Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Grandpets: An Unexpected Love Affair

Few would argue that this is a country involved with pets.  With 93.6 million cats, 77.5 million dogs, and a wide variety of other pets, there is an increasing appreciation of the growing trend in pet ownership, recognition of pet expenditures that outspan the rate of inflation and mounting evidence of the physical and emotional benefits in having pets.

One trend that is less noted but emerging in this “state of the pet nation” is an increasing number of grandpets – The pets of your adult children with whom you have a special bond and connection.

A closer look at situations involving grandpets suggests that the care and connection to grandpets is more than an easily dismissed event or another version of “ you do what you have to do for your kids.”  Rather it seems there is a confluence of needs faced by parents, adult children and pets for which grandpetting seems a workable solution.

For example, in this era…

  • There are some 79.6 million baby boomers on the brink of retiring, re-inventing or changing lifestyles that have the time and need to help their children.
  • There are financial insecurities that make jobs scarce, commutes longer, travel necessary and pets at risk of being left alone.
  • Close to 46% of young adults return home after college because the cost of living makes moving out impossible – they often come with more than baggage.
  •  Men and women in the military face multiple deployments – someone who loves them needs to love their pet.
  • Married couples often juggle jobs, children and long distance relationships – who do we trust with the kids and the dog?
  • One in two marriages end in divorce – who can help maintain the bond with the pet?

These are situations where having and keeping a pet in a safe and loving way can be a challenge. These are situations where the needs of a pet can be a dilemma for one family member and a way to feel needed by another. These are the situations where families who might not talk enough or might not agree on anything will agree to care for a pet.

The Unexpected Outcome

While we understand how families come together to help each other, one of the unexpected outcomes is the surprise reported by parents of the way they feel toward “grandpets.” Whether they always had pets, never had pets, have grandchildren or not – there is something about this that is special – They love their grandpets!

“I’m not sure why but I love this dog – I have always been allergic to dogs. That’s why we never had one with the kids – but not this dog.”

“We never even liked cats, but we don’t want to give the little guys back when they come to get them.”

“Back when the kids were young everyone fought not to walk the dogs – now we are fighting to walk them.”

“I was never a pet person – now I talk to anyone with a pet and look for interesting pet toys!”

Solutions and Shared Love

Most seasoned pet owners are likely thinking that the experience with a pet becomes a love affair for most people because of the very nature of pets to be remarkably attuned and unconditionally loving. They are probably correct; but perhaps, in addition, there are other reasons for the love generated by and shared with grandpets.

Consider these possibilities:

  • It seems in many cases, both parents and adult children are surprised and grateful for the arrangement – mutual needs are met and pets seem to rise to the occasion with love for all.
  • The coming and going of all the parties – including the pets, keeps the situation novel – meaning that neurophysiologically everyone gets a boost to the pleasure center of the brain by the arrivals, the pick-ups and the change of activity and setting. This is a mood enhancer for all.
  • It may be for some parents who felt badly about not giving their children pets – this is a second chance to facilitate their child’s ability to have a pet under difficult circumstances – Who doesn’t love a second chance to give their child what they always wanted?
  • Many adult children who may have not had the best relationship with their parents move back to find that the mutual love of their pet is a wonderful bridge of reconciliation and new connection –“Love my pet – love me.”
  • Grandpetting much like grandparenting has a lot of perks and less of the exhaustion. Rough tasks are time-limited and there is the benefit and delight of pets as well as an arrangement that allows for the break, the change of pace, the vacation, even the chance to miss the pet.
  • Many parents – particularly when they are taking care of the pet of a deployed service member, treasure the presence of the pet as a way to stay close to their child.
  • Many parents feel that their grandpet not only brings them closer to their adult child but to their partner – there is once again a mutually loved little one in their “empty nest.”
  • A tribute to pets is the resiliency with which they add to the love affair with grandpets. Clever as they are to know who to go to for food, who to play with, who to cuddle with, who to sleep with and how excited to be when family members arrive – they keep everyone delighted with the feeling of being specially loved!

( pictures of Callie and Brooklyn – two of the author’s grandpets)