The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Does coddling a dog translate to spoiling future kids?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
5 min

Dear Carolyn: My girlfriend loves her dog and takes extremely good care of it. I mean extremely. The dog has a schedule, including breakfast, walks, naps, playtime, dinner and bedtime. She cooks for the dog. The dog gets filtered (not tap) water. The dog has more toys and sweaters than your average toddler. The dog goes to day care on the days my girlfriend has to work on-site. My girlfriend spends a lot of money on the dog.

The dog is cute. I like the dog. But we are thinking of marrying, and I worry that the way she treats this dog will set a precedent for how she might treat our children. I think as much as she loves the dog, if she treated a child this way, it would be too much. Too much hovering, too much spending, too much controlling.

She is a great girl in every other way. Even in this way, even if that sounds weird, because boy is that dog loved. But I still worry because I am less hands-on with my pets. They are fed, walked and cuddled, but they are not treated like royalty. Would it be a mistake to marry this wonderful girl?

— Worried

Worried: If you call her a “girl” one more time, so help me, I’ll have to walk off my rage with my unsweatered pets.

While that is my issue for sure, I suspect it’s also relevant to yours.

The combination of calling her “this wonderful girl,” and not really having any idea whether she’s emotionally flexible enough to make a good parent, because you apparently haven’t talked about it — while also suggesting you’re serious enough to be weighing marriage? — has me asking how well you really know her, and, subsequently, how much equality and transparency you expect a life partnership to have.

(It’s one train of thought so it got one sentence. Humor me.)

This is the obvious point of entry: Next time you gaze upon the filtered water, you can ask her whether she’s thought about how she’d approach raising children. Does she want to have them? Has she thought about how she’d treat human kids vs. fur kids? Were her parents nurturing? Is her meticulous caregiving a reflection of her childhood, a reaction to it, just a hobby you’d both do well not to overthink? Go get all the answers you need, and more.

That you haven't had these kinds of deep-courtship conversations just seems odd to me — and to have them is so obvious a solution that I suspect, “Just talk to her, please,” is too superficial an answer for the situation.

The second most obvious point of entry is context. Is everything in her life as carefully scheduled as her dog? Does she flow or flip out when plans start to unravel? Is spontaneity ever a thing?

But this, too, seems too obvious to be up to the task, because you'd have done it by now.

So, back to the great-and-wonderful. My hunch, which I will happily apologize for if I’m grievously far off, is that you’re more in a role than a relationship. Find “great girl,” date, marry, have children, have grandchildren, sheet-cake party for 50th, The End.

With two kind people, a little luck and a deep mutual commitment to the roles and institutions, this can serve you well. (I'm not a complete cynic.)

But people who have started asking questions rarely stop — and you’ve come up with an excellent one to which you don’t feel empowered, for whatever reason, to chase down an answer yourself.

So that’s my advice: to empower yourself. To understand that if you believe compatibility and shared philosophy and like-minded parenting are nonnegotiable in a marriage, then it’s time to lose the role-think and get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. Channel some of the energy of people who’d ask her outright, immediately on seeing the whole kooky dog-care show: “What is up with that?!”

Better late than, “Oh, dog, what have I done …”

Dear Carolyn: Our oldest is marrying soon. We are paying for everything. No budget. She has booked a venue that holds half of the number we desired, knowing we wanted to include all their friends and ours. It’s the first wedding for both families. They are outgoing, popular 30-somethings. Should we have some say?

— Disheartened

Disheartened: No.

Not now, at least. If you saw your money as buying a vote, then you needed to make your conditions clear to the couple when you offered it. That way, they could either have agreed to cash with strings or no strings, no cash.

Insisting on that now, without warning, would be a bait-and-switch, which jeopardizes your relationship with this couple — whereas just having to say no to yourself on inviting “all” your own friends is something you can handle emotionally in-house.

Besides — it’s an exciting milestone, yes! But also their marriage, so it’s their wedding. Using it as a vehicle for you and your friends to celebrate is a good idea only when the couple getting married agrees with you that it is.