Z recently pet-sat for a very shy, sweet cat for a week.
She expects all her pet-sitting clients to be outgoing, friendly and affectionate like our dogs and cats are.
I told her that cats are like teenagers; they do things in their own time and you just have to give them space and respect.
She was pretty disappointed her cat didn’t spend much time with her at first.
“Mom, I did everything she likes! She only gave me five minutes. I kept waiting to hopefully get time with her!” Z mournfully shared.
I told her now she knows what my life is like.
“That’s exactly like Daddy and I sitting on the couch, hoping and praying you’ll come hang out with us in the evenings!”
She chuckled, but I think it gave her food for thought. She has been hanging out with us more lately.
Truly though, it’s a good thing I love both dogs and cats. The early years of parenting are a lot like sharing your life with a beloved, adoring puppy or dog.
Babies and toddlers love you almost all the time and will follow you everywhere, just like a besotted Golden retriever. Early grade-schoolers are even more dog-like; they adore their parents and think we’re the bee’s knees.
I used to get love notes from Z every single day. When I traveled for work, she would send me voicemails, texts and videos telling me how much she loved me.
Most of the informal art Z made in grades K through 4 was drawings of E and I or art that she specifically created for us. She was constantly drawing our family, making art for us or writing us love letters.
My love tank was always overflowing in those days because of our little Z’s effusive, near-constant declarations of love. She would snuggle with us, sleep by our side and even beg to stay home from school so she could hang out with us. She was thrilled to see us when we picked her up from daycare or school.
These teenage years have been a horse of a different color. Z is in feline mode now.
Now, all the fun things we used to do together, she’d much rather do with friends. Even at home, she’d rather do her own thing, whether hanging out alone in her room or laughing on Facetime with friends or her boyfriend. And that’s fine – it’s age-appropriate behavior and totally normal. Just like it’s normal for cats to be independent and prefer their own company.
Still, it can still be hard as the loving parents left behind, hoping for a glimpse of the elusive and independent teenager. It’s a lot like waiting for a shy or aloof cat to come around.
I will say that in both cases, treats help. Often, we’ll let Z know that we have her favorite snacks or would like to head out to her favorite restaurant for dinner. That can result in some quality family time. And, likewise, treats can be a great way to coax a reluctant cat to come out and visit.
This is also a great time for parents to get back to hobbies or do things together as a couple. What cat doesn’t want to come around once you’re reading a book or working on a project involving paper or puzzle pieces? Likewise, teens can be more interested in coming around once they feel you’re not expecting them to or demanding their time.
I loved our affectionate, dog-like toddler. I adore our independent, cat-like teen.
I’m just happy to be spending life with her regardless of what age or stage she’s in. No matter how old Z gets, I’ll always be glad to welcome her with open arms and spend time with her.
The important thing is to let them have their space, respect their autonomy and be loving when they return. Am I talking about cats or teenagers? Yes.