Care and Feeding

We Got a Dog as Training Wheels for a Baby, and I Don’t Like Caring for It

Does that mean parenthood isn’t for me?

A golden retriever puppy.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by feedough/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are both in the final year of completing doctoral degrees, and we plan to have a baby as soon as we graduate. We discuss this often, and it has been our plan for years. Last year, we decided that we didn’t want to wait any longer, so we got a puppy. I know, I know, a puppy is not the same as having a baby, but we both thought it would bring a lot of joy to our lives while giving us a feel for what it’s like to take care of another being (neither of us has ever had pets or been around babies). Our puppy is now 8 months old and thriving. My husband loves taking care of him, playing with him, training him, taking him to the dog park, etc.

On the other hand, the puppy is a major cause of stress and anxiety to me. I try to smile and act upbeat when it’s my turn to take him outside or when he wants to play, but I honestly do not enjoy it. I am fortunate that my husband has done most of the training because I do not have the patience for it. I do love the puppy and feel a strong bond with him, but I would rather have the time to myself. Is this a red flag that I should reconsider having kids?

—No Puppy Love

Dear NPL,

I wouldn’t assume that your challenges with the dog suggest that you should reconsider kids, so much that they may make it clear that this period in your life is too stressful to add on new significant responsibilities. You’re in the last leg of a busy, likely difficult academic journey, and it may have been a better idea to wait until after graduation to bring in a new member of the family, human or otherwise. Consider that you may need a little more time between the completion of your studies and the birth of a baby than you’d anticipated. I’m not suggesting that you push the process of trying to have a child back by years, but that you give yourself adequate time to rest, recharge, and adjust to life after a doctoral program before introducing pregnancy or adoption into the mix right away.

As for the pup, were you actively part of the adoption/purchasing process, or did your husband bring home the dog of his choosing? It very well may be the case that this dog just isn’t the dog for you. I’m not suggesting that you rehome him, but it’s OK to find that you aren’t bonding with your new pet in the exact way you’d hoped or that you’re just overwhelmed by the work of caring for him on top of your course load. It sounds like he’s getting plenty of love from your husband and hopefully, he’ll become easier to manage over time. Be honest with your partner about the stress and anxiety that the dog is causing, and consider ways that you may be able to swap some responsibilities and get additional time alone (such as making a solo grocery and pet store run while your husband walks and cleans the pup). Good luck!

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Our almost-teenager did not make her coveted “elite” soccer team for next season. We knew it was coming, but we supported her hard work and love of the game nonetheless. She now wants to quit cold turkey because she didn’t get what she wanted. This is an age-old story we’ve heard before, of course, and her Dad and I are prepared to work on her resilience.

However, my concern is heightened because we’re living in a time of the novel coronavirus. She was already heading into a depression from the lack of school and social activities and has suffered from middle school bullying and the loss of friends as well. She’s also struggled academically, and we’ve gotten her as much help as we can in that regard. I feel like she’s about to turn a corner in her mental health. What can I do to help her with limited options? We have a therapist on hand if necessary, but what do we do otherwise? She’s just devastated as am I. Please help!

—Constantly Concerned

Dear CC,

You say you have a therapist on hand “if necessary”? Well, “necessary” has arrived, and it’s time to pull the lever. Most children have seen a devastating change in their home, social, and academic lives due to the pandemic, and your daughter is experiencing that in addition to a significant list of preexisting challenges. If you are able to get her to see someone, either virtually or in person, now is absolutely the time to do so.

Under normal circumstances, it may be easier to allow her to explore other extracurricular activities. If that is impossible right now, find other hobbies and interests that she can explore from home—photography, baking, learning a foreign language—that she may find more gratifying than soccer. Encourage her to keep going with the sport, but don’t force it if she simply has lost her passion; between the bullying, the academic challenges, and the loss of social interaction, I don’t think you should be overly concerned about keeping her in a space that has brought her great disappointment right now. If soccer was a lifelong passion until this moment, that’s a little different, but otherwise, it’s OK for her to walk away. Especially right now.

Focus on getting her some professional help and finding other ways to make her feel good about herself. Celebrate all of her wins (“These cookies are so much better than the ones I made last time!” “Whoa, this essay is really strong. I can tell you worked really hard on this!” “I know you may have been expecting a higher grade, but you did the best you could and I am so proud of you for that. You’re awesome.”) Remind her that you’re proud to be her parents. Shower her with love. Wishing all of you the best.

• If you missed Tuesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My older son is in a preschool where he’s the only white child. This is not new for him. Until his brother started at his in-home day care, he was the only white child there as well. They did a unit in preschool where they talked about hair and eye color, and he’s the lone blond, blue-eyed kid in his class (possibly his grade). I’m not sure whether skin color was addressed in the unit. I asked once not long after that unit which of his friends were in his class, and he named one student. I asked why this student was his friend, and he said because she was the “right” color. She is the lightest-skinned child in his class. I pushed him on it gently, and he couldn’t articulate further what he meant or where that idea came from. So I reminded him of all his other friends who are all different colors and asked him how he’d feel if someone said he was the wrong color (he was standing on his head by this point, so I didn’t get a response). He said the same things two weeks later (I probed to find out if he’d answer the same, and he did), and we had the same discussion (with the same results, headstand included).

I think the student he mentioned is his closest friend in the class—she’s the only student he talks about consistently, and I asked his teacher before this, and she said he did play with her but also a few other students in the class who were quieter. She said they have a few students who are very loud, and he avoids them when they are loud; but generally, he’s social and pleasant with the other kids, though often prefers to talk to his teachers (none of whom are white). Is there more I can or should do here? Should I be bringing up the topic proactively? Are there books that might help us have these discussions (we have racially diverse books we read a lot but nothing specifically touching on racism)? We’re stuck at home now, so for the short term I don’t have to worry about him hurting kids’ feelings. I want to address it, yet also worry about making it something on his mind, so he talks about it more when right now it doesn’t come out unprompted as far as I can tell.

—Not Taking It Lightly

Dear NTIL,

It’s great that you have racially diverse books in your home, but you can’t just send a child into an environment where everyone looks different from him without providing some sort of context as to why this is the case, and why we don’t treat people differently based on the way they look.

The ABCs of Diversity is a great book that can help you develop the language to talk about racial identity, as well as class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Let your son know that our differences make us beautiful and special. As he gets older, you’ll be able to refer back to the experience he had feeling different from his classmates and use that as a reminder to always make people feel welcome and included; the blue eyes and blond hair that may have made him feel out-of-place among his classmates may confer him with certain privileges and affirmation that they won’t be able to access, and he’ll need to come to know that as well.

A lot of parents seem to think that talking about race is too difficult, or that their children are simply too young. Preschool is an excellent time to start, as the world has already started providing clues about our cultural caste systems and the distribution of privilege. Even if you believe that you’ve somehow kept him shielded from that, you certainly don’t want him feeling uncomfortable in his own skin now, nor identifying the lightest children in the class as the best, or the most like himself. Race is not a bad thing, racism is. It’s time to start talking about both of them. He’s ready. Best wishes, you got this.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a 25-year-old woman who no longer lives at home, and I’m writing because I’m concerned about my 17-year-old brother, who will soon be going off to college in central Florida. We’ve always been opposed politically—I’m pretty far to the left, but he’s decided to embrace Trump, and I recently found out that he’s been listening to a podcast by the founder of a hate-filled, right-wing “blog.” We’re from a rural area, and while our mom is a staunch Democrat, our dad is a “fiscal conservative.” I don’t know if my brother’s politics are influenced by his “friends” at school—he’s on the spectrum, and until high school, never really had close friends, and to be honest, I still don’t know if he does, or if this is an attempt to fit in.

To my knowledge (which I acknowledge is limited, since I no longer live in the same household), my brother’s not racist, and he seems to be open to religious tolerance and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve always tried to foster an environment of public conversation, and he’s asked me in the past about issues like trans rights and various other feminist issues; he’s always seemed receptive to what I had to say. I’ve talked to our mom, who says she thinks he has the right to believe what he wants. I don’t want him to miss out on friends in college because of his “beliefs,” especially because he’s had trouble making friends in the past. I was privileged enough to have a college experience that reinforced diversity and the importance of service to others, but I don’t think his experience will be the same. How do I keep him from becoming a MAGA-bot? I thought I helped to raise him better than this!

­—Mallory Keaton

Dear MK,

Take the time to communicate with your brother on a regular basis and include discussion of these issues in your time together (either virtual or face-to-face). Engage him in political conversations. Talk to him about the uprisings taking place and how racial inequities and injustice brought them into fruition. Continue to encourage his support of differing religions and LGBTQ+ persons, and be sure to also explore his feelings about women and girls—not merely as potential romantic partners or crushes, but as fellow human beings who are his equals.

When possible, bring him around friends of yours who can also hold these conversations, and who represent the sort of values you wish to instill in him. Suggest social media accounts for him to follow, films, programs, and videos for him to watch and books for him to read. Keep a close eye on who he’s following on his own and what he’s posting to his social channels. Be painstakingly clear in your excoriation of bigotry of the MAGA movement and others like it that traffic in racism, sexism, LGBTQ phobias, etc., and make life on the other side of the aisle out to be empowering and appealing. Teenagers are often sucked into perilous spaces while trying to fit in or feel good about themselves. Help him find healthier ways to do so. Wishing you both clarity and peace on this new journey as siblings.

— Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

I am a 30-year-old man and an only child who has been living far away from my mother for many years. I’m now overseas, completing a Ph.D. She recently remarried and has a couple of wonderful stepchildren and step-grandchildren who live nearby. My plan had always been to return to my home state after completing my education so I could take care of my mother and bring her the joy of having her only child and future grandchildren nearby. But now I am beginning to feel angst about returning from abroad and living near home again. My mother is a very reasonable person and she would accept my decision, but she would be disappointed and I would feel guilty. Can I rationalize staying abroad? Or does the duty of the only child require me to move nearer?