Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: When my daughter was first born, my husband and I decided that if we should perish, my brother-in-law and his wife would raise her. They agreed to this.
However, over the last few years, we discovered that my daughter, now 5, has a severe dog allergy (read: asthma attack, hospital level), and her aunt and uncle have two dogs. The allergy is so bad that she cannot even visit their house. So now we have no real plan in regard to her care.
I feel we should ask them if they would give up their dogs if they ever needed to raise our daughter – but how do we ask that, in a way that allows them to answer honestly? It seems it would be quite hard for someone to say, “I would choose my dogs over your daughter,” to our faces – but we have to know if we can rely on them if needed, or find another option for her care. They really are the very best option, sans dogs. How should we approach this?
DEAR QUESTION: “The dog allergy has me worried about our guardianship plan. Would you like us to choose someone else?” That allows them to say either, “Yes, that’s probably a good idea” or “Yikes, no, if it came to that of course we’d find new homes for the dogs.”
Even more important than the phrasing, though, is your attitude: If you’re going to pose this question, then you have to be ready to hear either answer without losing your composure.
There is another option, though, one I would take if I were in your position: Trust the aunt and uncle to do the right thing should this very unlikely thing happen. I mean, if you really thought it was possible they would either risk your daughter’s life by expecting her to live with dogs, or prioritize the dogs and pack her off to be raised by someone else, then you didn’t pick the right guardians in the first place.
Re: guardianship: Or, another option: Decide that giving up their pets is too much to ask of anyone and find a new guardian.
I probably would be one of the few who really would say, flatly, “You’re right, I’m not the right choice,” but sometimes the most loving thing you can do is not put someone you love in the position to make such a wrenching decision.
It’s probably clear that I’m in the pets-are-family camp, huh?
So am I, but, seriously?!
It’s a wrenching choice, yes, but we’re talking about the adult pain of potentially surrendering an animal versus the needs of a freshly orphaned child. Sparing the feelings of a pet-owning adult is not the “most loving thing you can do”!
That distinction belongs to choosing to take in a child who just lost both parents even though it means finding new homes for two beloved dogs.
I don’t believe anyone is obligated to do this, nor do I believe refusing to do this makes someone a bad person, but let’s not equate things that simply are not equal.
And I’m talking about actually carrying out such a choice; the letter is just about hypotheticals. An adult can certainly handle that conversation.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.