Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Do you still feel that the way a person handles their dog is a good indicator of what kind of parent they’ll be? Because if that’s true my kids are going to be kitten-throttling serial killers. The dogs have too many toys, I plan most vacations so I can bring them along, and I have a habit of praising them for existing. If one of them comes over all waggy, I’ll put down my book in a heartbeat to lavish unearned adoration on them.

This means my kids are going to be entitled, self-centered, unsympathetic, instant-gratification-focused nightmares, right? And they probably won’t run the vacuum, either.

Dog Owner

I do still think that.

And if you plan to treat any children exactly as you treat your dogs, then, yes, CPS will look unkindly upon your letting the kids outside to poop in the yard.

Treating your dogs in a way that’s right for dogs, though, usually means you’ll treat kids in a way that’s right for kids, so it’s a fine indicator.

Re: Dog Ownership + Parenting:

Although I suspect the dog owner was being facetious, I do think it is worth noting that in my experience, not disciplining/training your dog can translate to not setting boundaries for your kids. Personally, I don’t think there is anything more annoying than a dog/child that does whatever it wants — be it jumping on people and eating off people’s plates or interrupting every conversation to say “look at me” and eating while jumping on the couch.

Both groups benefit from (and want) some boundaries/discipline.


Right — the discipline that is appropriate to the species and to the temperament of the dog/child. That was the point of my original, long-ago comment, that the willingness to meet needs and enforce boundaries was predictive. Thanks for bringing it up.

Hi, Carolyn:

I do not like my father-in-law. He’s rude, crass, obnoxious, argumentative and prone to flying into a rage over inconsequential matters. He also hugs me a bit too close and too long and has been caught looking at porn on our family computer.

I haven’t shared my feelings with my husband, because saying, “I don’t like your dad,” just seems mean, and he’s also aware of his dad’s faults and works hard to make sure he never repeats them.

How do I deal with my feelings during the inevitable family get-togethers?


Share what needs family action. “I don’t like your dad” is not useful information, but “I’m uncomfortable around him” is, when supported by specific examples.

Also useful is noting that you both need to secure the family computer, and asking him for suggestions for dealing with the over-the-line hugs, assuming it’s more than just a semiannual nuisance.

Taking this approach will not only avoid adding needlessly to your husband’s existing dad-burden, but it will be more honest than pretending you’re okay with ol’ Dad.

As a bonus, it will help if you ever need to take a real stand on the dad’s behavior. Make too much of a fuss over his merely being obnoxious, and your husband won’t take you as seriously when you try to argue that his dad has crossed a serious line. Be both honest and judicious.

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