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Q. Embittered Dog Mama: A few years ago, my husband and I purchased our first dog. And before you ask, yes—we’re absolutely one of those couples to whom our dog is like our child. I harbored fantasies that my in-laws would be as enamored with our little guy as we were (my own parents live on the other side of the country, so I didn’t have much hope there), but they didn’t turn out to be the doting grandparents I was hoping they’d be. I was disappointed, but I accepted that maybe they just didn’t have the same sort of relationship with dogs as we did. C’est la vie.
Then, about six months ago, my husband’s sister decided to adopt a puppy…
Everything I had ever hoped they would be for our dog, they suddenly became for this one. They offered to watch the dog four days a week while my husband’s sister was at work, they bought the dog toys and little outfits, and took thousands of pictures which they annoyingly group texted out to the entire family and posted on their Facebook pages, with heart eye emojis and captions like, “Have you ever seen a more adorable little dog?” or “Grampy and granny’s girl.” They take her out on special outings—walks on the beach, dog parks, etc. At Christmas, my mother-in-law even made the puppy her very own stocking, filled with toys and dog treats, while our dog (who was also present by the way) was given nothing. She even had the nerve to scold him when he tried to play with one of the puppy’s new toys.
Obviously, I’m enormously annoyed by all this and find it somewhat disconcerting. Can you imagine if these were children we were talking about and not dogs? My husband tells me I’m being petty and making a big deal out of nothing. He tries to explain it by saying that A) our dog was adopted at age two, so they didn’t have the crucial puppy bonding stage, B) our dog is small, and maybe they just connect with bigger, more “traditional” breeds and C) his sister is needier than we are, and it’s probably just that they’ve spent more time with the dog because of this which led to a stronger bond. I think that’s all a lot of tosh. It’s fine if they connect more with this dog than ours. But I think they could still make some effort to dole out their affection more equally or at least have the courtesy to curtail their rampant favoritism in front of us.
I don’t know how to get past it and I’m at the point now where I don’t even like to be around them, because every time they try and tell me some “adorable story” about the puppy’s latest antics, I feel like I’m going to spontaneously combust. I’ve tried talking to friends and even a therapist about it, and the general consensus is that I can either A) discuss my feelings with the in-laws, B) avoid seeing them, or C) get over it. None of these feel like good options. It’s taken me a long time to be accepted into their family, which makes me a bit terrified to do anything that will rock the boat. What can I do?
A: I have to vote for a combination of C and A here. You love your dog and, I assume, your husband. The three of you are a family and you are wasting the time and energy that you could be spending enjoying them by focusing on your in-laws. Even if we were talking about children here, who wants to force their kids on people who, for whatever reason, aren’t interested? For what it’s worth, I think your husband’s explanations for his parents’ behavior make a lot of sense. Return to your therapist as soon as possible to discuss why you can’t get past this, and how you can stop this perceived injustice from chipping away at your dog mom joy.
More Advice From Slate
I have three wonderful kids and a mother-in-law who feels like my children are another chance for parenting, since she missed out on so much with her son. I have been trying to assert boundaries with her, but it can be hard. To my family, holidays mean spending them together. But every year she wants it to be just her and the grandkids at her house. Nobody else. And the whole separation of it all just bothers me.