Millennials and younger people are choosing to have kids later in life and want to be established financially before having kids. So, in our early adult years, many of us Millennials get “fur babies.” My wife, Jill, and I got two cats in our early twenties--at a time when we were not ready for kids. So, when we decided to start trying for a baby, we were concerned about the harmony of the new baby and the cats we love and have had in our lives for years. Our cats had been our “children” for nearly 10 years - they even slept in our bed every night. When our first baby arrived, we were enamored. He became our world, and the cats, while still important, became a second priority and raised questions for us. Will they treat the baby well? Will we have to rehome the cats if things get complicated? Here's what happened.
My wife and I refrained from making impulsive decisions. We wanted to give everyone a chance to get acquainted with each other. Our black and white female cat, Lucy, has a reclusive personality. She hides from strangers and doesn’t like to be held. Even when she is being handled against her will, and it's obvious she is upset, she never has scratched or hurt anyone. Lucy will retreat in any situation. That gave us comfort that the new baby and Lucy would rarely encounter one another and, if they did, we weren’t concerned that she would ever lash out.
Our other cat, Seamus, is a very different cat. He loves to be the center of attention, and has to be around everyone all the time. He’s extremely affectionate - well, up to a point. He quickly changes his mind on how he likes to be pet and for how long. When he says to "stop," you better be paying attention. Although rare, he has been known to lash out at those who do not understand his “language." This has even happened to both my wife and when we are not paying close enough attention. It's never a full out attack, usually a scratch or a bite, but can still hurt. The obvious concern here was, if he were to hurt my boy, we would have a serious choice to make. Having to rehome a cat of ten years would be a really hard decision. One that would hurt our family and would be very distressing for the cat.
As life played out after we brought our baby home, we found Lucy was not a problem at all--as expected. She kept to herself, only coming out at night when the wife and I were enjoying some TV and a snack. Lucy showed some curiosity, but mostly avoided our little one like the plague. Seamus was much more curious about the new addition to the family. To everyone's surprise, he was gentle and more forgiving to my boy’s petting and touching than he was with adults. He did nip and hiss a couple of times, but at a level significantly lower than I have seen with adults. He instinctively knew that he was dealing with a child, and these actions weren’t aimed at hurting him, but rather at teaching and warning him. The cat was training my boy how and where he likes to be pet and not pet. Seamus loves to rub heads with people. My boy observed me rub my head with Seamus, and now that is the main way they interact. Almost no hand petting, with slow and gentle approaches from my boy. He never chases, grabs, or pulls on the cat--they can often be found sitting close together and completely ignoring each other.
Here is what we didn't expect with Seamus: when my boy becomes upset and cries, Seamus is the first to investigate. If I could ascribe emotions to my cat, it would seem he is concerned for our upset child and wants to help make him feel better. It's quite the sight to see. Seamus will sit next to or near my son, sometimes let out a quiet whine or howl, and stay nearby until the crying stops. They have now bonded closely and my concern over their interactions has dropped to minimum. They seem to be friends, and Seamus treats my kid better than he treats me. I’m still very attentive to their interactions, and sometimes have to push Seamus off the couch if my boy is getting a little too comfortable climbing on him, but never did I expect things to go so well. My boy is like a little cat whisperer.
Another interesting observation: When we get the chance to interact with a dog, my boy treats them just like Seamus. Almost no hand touching; he will sit next to the dog, but not too close, and tries to rub faces. The dogs are always confused and try to get my kid to treat them like a dog. My boy is always confused, but loves the experiences. His surprise and giggles when a dog licks his face are priceless. He loves dogs and wants to play with them - just hasn’t quite figured out how they’re different from cats.
We were ready to make arrangements if necessary to put our kid first, but given the opportunity to let the friendships play out, we were fortunate to have the best of both worlds. We are optimistic that baby #2 will fit right in with the cats, the same way that my oldest has, and learn from him how they like to be pet and rubbed. I hope you have equal success if you find yourself in this situation. My biggest piece of advice is to keep your energy calm and relaxing so the kid and cats can explore one another without being frightened.