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Parenting (3/1/06)

Dear Zelda,

I know your column next week is about mothers, but I have a sister who thinks she's my mother.  We hang out quite a bit and we're like best friends, but she tries to tell me how to handle my finances, who I should date, and she's never at a loss for words about my job (she thinks it's beneath me). I'm 34 and she's 32. I love my sister, and sometimes she does have good advice, but I wish she'd just butt out and act more like a sister to her brother.

I already have one mother, I don't need another. What should I do?

Sour Sibling

Dear Sour Sibling,

Most siblings who have any type of love for each other will naturally feel a need to protect one another. It's also that incred-i-bull bond that lets the flood gates of advice and criticism flow freely without reservation or, unfortunately, provocation. You may not have asked for it, but boy are you gonna get it, because hey, she's a few years older, she knows what's best for you, and you're just too young to understand...right?


You're only two years apart, and in reality it sounds like you're every bit the adult she is. Advice (good or bad) is something that should only be given when asked for, and sometimes our caring siblings forget that they are our peers and not our protectors. They are supposed to be our sounding boards, our prank pals, our absorbing shoulder, and our always-open complaint desk. The closeness that you both share is a bond that can't be broken, but it is a bond that should be monitored and evaluated to make sure no one's "butt" is getting too big for their britches. Be prepared, you are her younger brother and there's a good chance that in her eyes your finances, girlfriends, and jobs will always be a little bit off, not good enough, or beneath you. Just tell her you love her and appreciate her, but you already have one mom, and one is plenty, and that her constant advice makes you feel like she doesn't respect you as an adult and an equal. "Sister-Mom" needs to know that it's important for you to experience some of life's lessons on your own. It's what molds your future and your personality, and what makes

If that doesn't can always tell her you're gonna tell Mom on her.

Good Luck!


Dear Zelda,

They say timing is everything, and your column for next week came at just the right time. I am a single mom and my teenage daughter and I just got into an awful fight.  I kicked her out of the house and told her not to return until she was ready to change her ways (like keeping her room clean) and to apologize for the names she called me. She is staying with a girlfriend's family so I know she is safe and not on the streets.

Was I wrong to kick her out?  How can I get my daughter back without losing face?

Mom in Need

Dear Mom in Need,

Being a single mom (or dad) is one of the toughest jobs anyone can have. Not only are you responsible for your own well-being, but you're also responsible for the well-being of another person, and if that person is a teenager, they're also probably making some bad decisions that YOU have to live with. But whether to kick her out over a fight? This isn't a problem of losing's a problem of potentially losing a daughter. Just because you know where she is right now doesn't guarantee that you'll know where she is tomorrow. Millions of children run away each year, and where they go and what they go through can be a far worse nightmare than name-calling and bad room-cleaning.

Now, I'm all about tough love, especially if the punishment fits the crime, but go get your daughter. If it's really just about the room-cleaning and name-calling, the punishment sounds like it may have gotten out of hand in the heat of the moment. You don't want one bad argument to end up being a life-long regret. You both have had time to simmer down, and it's probably a good time for the two of you to sit and have a long talk about her life, your life, and the difficulties of your relationship (those teen years can be soooooo hard for mothers and daughters). Make sure she knows that no matter what, even when you are so mad at her you could pull your hair out, you still love her more than anything in the world. As hard as it is, especially when you are angry and things are tense, the most important part of working through problems is listening. It's the key to unlocking a better understanding of what the other person is going through, and being able to process the situation in a rational matter before heated feelings become drastic measures.

If it's beyond the point of a good mother and daughter heart-to-heart, then maybe it's time to look into the possibility of family counseling. It sounds painful, but sometimes it can be helpful to have someone else sitting in on your discussions and helping you talk through things in a way that works for both of you. You're a great mom for writing in, and your love and concern for your daughter is evident. But no matter how much you disagree, or how angry you get, unless she is seriously breaking the law or endangering you or your family, your home should always be open to her. It's one of the most important things we do as family.

We're sending good thoughts along with licks and wags to both of you.


Dear Zelda,

My husband and I have no children and just decided to get a puppy.  What "parenting" advice can you give us?  We want info straight from a dog's mouth, so you're on!

Dog Parents

Dear Dog Parents,

Congrats on the new arrival, or soon-to-be-new arrival! Taking the proper steps to ensure a healthy "puppy-hood" is exactly what every new pet owner should explore, and it's a foundation of caring and responsible ownership that will prove to be invaluable for your dog later in life. Your dog will be welcome everywhere if it has been well trained.

In the beginning it's really not much different from having a young child. Feedings, potty training, discipline and boundaries (which is hard when they're so little and SOOOO cute), exercise, teething, and leash-training all mixed with enormous amounts of love are key areas to address. As with children (but even more so with dogs), it's important early on to establish that you are the alpha dog...THE BOSS, THE TOP DOG. This will keep your puppy from being confused, and it will give your puppy self-confidence, as he or she will know that they've got someone good watching over them. We dogs are social animals, and we really need to know our place in the social order to be comfortable. Your puppy will look to you for behavior guidance.  If your puppy knows your rules and you consistently enforce them,  they will follow them and be happy to do so. Although, to be honest, I still would really like to chew my way through that closet of shoes.  You win some, you lose some.

But back to my advice: My suggestion for beginning the process would be to try and do research on the internet. There are several sites devoted to puppy training, and information is plentiful. Try for starters; this site includes a good comprehensive list of the key areas you'll need to focus on. My doggone strongest advice, though, is to enroll your new addition into a training class. I know many PetSmart stores across the country have accredited, expert instructors who can help you achieve both positive reinforcement and results. ( My pal ZeeZee is presently enrolled in just such a class, and what a difference it has made!  She has even stopped jumping up on the mailman!) Finally, there's your good old local library. Hundreds, if not thousands of books, have been written on training your puppy. With a little bit of research and a lot of hard work, your bouncing bundle of joy will soon grow up into the loving, mature, responsible dog of your dreams! And you don't even have to pay for college!

Congrats again!