On Motherhood

As Mother’s Day draws near, we at Evermore are meditating a lot on the idea of birth and what it means to be a mom. By way of announcements, Alison has a daughter on the way—we’re looking forward to meeting her towards the end of this month (as Evermore officially enters the ranks of momtrepreneur-owned businesses)! However, while the little girl entering this world will be the first human child in the family, she will not be Alison’s first “baby.” Almost 12 years ago, she adopted a nine-week-old puppy named Connor, and 5½ years ago, she and I gave birth to our company, Evermore. While “mothering” each type of “baby” obviously involves different jobs, there is no question that children, dogs, and businesses all need love, attention, and nurturing in order to thrive. So, what exactly constitutes motherhood?

The term “pet parent” is commonly used, but it is also deeply divisive. While the shift away from language of ownership and property has been embraced by animal rights activists, many savvy dog-loving consumers feel that the use of familial language is a marketing gimmick designed to manipulate emotions and loosen purse strings. That said, the parental nature of our relationship to our dogs runs deeper than semantics. In fact, there has been much recent reporting on women choosing to have dogs over children. The societal trend has become so pronounced that Pope Francis admonished couples not to choose pets over childbearing. On a more personal note, my mother (when faced with the reality that I might be one of these women) likes to remind me that “at least children get to the point where they can take themselves to the bathroom.”

Even if the idea of dogs replacing children gets your hackles up, the recent explosion of scientific research validates similarities between raising both human and furry babies. While many people anecdotally relate to their dogs as their offspring, there are more and more studies demonstrating that this sentiment is mutual (not to mention entire departments of research institutions worldwide being dedicated to the study of dogs). For example, a behavioral study published in 2013 by the Family Dog Project research group at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest examined how dogs exhibit what is known as the “secure base” effect in the presence of their owners, a phenomenon typically attributed only to human child development, where a parent or caregiver acts a “secure base” for an infant or young child. The idea is that children with attachment bonds to their caregivers feel more confident exploring and interacting with their environments when the “secure base” is present; conversely, removal of caregivers elicits distress. In the experimental lab conditions, dogs were given activity toys to engage with in scenarios that included their owners and in scenarios that did not. Much like the similar infant research, dogs spent significantly more time engaging with toys when their owners were present. Delving into the biological basis for this relationship, a recent study at Azabu University in Japan demonstrated that oxytocin levels in dogs and guardians alike increased through eye contact, much like it does for human parents and their furless offspring. Sorry Mom, but according to science, Sharkita is officially your “grandogger.”

Whether you can compare a business to a baby is really more of a philosophical question than a scientific one. Both a business and an infant can certainly keep one awake at night. On a deeper level, both are creations that—despite total inputs from “parents”—take on a life and direction all their own. While not a business in the same sense as Evermore, Dolly Parton once famously stated of her creations, “My songs are my children, I expect them to take care of me when I’m old.” Similarly, a well-run venture can generate security for retirement. However, the reality is that Alison and I would have closed up shop a long time ago if we were running Evermore strictly for money. Evermore came to us the way many children do—as an unplanned surprises we just couldn’t deny (more on that in June), and supporting its existence has changed the course of our lives. Like parents of human babies, we pour endless love, time, and attention into our company’s development in the hopes of raising a healthy and prosperous entity.

So, whether your baby has soft skin, fur, or a balance sheet, Happy Mothers Day! Look out for more posts throughout the month on the topic of motherhood.