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Babies and Puppies (7/12/06)

Dear Zelda,

My sister is the mother of a two-year-old monster. Last week we were having lunch in Denny's and her little boy started screaming because he wanted to leave the table and run around. As usual, she gave in to him, and finally the manager came and politely asked her to either keep her son, who at this point was pouring salt on the floor, at the table or leave. My sister got mad at the manager and we left the restaurant without finishing our meal. I don't want to tell her how to raise her son, but she is creating a monster. What should I do?

Sister in Distress  

Dear Sister in Distress,

You know when a two-year-old gets kicked out of Denny's, something's amiss with the parenting. The fact that your sister let it all happen in front of her face is definitely troubling, and I understand your concern. A two-year-old should never be in control of his mother. The question is, how DO you do anything about it without insulting or alienating your sister?

It might be hard, and foolish, to just bluntly say to her, "You are the mother of a two-year-old monster, and he's behaving that way because of you." Those would be tough words for any mom to hear, especially one who loves her son so much that she allows him to make his own rules. My suggestion is that you invite your sister to lunch... alone.  Take her to a busy fast-food restaurant with a lot of young children. Look for those kiddies-out-of-control, and choose a table close to the worst offenders. Let your sister see those children as examples of parental failure in child rearing, and hope that it sparks a conversation between the two of you on the subject. You may not feel comfortable telling your sister how to discipline HER young son, but you can sure let loose on the behavior of those OTHER kiddies-out-of-control.  

Your sister needs to experience what it's like being around children who don't understand rules, choices and boundaries. As soon as her son goes to school he will be faced with rules enforced by his teachers, and unless he has learned the skills and has had opportunities to be mature, responsible and compassionate, he will not have the social skills he needs to be the best that he can be in his classroom and in his life. Excessive permissiveness rarely helps children grow up, and often produces just the opposite... emotionally immature adults. The English writer W. Somerset Maugham summed it up when he said, "Few misfortunes can befall a boy which bring worse consequences than to have a really affectionate mother." It is your sister's job to nurture and support her son, but she can't do that by being overly soft and permissive.

Of course, it seems that everybody knows how to raise children, except the people who have them.  Thus, in your case you might just want to broach the subject by sharing a couple of great books with your sister: Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood and Helicopters, Drill Sergeants and Consultants: Parenting Styles & The Messages They Send, both by Jim Fay. These books will give your sis some practical parenting skills with an upbeat, sensible approach to raising her son, and will take some of the burden off of you. Now you just need to figure out a way to sneak them into her bag when she's not looking! Here's to turning your distress into success.

Zelda

Dear Zelda-

I am a teacher... and it's hard to turn off the teacher mode at home. Last month, the family was over for Father's Day. We had a barbeque and enjoyed the day. After the family left, I asked my husband if he noticed the way the three-year-old grandson had been bossing around his mom (my step-daughter). He said he had, and even added that he probably sees his daddy talking to his mommy that same way.

So that night I sent my step-daughter an e-mail explaining how impressionable the first five years of a child's life are. I said that while bossiness may be something she is willing to put up with now from her three-year-old, did she want him to treat her that way when he turned 14?

Well, apparently, that really angered her. She called her dad and protested about my advice and told him to tell me to butt out. My husband asked me to stop e-mailing her about anything to do with her kid.

On one hand I feel like Britney Spears..."Oops! I did it again!" but on the other hand, anything I ever do or say is met with contempt from her. It's to the point where I dread any family get-togethers because I'm not the kind to sit around and smile and say nothing. Yet anytime I express my opinion about anything, I step in doo-doo. Got any advice?

Teach-a-Bull

Dear Teach-a-Bull

What's the number one rule that us pooches all learn growing up? NEVER, EVER get between a momma dog and her puppies! If you haven't learned this lesson yet, let's hope that you are truly teach-a-bull, and that you'll heed my warning about this. Now don't misunderstand me... I'm not saying you're wrong about the situation, and in fact, it sounds like you're right on the money. Your husband even agreed with you that your grandson was being way too bossy with his mother. And you're right, your step-daughter may need a lesson in tough love herself, or her son might turn into a permanently petulant, pouting, pushy puppy.

But are you the person to give her this advice? The answer is easy... NO! Your relationship with your step-daughter is already strained to the breaking point, and if you're not careful, this rift between you may turn into a huge, gaping gulf that could create years and years of painful interactions and long, uncomfortable silences over the holiday dinner table. The truth is, being a good mom means being good at more than one thing and sometimes, it means having a firm hand when your little ones start testing the rules and being bossy. Other times, it means letting the little ones make mistakes and learn from them, especially when those little ones aren't so little any more, and particularly if they have little ones of their own. If you think something else absolutely needs to be said to your step-daughter about her parenting, leave it to your husband to do the talking.

There's an old saying among us bulldogs: when you can smell bull "pie," you're probably the one who stepped in it. In this case, it sounds like you might have been walking in a minefield with regard to your step-daughter, but at the end of the day, you definitely stepped on a big one. That doesn't mean you need to take her verbal abuse or her cold-shoulder treatment of you, but it does mean that if you'd like to repair your relationship, you're going to have to take the initiative and be open and honest with her, and also show her that you respect her as a family member and a fellow parent.

Whether you choose to call, write, email, or talk in person, you should personally make the effort to rebuild that bridge with her. You shouldn't try to be overly rosy or falsely congenial with her, but tell her openly that you respect her and love her, that you want to talk with her because the relationship is important to you, that you realize it's been more difficult recently, and that part of that is your fault. Let her know what it is you'd like from her, and ask her what she needs from you, in order to improve your relationship. You may not come away as best friends, but at least you might rebuild some of that mutual respect that got lost along the way. Whatever you do, be open, honest, and respectful, and most importantly, resist the urge to tell her how to raise her son! If she still treats you poorly after all that, then you've done your best and you'll just have to try and minimize her impact on your life. Good luck with the family affairs,

Zelda

Dear Zelda,

When you where a puppy, what were some things that you did?

Puppy Pastimes

Dear Puppy Pastimes,

Thanks for asking about my life as a puppy! It's so rare that I just get to sit around and talk about myself. Gosh that was ten years ago, but the memories still linger. One of the most memor-a-bull things that happened when I was young (and it's memorable because it was so bad of me) was when I ate the entire leather passenger seat in my owner's car. She had gone into the grocery store for some milk, and she came back to find my cheeks puffed full of green foam and chewed-up strips of leather. I gave her my best "Who, me?" face, but even I couldn't cute my way out of that one. I'm not sure what got into me, but now that I'm older and wiser, I've learned not to chew on my owner's personal belongings, and I've also learned (when Zoe and ZeeZee get a hold of my toys while I'm napping!) that puppies chew on whatever they can get in their mouths for any number of reasons... boredom, too much energy, teething or just plain curiosity.

Since we're on the subject of puppies chewing, I thought I'd pass along some chewing advice for those of you with puppies, because now I know that most destructive chewing behavior can be prevented or controlled.  As dogs, we learn through our mouths.  It's how we receive a great deal of information like, "Wow this leather is good, it must be an expensive car!" One of my first recommendations is that you make sure your puppy has a lot of chew toys.  There are many safe, long-lasting chew toys, some that are even made especially for teething puppies like Nylabone and Gumabone products. The toys should not be similar to articles you don't want your puppy to chew. We canines always seem to have a hard time distinguishing our chew toys from Manolo Blahnik dress shoes, for whatever reason. Next, puppy-proof the area where your puppy is confined. Remove plants, socks, shoes, and furniture.  Also make sure electrical cords are out of reach, and tape over electrical outlets. While you are away leave your puppy in a crate (never more than 4 hours), or a puppy-proofed area. Leave some chew toys for him to nibble and maybe a tasty stuffed KONG toy. When you can, supervise your uncrated pup and correct chewing of inappropriate objects.  If you catch your pup chewing on anything but his chew toys, remove the object and replace it with an acceptable chew toy and pretend not to pay any attention to him. When he chews on the proper toy, praise him. If he continues to chew on objects that are not appropriate, you can treat the objects with Grannick's Bitter Apple spray (available at most pet stores). Taken together, these precautions should prevent future generations of baby bullies from feeling the urge to spontaneously de-upholster your vehicle. Just a little advice for you to chew on...

Me? I was definitely a trouble-maker, but I was so ugly that most people thought I was cute, and hence, I could get away with it. My days were filled with fun, like learning how to pose in front of a camera and hearing what a good job I'd done, or how great I looked in my first bikini (oh that I could still fit into it)! By being a working puppy I had a purpose, and I kept busy.  I look back now at all the years and am very happy with the memories, and am looking forward to many more great ones to come! Thanks for asking, and I hope you have a summer full of happy memories too!

Zelda