Note: Starting Nov. 1, Dear Carolyn will no longer appear on seattletimes.com due to new restrictions imposed by The Washington Post. It will be available in print daily in The Seattle Times. Please address questions and/or send feedback to Seattle Times Customer Service at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My brother has always been a huge part of my 7-year-old son’s life. My ex-husband works long hours and is not into sports or video games, which “Brian” loves; my brother is a widower with a son a little older than Brian and has always been the one to take Brian to sporting events and play video games with him.
Brian really looked forward to sleepovers at his uncle’s house and sees my nephew as a big brother. The problem is, my brother remarried and Brian is extremely allergic to her dog. He can’t spend any time at their home, so Brian saw much less of them.
The dog died last month and I was thinking Brian could start going over as soon as they gave the house a thorough cleaning. Now I find out my sister-in-law is looking at getting another dog. When I asked my brother why, knowing Brian can never stay with them, he just shrugged and said his wife can’t live without a dog. My sister-in-law always seemed to love my son, but when I asked if she would consider getting another kind of pet, she flat-out refused.
I am trying not to resent her but it’s clear she loves dogs more than my son and doesn’t care how this will affect his relationship with his uncle and cousin. Is there any other way to look at this?
DEAR RESENTFUL: “[S]he loves dogs more than my son” is not a productive use of your facts.
A dog is a way of life, and it’s daily. To expect someone to change her daily way of life so your son can visit is a much bigger ask than you seem to realize.
I understand you see it as an almost-siblings thing, but has she witnessed that firsthand? Did Brian’s allergies ever let her see up close how he used to fit in?
Meanwhile, why are you holding your sister-in-law to a higher standard than you do Brian’s own father? She can’t get a dog, but he can check out because he’s “not into” the same things your son is?
Your son needs all the healthy family connections he can get, so please challenge any emotional impulses you have that would strain those connections.
Start by respecting that their home equals their choices. The consequences do affect your son, but that just means you need productive alternatives: discuss allergy shots with Brian’s doctor; ask your brother if they’d consider a more allergy-friendly breed; encourage sporting events by paying for them. Or you take both boys yourself. Or ask your ex to, because, again — who blows off one’s own child because of different interests? Sheesh.
And: archive “sleepovers at his uncle’s house” as great while they lasted. Change is a constant, so any number of other things could have ended them — most of which you probably would have accepted, if sadly. Don’t choose a grudge now just because you think dogs aren’t a good enough reason. Having an opinion is not the same as having a say.
Re: Dog: When you find yourself impatiently waiting for someone to clean their house after their dog died so you can send your kid over, it’s time for a change of perspective.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Amen.