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Help! Brother Mad Because I Won’t Let My Daughter Near His Dogs

Reader No Dogs Allowed writes,

My brother and I have both recently gotten married, and some conflicts/misunderstandings have recently come to the surface between my mother, my sister in law, and myself regarding my toddler (daughter).  You see, my brother and his wife adore my little girl. While they don’t go out of their way to come by our house to visit, my sister in law has agreed to watch my daughter on occasion for a few hours in the afternoon, and once in a rare while overnight (some of these occasions myself or my husband have stayed over as well).

The trouble lies here: they have 2 dogs who are adorable, but are visibly and easily irritated by children and new people. In fact, one of their dogs used to be our family dog, and she has been known to nip when extremely upset. So, when my mother catches word that my daughter may be staying at my brother’s place she is quick to remind me that it is a possible dangerous situation since the dogs can be unpredictable- and I can see her point.

Recently, there has been a family disagreement of sorts where I declined to allow our daughter to stay at my brother’s house overnight while we were away because of my mother’s warning. I was respectful, stated that they were certainly welcome to take our daughter from the Grandparents and take her out if they wanted to spend time with her. Honestly, they asked right after I had spent the night at their place with children around and got to see how irritated the dogs became- growling on occasion, and frequent barking. I was constantly trying to mind both my daughter AND the dogs, and was disappointed that my brother and his wife weren’t more on top of the dogs behaviour.

This sparked a lot of hurt between my brother, myself, my husband, my sister in law and my parents. I mean, I can understand my brother and sister in law’s confusion- why did I suddenly decide it wasn’t OK for my daughter to stay at their home? It became an issue where they now feel I don’t trust them.  I was inconsistent- and have admitted such, but I do want them to be involved in my daughter’s life. How do I repair my relationship with them, while maintaining my stance on my daughter’s safety? I love my brother dearly, and I want to have him as a big part of my life. After this argument I feel things are changing, and I am unsure how to cope!  What can I do? What should I do? And how do I get my mother to be more open with all of us to avoid situations like this in the future?

not the dog in question

Dear NDA,

Well, this sounds like a situation that can be greatly helped by empathy and validation.  You already seem to empathize with your brother and sister-in-law’s perspectives, so you just need to openly express this.  Then you need to kindly assert your own perspective and hope that they empathize back.  So, like this:

You: Hey guys, I’ve noticed that things are a little strained between us lately, and it makes me upset.  I really want you involved in our life and in our daughter’s life.  We all love you. As I’ve said, the idea of the dog possibly biting out daughter really bothers me, so for right now I’m not comfortable with her staying overnight without me watching her.  Maybe chalk it up to me being a first time mom.  But either way, I really hope you know how much I value our relationship and I still want us to be close.  Can we work this out?

Them: It was fine before Mom butted in.  You always just listen to her like she knows everything.  Maybe if you made up your own mind, we would all be fine.

You: I know, I did listen to Mom because I thought she had a point. I can see why you’d feel like that though.  I guess the issue for me is that I want to make sure that we are fine again. I miss you guys.

Them: Okay, we love you too.  Come here.  (Hugs all around.)

Here’s a couple of deeper-level observations, though.  First, you say “how can you get mom to be more open with us to avoid these situations” but I’m unclear how your mom did anything wrong here.  She gave her opinion.  You chose to take it.  You also could have said, well, I’ll take my chances and assume that my brother and sister-in-law will watch her closely when she’s there overnight.  You could have also told your brother that you realized the dog is difficult around new people, without throwing your mom under the bus.  So, I have to wonder if your relationship with your mother is overly close for your age, e.g., she says things and you just do them, and maybe you give her too much influence in your life.

Also, when you’re present with your daughter, I’m sure your brother and SIL aren’t supervising your daughter as they would if you weren’t there, because YOU’RE THERE.  So, I wouldn’t necessarily extrapolate from their behavior when you’re there that if the dog became agitated when it was just them, the dog, and your child, that they wouldn’t have the sense to remove the dog or your daughter, and make sure she was fine.  Maybe you are a little anxious, and if so, this would be a good time to think about if you’re overly protective in any other ways.

Anyway, just some food for thought there. Good luck, and hope your situation improves.  Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Thinks Your Brother and Sister in Law Will Understand More When They Have Kids, But Don’t Say This Out Loud.

Samantha Rodman

Dr. Samantha Rodman, known to the blog world as "Dr. Psych Mom," is a clinical psychologist. She has a husband, 3 young children, and a betta fish. You may have heard about her from The Washington Post,The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, J-Date, The Millionaire Matchmaker’s site Pattiknows.com, and PsychCentral, among others!


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  • This reminds me of what I’m currently dealing with. My husband, myself, and our 2-year-old toddler are staying with my family while we save up for a home. Problem is that my family has an out-of-control pitt/lab cross who’s so poorly behaved the veterinarian couldn’t even manage to give her one deworming pill when she last went in because she’s “too crazy” (her words, not mine!), and she has a very aggressive, and unpredictable. It’s causing so much friction since everyone disagrees about the best course of action. It’s so frustrating!

  • I’ve heard too many sad stories of pets attacking little kids unexpectedly. I’m 100% behind the cautious mom, and her brother needs to be more understanding of the situation. In my opinion, a child’s safety is non-negotiable.

  • it’s a touch situation, but there needs to be an understanding between all parties otherwise there will always be conflict.

  • Ouch, tough for the family all around. My oldest son gave a dog to his honey, then a year later they had a baby. We noticed the dog getting a little ancy, pointed it out everyone in her family and no one listened. Until the dog bit my granddaughters face, that is

  • Okay this is actually really good advice. I am one who has small nephews and a niece along with three dogs. I have watched the kids but have always kept distance between the dogs and kids because my dogs are not always around little ones. My dogs do love lil ones but things can happen so you do have to be aware and alert. I do feel when the brother and sister in law have their own children they will understand more indeed. Thanks for sharing.

  • I understand that these things can happen when you are together & it is really a tough task to resolve as these are so sensitive issues at the end of the day.I hope all gets better soon.

  • We have three dogs. My son loves them but sometimes he doesn’t understand that the dogs need to be loved on gently. We have tried to teach him to be gentle. Two of my dogs will give fair warning when they have had enough of him messing with them. I think it is more important to try and teach the child how to properly handle dogs. However, if they are old and grumpy sometimes its best to keep them separated. I can see how this situation can easily be tough for all parties.

  • I too won’t be comfortable if there were dogs around in the house. You will never know if they will act up. Regarding siblings taking care of your kids vs dog I rather err on the side of safety for my kid as any bad experience would cause trauma which could haunt them for the rest of their lives.

  • Great question- We had a similar situation- because of a certain family member I would not let my kids stay at their grandmas..(my mother-in-law) she had to come visit us at our house.. tough call…

About Author

Samantha Rodman

Dr. Samantha Rodman, known to the blog world as "Dr. Psych Mom," is a clinical psychologist. She has a husband, 3 young children, and a betta fish. You may have heard about her from The Washington Post,The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, J-Date, The Millionaire Matchmaker’s site Pattiknows.com, and PsychCentral, among others!