Dear Carolyn: My kids have been asking for a dog for several years and we finally got a family puppy. We love this dog more than we ever expected!
Unfortunately, we live about 600 miles from my parents, who want nothing to do with dogs. They do, however, want to spend time with us and often complain that we don't visit enough. They don't want to house our dog, which I understand, but we can't afford a hotel room or a kennel for all the trips they want us to make.
We can't seem to come to an agreement. I say they shouldn't try to guilt us for having a life outside of them. They feel we should have never gotten a dog knowing they live so far away and can't stand dogs. What do you think?
Carolyn says: I think what's truly unfortunate is that your parents think your household is about them. Wow.
It's also unfortunate they somehow have you thinking theirs is a normal set of expectations that, to some degree, you're obliged to find ways to address.
There is no "agreement" here to "come to," because your parents don't have any say in how you run your own household. None. Zero.
They also don't have any say in how often you travel to see them, except to let you know whether and for how long you are welcome. And to limit guests to human-only, which is totally their prerogative.
If they really do want to see you, and if they're unwilling or unable to do the bulk of the traveling themselves, then they have incentives available to them that aren't attempts to micromanage you. They could offer you kennel money, for example, or to pay for a hotel for visits both ways. They could just trust you to do your best to come see them. They could be such pleasant company that you stretch yourselves financially to travel whenever you can.
Apparently, instead, they skipped the first page in the Unwritten Manual of Hospitality, which notes in 72-point type that if you want to see people, then don't complain about them, to them, with any frequency that can be described as "often."
My advice to you is as follows:
(1) Stop arguing with people about things that aren't their business. Any and all people, but start with your parents.
(2) Actually that's it. See No. 1.
But there are a few other things to consider that can make it all easier. First, develop a canine network of care. People you meet through your dog who love dogs can be an excellent resource when you want to travel. You dog-sit theirs, they dog-sit yours, opportunities multiply like bald spots in your backyard.
Second, if this is but the tip of the guiltberg, then please run your family dynamic by a good therapist. Boundaries work.
Third, scritch that puppy. Except for the face they give you when they want a walk, they don't do guilt. No wonder you're a convert.
Fourth — and pardon the layman's overreach — introduce yourself to Merrill Markoe: http://merrillmarkoe.com/enough-about-you-my-explanation-of-narcissism. "It's not enough for a narcissist to be the center of his own world, he must also be the center of yours." Good dog. (Woof.)
E-mail Carolyn Hax at email@example.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.