I didn’t really learn how to be patient and loving until I adopted my cats

In a lot of ways, I feel like I didn't really become an adult until we decided to bring home cats of our own.

I’m not a light sleeper—at least, I wasn’t. But when my partner and I adopted two kittens from a local woman on Craigslist in early 2015, I suddenly found myself tuned in to every little noise the cats made in the night. From scratching at furniture to knocking things off counters, for three years, they’ve kept me awake more nights than I can count. And a few months ago, we brought home a third kitten that I quite literally found outside.

In the middle of the night when their antics wake me up, it can be hard not to react with anger. Why can’t you just let me sleep?

I’ve tried tricks from cat guru Jackson Galaxy to get them to sleep through the night. I’ve sprinkled catnip on their scratching tower to help them calm down. I’ve even—in fits of desperation—sat up and played with them at well past midnight, on nights when I needed to be up before the sun to get to work.

I don’t know what it’s like to have human children, and I’m not interested in learning. Having cats has taught me that I am in no way patient enough for kids of my own — but it’s also taught me how to be patient, not only with their antics but with all of my loved ones. It’s taught me that while I’m capable of taking really good care of small, mostly helpless creatures, there are some life skills that I’m definitely lacking.

For example: cats are messy, and I’m not good at cleaning. Growing up, I didn’t have chores, which now, as an adult, I think was a poor decision on my family’s part. I lack basic discipline when it comes to cleaning aside from regularly doing the dishes and washing/drying my laundry, though I’ll leave clothes in the basket for weeks before folding them.

When I assumed I would live my life as a cat lady/spinster, I didn’t worry about being messy. Then I met my partner, we moved in together, and we became cat parents, thereby increasing our mess potential by 300 percent. (Every cat is 100 percent messier than the average human, and we have three. I have no scientific basis for this claim; just experience.)

My partner grew up with parents who assigned chores and were detailed cleaners themselves. When we do housework now, they often ask me to do more work than I think is necessary, because our standards of clean are very different. This is tough, because I hate being told that 1) I’m messy (even though I absolutely am) and 2) I’m not good at something. I’m not great at perseverance when I’m bad at things, unless my motivation is to prove someone wrong.

Having cats means: emptying their litter boxes, sweeping the bathroom floor, cleaning up bodily fluids that are not my own, reclaiming chewed up pieces of toilet paper to be tossed in the trash, scrubbing dried wet food from their bowls, and scrubbing their hair from all kinds of surfaces in our apartment.

While I’m content to live in a fur-covered apartment, my partner (and our roommate, who’s severely allergic to cats) isn’t. That’s valid, but I hate it. Simultaneously, I’m glad there are other humans around to hold me accountable. Otherwise, the cats and I would live in lowkey filth. It’s a lot of work, and it’s so worth it, but it feels like it never stops. Obviously, my partner helps; we split housework fairly evenly. But still.

Being an adult, generally, is a lot of work. There’s work itself, of course, and then the commute required to get to and from there; there’s transportation fees, bills, and groceries; there’s cooking, cleaning, and staying on top of other household stuff. On top of that, you have to take care of yourself, maintain your relationships, and—if you’re like me—take care of your pets.

In a lot of ways, I feel like I didn’t really become an adult until we decided to bring home cats of our own. I grew up in a family that usually had dogs; my parents currently have two dogs, two cats, and two guinea pigs. You know those scenes in books, shows, and movies, where a parent tells their kid they can get a dog only if they promise to take care of it? Making that decision on your own, as an adult, feels monumental. It also requires some adjustment, especially when you’re in a relationship.

I’m not the only one affected by the cats’ antics, and sometimes that causes tension between my partner and I. We both get frustrated with them, especially when they keep us up more often than not. Sometimes, we “take turns” dealing with them—much like parents of human children, from what I understand—and other times, one of us just ignores what’s happening to force the other into dealing.

Passive-aggressive pet parenting is a thing, and not always a good one. I’m even more inpatient than my partner, which means I’ve had a much steeper learning curve re: how to deal with the cats misbehaving even when I’m so frustrated I want to scream. Cats don’t react well to anger. In fact, anger usually spurs them on, because they’re clawing the blinds or knocking glass dishes off the counter to get your attention.

Likewise, people don’t react well to anger. As someone who has struggled with my temper all my life, my propensity to get upset and shout when things aren’t going well is strong. That doesn’t bode well for someone who works in customer service, as a team leader, in a high-speed work environment.

It’s taken me a while, but I’m finally reaching the point where I no longer yell at the cats when they’re misbehaving.

Simultaneously, I’ve gotten better at thinking before I speak, and when I’m still not able to do that, I apologize genuinely: to coworkers, to friends, to family. Coming into frustrating moments from a place of love is ultimately better than coming into them from a place of anger. When I pick up my cats to cuddle them because they’re wandering around the house yelling, they immediately start to purr. It’s incredibly calming, and I welcome it every time.

Humans don’t purr (usually), but I’ve found that when I exercise kindness with people the same way I do with my cats, the reaction is very similar. It’s much easier to get along with people and form strong, healthy bonds when you don’t snap at them every time something goes awry. Maybe if I’d been responsible enough as a kid to have a pet of my own, I would have learned that lesson sooner. At any rate, I’m glad to be learning it now.