains why marriage and family matter so much to God. This effort is the follow-up to our movie, “Irreplaceable,” that explored the relevance of family in today’s culture.

In the video below, I talk a bit about “The Family Project,” and why it’s an undertaking so near to our hearts.

Before I sign off, I want to ask you: what do you think of this trend to choose a pet over a child? Is it simply a matter of preference, or do you think there’s a “right or wrong” way to think about this option?


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Leave a Comment

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a 54-year-old whose parents divorced when I was 9. I grew up in a Christian home with a good, loving mother who had to work 3 jobs just to provide the basics for us (there were 4 of us siblings). I truly believe that the image that a lot of people have of motherhood, because of their experiences in single parent homes, is unfortunately that of a Mom whose life is a constant struggle, who is tired all the time, and who doesn't appear to have the joy that other moms have because of the absolute hardship of every facet of trying to raise children alone. This image is the "norm" for parenting, to a host of people from single parent homes. I truly believe that THIS is the reason - whether conscious or not - that people are choosing pets over children. The non-verbal message that was indelibly etched in our memories growing up is that parenting (and for many, specifically motherhood) is nothing to look forward to. It is a skewed image, but it was our "normal". We didn't have a Dad in our homes to love our mothers or to share the load of life with our moms. Thus...the choice to be a pet parent rather than risk being in the same situation as our moms were in. Its human nature to avoid what we have registered as horrible - and in our cases - we saw the horror of single parentling. THIS is one of the great tragedies of divorce.
Angie Saurer More than 1 year ago
Sadly some of us have tried to parent more children and have suffered horrible loss due to infertility and miscarriage...our son desperately wanted a sibling and thankfully the love of our dog over the past couple years has helped him through this and us for that matter.  Do we love her too much some days?  Maybe, but sometimes it helps us get through the grief.
Randy Kelley More than 1 year ago
I do not wish to sound hateful or derogatory (I haven't read any comments below as yet), but anyone comfortable enough to say an animal brings more joy than a child isn't mature enough to understand human nature and .....  is right, they should not have a child.
Gina Schreiber More than 1 year ago
I am a single woman and when I was 28 I was down the road of being a pet parent. I was going to keep three kittens bringing my total family up to five felines.  That was not a bad thing considering that I was single.  My mother had a big problem with that, I went to the bar after an argument with her and met the father to be of my future child.  Today I am a single mom and should have been accepted as a pet parent and both my son and I would be so much better off had I met a decent man and not just one wanting to control me as my parents did.
Fotf Moderator-Team More than 1 year ago

@Gina Schreiber 

Thank you for relating your own experience. We know it's not easy being a single parent, and we wanted to let you know that we have counselors here who can listen and pray with you. Here’s the contact info: http://bit.ly/lWmWZ9

In the meantime, you might want to check out our resources for single parents; http://bit.ly/18YHPNB

Michael Druschel More than 1 year ago
I think its a responsible thing for young couples to get a pet first and then have a child once they graduate school and have a stable income. It's what my wife and I have done and many of our friends. I don't know much about the trend of intentional childlessness throughout all of marriage. Thankfully none of my friends are determined at that, though one couple, a strong Christian couple actually, is not sure yet when or if to have children based on their own difficulties in relating to their parents. We pray that God will continue to work with them for His glory according to His plan, whatever that may be.

I would make an analogy of delaying to children to possibly relating to the unintended but beneficial effect of abortion -- a practice I am against as a Christian, but was alerted to by the Freakonomics movie/book/podcasts. I wonder if delaying childbearing until parents are more ready would help to prevent resentful parents who raise troubled children who are more likely to get involved in crime? I'd be curious to see if the trend of delayed child-bearing is related to this effect. Regardless, my emphasis would be on the potential benefit of delayed childbearing, not permanent childlessness. Lastly, I agree with others who brought up the God-given proclamation to have children and then spread His Word and influence by our service to others and the raising up of our own children. I would argue if that a couple chooses not to have children (perhaps they biologically cannot or they have very significant genetic defects) then we should not judge them but rather support their role in the community when they serve as teachers and caregivers to the children of others. I would also encourage such couples to strongly consider adoption, an option which FOTF is clearly a big supporter of.
Corinne Kligmann More than 1 year ago
God designed us to desire to parent, nurture and care-for..  Why take that God given desire and put it on a pet instead of the children He intended it for?  That does not make sense to me any more than a desire to create beautiful art would be used to watch painting shows on TV and never picking up a brush.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Of course along with this thought is that responsible, loving couples (community) will have the integrity to raise the children under a God centered environment. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Don't want kids to pass on our values and beliefs of the Risen One?  We are then allowing other cultures to dominate our world and society.
We may eventually lose our freedoms.  Seriously think about it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's human nature to want what you don't have. No one knows the magnitude of the commitment of having children unless you've experienced it. Once you're "in it" there's no turning back. Yes it's rewarding but there's also A LOT more that comes along with it. God has blessed me with three beautiful children for which I am eternally humbled and grateful. And I DO believe He won't give you more than you can handle, but your limits WILL be tested.

I believe everyone has the right to make their own choice as to whether or not they have children.Not everyone wants children and not everyone can handle having children. Cudos to those that KNOW themselves well enough to even say they don't want children and aren't pressured into having children by peers or family members. 
Ralph Conti More than 1 year ago

As world population continues to grow, we are being fruitful and multiplying.  There is nothing demanding that we all have children.  Certainly, find the Lord, know peace and be happy in your existence; but don’t have children out of duty.  Have them out of a love so big it must branch out.  The Holy Father is right, but I believe misunderstood in this article.  He calls on couples not to try substitute pets for children because the ultimate result will be bad.   Furthermore, this is coming from a religion that holds fertility so sacred that it disapproves of anything that prevents conception.  Thus he is saying that couples who make such a conscious choice must be engaging in birth control which the RCC opposes. 

annette harvey More than 1 year ago
what baffles me is the number of people who follow Focus on the Family, a Christian organization, who are in opposition to the beliefs and foundations of FOTF. Are they just trying to 'know the enemy"? I don't visit liberal websites, and even if I did I wouldn't comment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I whole heartily agree and submit to God's definition of family as He shares with us in His word.  I also want to recognize the spiritual battle I have been in since childhood (before I knew a loving God was calling me) and in that time the devil roamed to and fro to devour me - instead God used it to shape me.  Because of a difficult childhood that has left me with significant abandonment issues, which I recognize nonetheless they continue to haunt me, I did not feel the desire to have children.  In my limited way of thinking I did not want to pass on my issues and my parent's shortcomings to the next generation.  It felt irresponsible and I did not think I could ever rise to the task of raising a child.  Yes, I confess, it seemed easier to take on corporate America.  Today as a widow (a young widow) I continue to struggle.  I question my previous thinking and sometime regret not having children when I see those more romantic moments of what a family can be.  But that is also a limited perspective of what a family is.  I still wonder if I would have truly been a good mother.  But I dive deep into God's word and am fascinated to read Isaiah 54 and sometimes cling to some of His promises made therein (He will use the childless too).  I wonder what He will continue to do with the life I am trying to live unto Him.  In the meantime I have had the blessing to raise 3 service dogs for the handicapped - and God willing I hope to raise more.  Raising a service dog is very much like a concentrated version of raising a child.  In turn these dogs have gone on to do good works for those struggling with handicaps.  Originally I got into raising service dogs for selfish reasons but God used it to heal me and connect me with a good organization and some amazing people - we all come along side one another and God uses each of us to shape one another to glorify Him.  I don't want to judge why or whether people choose a pet over having a child - I just want each of us to be what God created us to be and do the good works He has for us.
Fotf Moderator-Team More than 1 year ago
It's so great to hear how God is using you, friend! Just so you know, we have counselors here who can listen and pray with you about those lingering sorrows. In case you're interested, here's their contact info: http://bit.ly/lWmWZ9.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You don't have to allow those issues to shape and mold you now. God is a healer and He can and will heal your heart! There are many freedom ministries out there, they can help you seek out the healing God wants you to have! It's time for His testimony to come out of your broken childhood, just trust Him!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
people seem to think pets have emotional needs like humans even the dog whisper says there dogs stop treating them like humans I love my animals but they have a place in life not a child's place
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not only do "pets" have emotional needs but many if not all animals have emotional needs. Some look to humans for these needs to be met because they were taken from their own kind.
Linda Palucci More than 1 year ago
I think if a couple chooses to not have children, that is their right.  I don't think it is selfish.   This is a cruel world and having children is just taking a big chance.  So many children are being born with "special needs"  who will never have a life.  Is it our chemicals?   who knows.   The world has never known peace.  Having children is making sacrifices to fate.   So many couple want a baby,  But do they look down the road?   That baby grows up to a person.  it's not like we really need more population.  My point is if a couple do not want children it's probably better they have a pet.   I hate it when people, parents, etc....   nag a young couple about getting pregnant, It's no one's business.  
Nathanial Poling More than 1 year ago
The whole pet culture has gone way overboard.  I know people that also call pets their grandchildren as well and I always say, wait until you get a real grandchild and you will realize how silly that was to say.  I have had pets all of my life and I treat them well however I was taught at a young age what place they hold.  They are not humans and while we love our pets they should never be elevated to the place humans hold, they are animals.  There is something wrong in our culture when there are laws against hurting an animal fetus while millions of babies are murdered everyday legally.  Anyone who takes this as a slight on couples who can't have children needs to step back and read the article.  Everyone knows someone who can't have children and what pain they go through, I would think people that can have children that choose not to for convenience and try to replace that with pets would be much more offending considering how much they want to have kids and can't. 
Anita Landingham More than 1 year ago
When we were first married, a thought like that would've never entered my mind. I believe being married and having children is just so natural. We had two. We wanted more but life got hard. I'm thankful for my children (and now 9 almost 10) grandchildren whom I love and cherish with all my heart. Pets can hold a place in our hearts and lives, but those who choose to not have children, I believe, will live to regret it.
Nate Chasteen More than 1 year ago
Seeing a few comments where they posters are upset at Jim because they feel he is talking about couples that CAN'T have children.  Either you didn't read the article fully or you missed the part where he said " intentional childlessness."  Which clearly means people are choosing not to have children.  He isn't talking about couples that are unable to have children.  

To those Christians that are able to have children, and choose not too because they have careers and/or don't want to have their freedom limited, yes that is wrong.
Renee Arnold More than 1 year ago
To assume that all people who have a dog instead of a child is really lacking and judgmental.  My husband and I are childless right now due to 4 miscarriages and we do not feel led to spend $15,000 - $30,000 on adopting a child (we are currently trying to navigate adopting from foster care). I hear the scripture that "children are a gift from the Lord" however, after  seeing what I have seen, I really don't think God is deciding who bears a child and who does not, because if that was the case then  how would one explain, for example, God giving ANOTHER baby to the the woman who abused and neglected 8 children who were eventually removed from her care and placed in foster care?  Yes- 9 children from one woman- all neglected and abused and removed AFTER the abuse and neglect and exposure to drugs.  If our God does that, then I cannot place faith and trust in that at all.  Still trying to have peace about all that!  By the way- we have a little dog named Shiloh who has been a great comfort and blessing during all this grief. Much more than the trite Christian comments of how old Sarah was when she bore a child!
Nathanial Poling More than 1 year ago
step back and read the article... intentional childlessness replaced by pets
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
animals are a hug comfort I believe God put them on earth for many reasons to help us if your struggling with the 9 children born to a horrible mother she had the choice I suggest you seek God for the answer to your hurt through all this people say and do mean things that's not God
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I understand your frustration and pain!! Those who would comfort us with faith often have such trite and shallow answers that they end up trashing our faith instead of strengthening it.  They don't mean to; they just haven't felt it as keenly as we have--the injustice of having that God-given desire to "go forth and multiply" and being unable to do so while those who clearly have no business being responsible for children pop them out at the drop of a hat.  I've never found a really good answer for that either.  But I know that God is good and He is worthy of our faith and trust.  We waited for nine years before God finally blessed us with our daughter by adoption (which came through a miraculous set of circumstances that spared us the whole agency wait and most of the giant fees.)  But before that we had a failed adoption where we had a son in our home and arms for ten days before we had to take him back to his birth parents--in their squalid little motel where shootings and drug deals were common and I hoped his birth father would go back to jail soon so I could be sure he wasn't beating up his birth mother.  Adoption can be wonderful, but you are not wrong to believe it is expensive and hard and I got so tired of feeling like a second-class citizen because ANYbody can give birth, but you have to PROVE you can be a good parent to adopt.  Anyway, I love my daughter immensely and would not trade her for anything, even if it meant we could skip all we went through and give birth in the first place!  But I did want to give her little siblings, and that apparently just wasn't in the plans either.  So the little doggie that was supposed to be hers has become very much "mama's baby" and has filled a need for me that was threatening to eat me alive.  I have begun to have peace about our family being three peas in a pod instead of the big rambunctious family of five I was planning, but in a way, it is indeed a family of FOUR, because our dog is very much my daughter's "little brother".  I wish I had REAL comfort for you; in other words, I wish I could say, "You will have children and it will happen in X weeks."  That was the only thing I ever REALLY wanted to hear when we were in your place.  Of course I can't.  But I guaranteed that if you keep searching for God, He WILL give you peace.  He did it for me.  BEFORE he gave me a baby.  Best wishes.
Bob Maistros More than 1 year ago
Be fruitful and multiply. Any questions?
treefrog2 More than 1 year ago
We were to fill the earth.  Well, the earth is pretty full.  Is that why God gave us the understanding of how babies are conceived and likewise how to control birth?

Just curious.  It is kind of coincidental.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I work at an animal hospital and daily see people who (1) idolize/worship their pets, (2) charge lots of $ that they can't really afford, and (3) sadly they find unconditional love from their pets and not the Lord. Most call them their babies and that they would do/pay anything for their care.  Most of the people I work with will wake up every two hours for weeks taking care of wildlife young but they are pro-abortion.   I love animals too but it's just another example of how upside down things are in our world now.  I realize that I didn't speak to the issue of pets instead of children, but wanted to share these related thoughts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Once you have a pet and experience the loyalty and love that they bring to you unconditionally, you SHOULD do everything you can and you SHOULD go above and beyond to take the best possible care of them. Just because people love and care for their pets, doesn't necessarily mean they don't know the unconditional love of the Lord. In fact they are showing that same love to God's creatures and animals (who have no voice) are in DIRE need of MORE people that can and will take care of them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I want to address another aspect about animals that is often not discussed among Christians or on Focus on the Family. It is the issue of puppy mills, dog fighting, factory farming and animal abuse and cruelty. I would appreciate a segment dealing with these issues from a Christian perspective. Also as you already know, many of the puppy mills are on Amish farms who say they adhere to strict biblical principles. How cruel and unjust and wrong and how the animals are treated and kept - evil!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Makes so much sense to me to be a VEGAN! Never quite understood why so many others just "don't get it". It's absurd to think that one "type" of person should be treated any differently than any other person. Yet each one of us makes that decision about animals every day of our life. Pet this one, kill that one, feed this one, EAT that one......and I'M the weird one?? I don't think so. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't think nearly as many couples are voluntarily childless as this and other articles imply.  Especially when you are dealing with Christians.  The author, safely a parent himself, refers back to his sister's dogs to try to find some sort of connection before giving a disapproving opinion.  In my experience, those of us who desperately wanted children and don't have them are often unwilling to share something so intimate with people (like the author) who clearly can't understand the pain. The Bible says children are a gift from God.  You have to be there to know what it does to a person to know that God didn't think you worthy of this gift.  I look at drug addicts, prostitutes, women who abuse/abandon their children, women with half a dozen children by different men they never married, and I know that for whatever reason God considered them better candidates to be moms than I am and I will never understand. While I can recite and believe the Christian doctrine that we are all sinners in every other context, I can't really make myself believe that I am so much less than these women and it hurts (and can be angering) to know God must see in me something so low that I don't deserve a child.  Some of us can't get pregnant, some of us have a spouse who doesn't love us and refuses us a child (an admission that is doubly humiliating), some of us are abused wives who don't believe divorce is an option but don't want a child beaten, some of us couldn't find a spouse until we were too old, some of us are in second marriages with circumstances related to either the former spouse or a child from the other marriage that would make it dangerous to bring a baby into the environment.  None of those are things we want to talk about so it is easier to simply claim the fur babies are enough.  We love are dogs.  But no, for most of us, the fur babies are a default because we can never have the thing we've always dreamed of having.   
Renee Arnold More than 1 year ago
Thank you thank you for articulating this reality so well!  My husband and I are childless right now due to 4 miscarriages and we do not feel led to spend $15,000 - $30,000 on adopting a child (we are currently trying to navigate adopting from foster care). I hear the scripture that "children are a gift from the Lord" however, after  seeing what I have seen, I really don't think God is deciding who bears a child and who does not, because if that was the case then  how would one explain, for example, God giving ANOTHER baby to the the woman who abused and neglected 8 children who were eventually removed from her care and placed in foster care?  Yes- 9 children from one woman- all neglected and abused and removed AFTER the abuse and neglect and exposure to drugs.  If our God does that, then I cannot place faith and trust in that at all.  Still trying to have peace about all that!  By the way- we have a little dog named Shiloh who has been a great comfort and blessing during all this grief. Much more than the trite Christian comments of how old Sarah was when she bore a child!
Lanni Fish More than 1 year ago
I think it is very dangerous to try to verbalize a definite opinion or a philosophy on a question as emotionally charged as this one.  There are far too many variables.  It's impossible to come up with a "fits-everyone" answer.  God created us as individuals, we are shaped by life experiences that are individually unique, and therefore, what applies to one will not apply to all. 

As for pets, my four children were all reared with pets in the home, and they provided comfort to a scolded child, protection for an adventurous one, energy-draining exercise for the boisterous one, and cuddles for the serious one.  Now the children are all grown up, and have dogs and cats of their own, along with their own children.  The one whom God chose to be childless has known the comfort of sweet, loving dogs over the years. 

Widowed at 56, I was grateful for the company of a small dog who grieved for him right along with me, and now, after her death, another tiny furkid provides the other heartbeat in the house for me, and a generous portion of comic relief as well.  My children are grateful for her, because they know when they can't be here I am still not alone, and they know I am laughing much of the time because of her.

It does not have to be an either/or thing.  Raising children with pets in the home is a wonderful experience, joyful and fun, and in the inevitable times of parting, there will be growth, and many teachable moments.  If there are no children, for whatever reason, God will still give a measure of joy in the company of one of His creatures.  This has been my experience, but everyone else will have their own unique experiences to share. 
Sharon Young More than 1 year ago
IMO it all comes down to whether the couple has submitted it to the Lord or not; the decision to have children or not is an intensely personal one and can be motivated by many factors.  My brother and his wife had two girls; my husband and I have one son; my sister and her husband have five furries (two cats and three dogs).  Our son was one of those God-things, as we weren't trying, and I had to be off the hormone pills for medical reasons when we conceived (I was ON the hormone pills for different medical reasons before that).  Are any one of us more or less "biblical" because of how many children we have or don't have?  Ultimately it is the couple's responsibility to trust God and give the decision to Him.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am an only child. My father was an alcoholic, his father was and so was his father. Neither of my parents were there for me emotionally. I spent my life over achieving just to get any attention. I chose a long time ago not to have children because I don't seem to have the maternal feelings needed to have a child. And with the generational sins I have in my family, I stopped it. That may sound cold and it's not meant to. I didn't want to put a child through what I went through.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am so sorry for the pain you have endured. I understand because alcoholism has been rampant in my family as well as pedophiles. But, if all people with generational curses made the choice to not reproduce there would be no people on earth because we all have generational curses and pain in childhood to some degree. It started with Cain. But since we look on the outside of people's lives we think others couldn't have experienced the pain we have. When we make decisions to control our lives, we aren't trusting God and that leads to immeasurable pain because He is the only thing that can make the pain make sense. 
Nathanial Poling More than 1 year ago
I am glad my mother didn't take the same course or I wouldn't be here.  A relationship with Christ can overcome generational sins and this has happened in our family.