AdviceHelp Me Rhonda

Help Me, Rhonda

A Dog? No Kidding

My kids have been begging for a dog. They’re 11 and 13, and they swear they’ll help, but I just know that my wife and I will end up doing all the dog care. My wife and I have talked about it, and we do like the idea of a family pet. My wife also thinks having a pet will be a good way to teach the kids responsibility, but I’m still hesitant. What do you think?

The Dog Catcher

You’re absolutely right. You and your wife will end up doing all the dog care, unless you insist that your kids become responsible before you get the dog. Here’s how you do that and avoid doing all the work yourself.

Tell the kids you’re willing to consider getting a dog, but that you’ll need help caring for it. They will swear up and down that they’ll help. They’ll promise things they can’t possibly do: I’ll walk it five miles every day; I’ll play with it for three hours each night; I’ll teach it to pick up its own toys. Ignore those promises and tell them exactly what you want them to do each day: the 11-year-old will feed the dog twice a day, and the 13-year-old will walk it once (or twice) a day. Then, you show them a calendar with boxes for the next 30 days. Your kids must do these dog chores, without a dog, for the next 30 days. Every morning, somebody puts a bowl of water on the floor and changes it in the afternoon. Every day, somebody picks up a leash, goes outside and walks around the block. No exceptions.

When your kids complete their dog chores, they put an x on the calendar. If they don’t do it, or don’t do it to your satisfaction (like they forget to feed the dog until 11 p.m. or step outside and come right back in instead of doing the whole walk), they leave that day blank. Do not push them to do these chores. You can remind them gently, but don’t force them. And, under no circumstances should you excuse them or do the chores for them. It’s raining? Put on a raincoat and walk the dog. You want to go to a friend’s house after school? Come home and feed the dog first. Don’t make any threats or promises about dog ownership during this 30-day test run. If they get angry or bored or fail to do these chores, don’t say a word; just make sure they don’t put an x on the calendar.

If you get 30 x’s in 30 days, you can talk about adopting a dog, with the understanding that they will have to continue to do these things indefinitely. If they don’t have 30 x’s, tell them you can see that they’re not quite ready for a dog and, if they ask again in six months, you can try the 30-day experiment again.

This system is intended to train you as much as it does your kids. You have to be exacting about the chores and particular about the x’s. You also must absolutely resist the urge to excuse your kids from these chores, unless they land in the hospital. And if they land in the hospital, their first question better be: Who’s going to walk the dog? Lastly, you must resist the urge to look at a calendar half full of x’s, say, “Well, you’re going to have to do better when we actually get a dog”, then go ahead and get a dog anyway. If they can’t take care of an imaginary dog, they won’t take care of a real dog. In short, you have to be willing to say “no,” or at least “not now.”

A Date? No Thanks

I’m a junior in college, and my problem is with a guy. We went to high school together and knew each other, but we weren’t close friends. I don’t really have romantic feelings for him, and nothing has ever happened between us, but I have always had the feeling that he wanted something to.

We both went away to college, which should have naturally ended our sort-of friendship. But now, whenever there’s a school break—Thanksgiving, spring break, summer, whatever—he calls or emails me asking to go out to lunch, dinner, a movie or something. I went a few times, but these all feel like dates, which I don’t want to do with him. He always invites me; he always pays; he always compliments the way I look or something, and I just don’t want to hang out with him anymore. The problem is, he’s very persistent, and I don’t want to be rude. When he asks me to lunch or whatever, I’ve tried saying, nicely, “Oh, I’m really busy this break, and I don’t think I’ll have time,” but he just keeps at it. Once he even said to me, “I just want to see you; I don’t care when we go out. We can have lunch at two in the morning if that’s the only time you’re free.” What do I say to that? 

Once, a while ago, I got up the nerve to tell him that I had the impression that he wanted to be more than friends and that I didn’t feel that way and I had a boyfriend, so I was reluctant to spend time with him. He came back with, “I just want to be as good friends as you want us to be. I don’t care that you have a boyfriend. You’ve always had a boyfriend.” How do I tell him “no thank you” without being rude?

Miss Manners


People, especially women, are socialized to be “nice.” Often, “nice” is misrepresented as “agreeable” or “not permitted to say ‘no thank you’ without an external reason.” But that’s not what “nice” is. And if it were, “nice” wouldn’t be worth striving for. 

The flip side of this “nice” business is that when someone, like this guy, asks you out, and you say “no,” there exists this air of, “What’s your problem? I was just being nice.” And this dynamic creates some problems. 

The way the social contract usually works is someone asks you out, you say “no” indirectly by saying you’re too busy, the asker hears your rejection and moves on. In refusing to acknowledge your implied “no,” this guy is taking advantage of the fact that you’re not really allowed to directly say “no.” He’s forcing you not to be “nice.” And so be it. 

The next time he asks you out, you can say “no thank you” and not offer a reason. Don’t say you’re too busy or tired, because that gives him an avenue to try again, and he’s demonstrated that he will. Just say “no thank you.” It will absolutely feel awkward, because you’re not usually allowed to say “no” so directly, but it’s the best way to go. Practice saying it ahead of time. When the time comes, imagine that you’re declining a cup of coffee or something else inconsequential that you don’t really want. (Yes, I know, he’s a human being, not a drink. The purpose of this is to help you achieve the tone and delivery you need.) 

Or, if you’re lucky, the next invitation will come via email, in which case you just email back “no thank you.” Regardless of how he asks you out, your response is the same. And you offer that response once, and then you don’t interact with him anymore. Don’t respond to any further calls, emails or texts. The clearest way to let him know you don’t want to interact with him anymore is to stop interacting with him. 

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