Dear Amy: My husband and I have been very happily married for more than 30 years. Our three children are grown and gone, and we are enjoying our empty nest.
We have two well-behaved dogs that we adore, and we share responsibility for the dogs’ care, much as we shared our parenting duties.
However, my husband has taken up a new hobby (birdwatching), which means that he is gone on excursions with various groups on many weekends.
I have no problem at all with his being gone (leaving early Saturday, returning Sunday evening), but there is an assumption now that I will stay at home and take care of the dogs whenever he wants to leave – often at the last minute.
But guess what? Sometimes I want to fly away from home, too – and I’m stuck here with two furry goofballs.
We are both still working, and our weekends are valuable.
Can you give us some ideas for how to handle this?
Caring for Canines
Dear Caring: With two dogs, spontaneous getaways are pretty much out of the question, but my strongest suggestion is that you and your husband find two sources of responsible and reliable dog care — perhaps a sitter and also a kennel — and that you and he switch off months where you are each responsible for arranging and paying for dog care if you are planning to be away.
For those times when your husband leaves you holding the doggy bag, he could compensate you for the cost he would pay an outside source for weekend dog care. This would recognize the responsibility you are assuming; you might choose to use the extra money to fund your own flyaway weekends.
Dear Amy: My 8-year-old niece is having trouble coping with and sorting out her feelings.
She is confused by her mother’s abandonment of the family home and by her mother’s very erratic behavior.
One moment, her mother makes scenes over her two children not loving her, and then the next moment she is sending them out of the house on their own in a strange town while she spends time with her boyfriend (four boyfriends so far since the marriage breakup a year ago).
Mom blames everybody (including her children) for not loving and respecting her.
In spite of this, my niece desperately wants her parents to come together again.
She has lost her self-confidence and blames herself for any failure or frustration. She is very bright, but her schoolwork is suffering.
My sister and brother-in-law (and the girl’s father) would like appropriate books to read to her.
Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Retired University Librarian
Dear Librarian: A great source for recommendations is your child’s local public or school librarian, but I also have some ideas.
The first recommendation is for your niece’s dad and other adult family members to develop a regular practice of reading to her and her sibling.
These bright children might be competent readers, but family reading time is when kids draw in close and share the slowed-down experience of being read to.
Childmind.org has a list of book recommendations for children who are struggling. One this family might want to read together is: “What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (What-to-Do Guides for Kids Series), by therapist Dawn Heubner, with illustrations by Bonnie Matthews (2005, Magination Press).
This is also a good age to start reading the Harry Potter series. Harry’s hero’s journey starts with his escape from a deeply neglectful household; children can identify with his worries, and cheer his and his friends’ wit and bravery.
Also – E.B. White’s classic “Charlotte’s Web,” for a gentle and charming lesson in the pleasures and burdens of responsibly caring for other creatures.
I hope you and other family members will do everything possible to protect and support these children. Legal recourse (the mother losing parenting privileges) and therapy for both children (and for their dad) would be helpful.
Dear Amy: I was frustrated by your response to “Frustrated,” whose neighbor had opened their mail by mistake (and had returned the mail to them with an apology).
I thought you were very hard on this neighbor; she’d made a mistake!
Dear Frustrated: Mistakes do happen, and I didn’t think that these neighbors should accuse their mail-opening neighbor of any deliberate crime. But because the mail in question contained important financial information, I suggested that the neighbors respond with concern over the fact that this had happened a couple of times.
You can email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.
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