Q. My 8-year-old daughter has wanted a puppy for the past few years. Because of my husband's allergies and the time it takes to care for her baby brother, I have put it off.
Now she has started hinting that a baby sister might be even nicer than a puppy. I said I thought our family was big enough.
After mulling this over, she asked, "If you and Daddy got a divorce, would either of you remarry and have more children?" I said I didn't know. To which she replied, "Well, I want to go with whoever has a baby."
Is this kind of logic normal for an 8-year-old, or is it a sign of the times?
A. It is a sign of the times -- her own personal times. Your little girl is almost a textbook 8-year-old. Boys and girls are quite dramatic at this age, trying on roles like so many hats. They are deeply curious about the adult world; this helps them figure out to handle its challenges.
Since an 8-year-old knows a real challenge when she sees one, she's sure to think a baby is a great idea. This, too, is typical, for babies are beloved at her age -- particularly by girls, to whom nurturing is suddenly second nature.
Generally, 8-year-olds are sunny creatures, with a great many interests, but they still need the assurance that compliments and complete attention bring -- especially from Mom, for she matters so much now.
This may be the crux of your problem.
You can't possibly listen to your daughter as closely as she'd like when you're cooking supper -- or changing the baby -- and this could make her feel lonely and long for someone to hug.
A puppy (or a baby) is not, of course, the automatic answer. You have to be sure your husband's allergies can handle a dog. You'll also have to be willing to take care of it. No matter how much an 8-year-old promises to love, honor and teach the dog to obey, she'll be 10 before she does, and even then she'll need reminders.
And you sure don't want to have a baby just because your child is lonely. Instead, try having her take care of her brother for a short, specific job every day -- bathing him, reading to him or taking him for a stroll around the block.
Reward her after a couple of weeks of baby-tending, when she's still doing good work. A new sweater or a cassette tape will be pleasing, for like other 8-year-olds, she probably has a strong desire to acquire things. An 8-year-old is a pint-sized yuppie.
What your child wants most, however, is you.
Invite her to Saturday breakfast at a cafe' or a walk in the dark after supper. These small adventures will seem giddy and grown-up, because she shares them with you.
It's also time to start generating more common interests. You can share music and art and television, but books are best. If you read -- or re-read -- the ones that she is reading, you can discuss them with the same freshness. Talk with her as an equal -- that's what counts.
You and your husband might also leave the baby with a sitter, and take your daughter out to supper or a movie -- a return to the good old days when she didn't have to share your attention. This also will remind her (and yourselves) that your marriage is doing just fine. You'd also be wise to have a direct conversation with her about your marriage and why you think it's so solid.
Certainly the prevalence of divorce makes any child a little fearful about it, particularly if a friend's parents are going through it. Reassure her when you and your husband argue, and make sure she knows when you've made up.
Nothing makes a child feel as strong as parents she can count on.