I’m not a mother, but I hope to be in the near future, and I know that quite a few of my readers are moms.

I read the Motherlode blog on the New York Times website pretty regularly and I came across this parental quandary today:

Can my daughter hang out with you guys after school?” That’s the question A. hears from a fellow mother nearly every week (and sometimes more often). After school, or when she needs to work a weekend or an evening shift, this mother seems to have settled on A. as her go-to emergency baby-sitting option.

In the great game of reciprocal child care, not all parents play fair. You may always be there for a friend who calls with “I’m running late,” or “I just got a last minute, hard-to-get doctor’s appointment,” but is she always there for you? This is A.’s quandary, and the mooching parent isn’t really a friend, but the single working mother of a friend of her 8-year-old daughter.

The result is that her daughter’s friend spends a lot of time at A.’s house. Her mother texts A. at the last minute, asking if A. can pick the little girl up from school with A.’s daughter, and keep her just until the end of the workday. The other woman is relatively new in town, with no local family, and A. thinks there’s no one else to help out — if she doesn’t pick the child up, who will?

But the requests are frequent, and rarely reciprocated. A. works too, and the extra little girl in the house on school nights, or coming along on after-school errands and weekend activities, can be a problem, not to mention a financial burden. A. finds herself with three kids in tow for meals and everything else, and her fellow parent, even with gentle reminders, never pitches in. As a final straw, the little girl is all too comfortable with A. She bickers with A.’s children, and begs for candy and treats on errands. These “play dates” aren’t even fun for A’s daughter anymore.

A. knows she needs to say something — but what, and how? She’d like to maintain her daughter’s friendship. She doesn’t mind helping out once in a while. And she suspects that there’s no money for a baby sitter there, and A. can relate to that.

Read the rest of the article and comments here:

The mother in this scenario is a working single mother, BUT this scenario could apply to any parent or caregiver. It does take a village to raise children, but at what point does a parent set boundaries that are necessary for their own kids?

What would you say? How would you handle? 


20 thoughts on “Reciprocity

  1. When I moved to the DMV I was a single mom with 2 kids.. not really familiar with the area but fortunately I had a cousin and a coworker who I could count on. My cousin was younger and didn’t have kids and I only imposed if it was truly an emergency and with my coworker we would take turns for “date nights” or emergencies.

    Having been in that situation before.. this woman needs to step up and set guidelines or just say NO period. Hell if you are a single parent you need to come up with a backup to the backup and I’m not going to continuing being your backup and you can’t even offer… we all need a break from time to time.. Your kid is not going to continually spend 1/2 year in my home, eat my food, tag along hmph.. I’m all for feeding them but unless you letting me claim that kid as a deduction.. it has to STOP

  2. Although I have a son, I’m not really crazy about kids. However, if I encountered a single mom/dad with this dilemma, I’d help as much as possible. I don’t see it as the single mom abusing the friendship, rather that we are in a place where she needs me more than I need her. I’d rather the child be with us, well taken care of, fed, and in the company of other children than not.

  3. I’d continue to keep the kid – but I’d lay out some guidelines.

    As someone who doesn’t have any family or many friends in the immediate area and whose husband works away from home I cannot tell you how blessed I am to have P in the immediate area. She has picked LG up for me when I was running late, she’s kept her for me so I could get some uninterrupted study time in – the list goes on. And I’ve done the same for her. I never once gave any thought to who’d bought more Chick-Fil-A kid’s meals. If A is with us, he’s getting fed the same way LG is. Period.

    Now, there’s this kid H who’s mom is in the same situation as I am – not a whole lot of help in the immediate area. I’ve kept H a few times – overnight once. I thought it was strange because the mom doesn’t really know me like that, but I guess when you’re in a pickle, you’re in a pickle. I’m not crazy about H to be honest, but I am blessed to be a blessing and I wouldn’t dare tell her mom that I wouldn’t keep her if I were able to do so. H and I have had a come to Jesus meeting and I told her how we roll in our household and that as long as she were there she had to fall in line. Do she and LG fight? Yep. But I figure if LG had siblings they’d fight so that’s a weak excuse to me.

  4. Look man. I’d stop answering her calls or conveniently be busy. It’s not fair to continually leave your child with someone else without offering money or babysitting in return?

  5. I would add an extra kid to my budget. If I can always be the lender and never have a need to borrow, I am happy with that.

    I want to be the mom who is so together that folks trust their kids to my supervision. I would ask the mom to make a standing schedule so everybody is clear on the days I will be on duty.

  6. Hm. I feel the single mother’s plight. I do. However, as long as the burdened mom keeps doing these things, single mom will never have to come up with another solution.

    So I would tell single mom that after X date, I wouldn’t be able to do these last minute pick ups and play dates etc. and then on X date, don’t do it any more.

    Sometimes you need to let folks know that fat meat is greasy.

  7. Ok so since this has never happened to me, I guess I would have to say that I would probably tell her to give me money the next time she dropped her kid off and let her know that I was going to check her kid’s behavior. I would also start being unavailable sometimes by either not answering her call or telling her no.

    I always offer to reciprocate to someone that has kids who I need to babysit, or now, pick my daughter up for me and drop her off at home. I don’t send my child off without offering money, or at least making sure she’s eaten first. I also don’t allow her to run over someone’s house ALL of the time, or continually ask to go to their house. “Wait to be invited.”, is my rule of thumb.

  8. this happened to me and i dont like children like that either, but in the long run it was worth it. the child was not a problem, and all the children had fun together. 4 or 5 children – whats the difference – feed them and treat them like your own. the other mother never complained and seemed grateful that i was able to watch her child. they were obviously issues with the other parent but i didnt feel like i was being taken advantage of.
    Sometimes it did feel odd having this extra child over at all hours, but at least the child was in a home where she felt comfortable.
    you reap what you sow and life is a long road, you just never know how you’re blessing someone.

  9. I would have started saying “NO” long before it got to that point. I wouldn’t let myself be anybody’s doormat, especially not when it was straining my energy and finances. Keeping anybody’s “friendship” isn’t worth all of that, esp. if someone can’t respect boundaries.

    I can feel that the other mom may not have babysitting money or anyone else to watch her girls, but that’s not A’s problem. You know what I did when I didn’t have any babysitting money? I either stayed home or brought my kids with me. Simple as that.

  10. I have been in a similar situation. When I moved to Charlotte, I had pretty much nobody, except other single moms I met at first. We watched each other’s kid. Honestly, they probably watched Tyler more b/c I was more social. But I always gave $ for activities and I’d always offer to give them a break with their kid even if they had no where to go. I HAD one single mom friend I met thru church who always needed me, but could never reciprocate. I finally told her I didn’t see how the friendship was mutually beneficial and I wasn’t interested in continuing the relationship. She was pissed. Fast forward she got married and she must have told her husband the situation and he agreed with me. We started hanging out again. She got divorced/separated whatever and one time she left her kid at my house overnight w/out my permission. That was the LAST straw. I haven’t returned her calls since and do not ever plan to. Nobody can take advantage of you UNLESS you give them permission to.

  11. This is good Tiffany! Let me find my rational-sympathetic-I know how that can be-self and I’ll get back to your question! Because right now is all I can think is “Hell to the Nawl”, mostly in regards to the “you’re not pitching in to help feed your child” part.

  12. I’ve never had this problem because in the 22 years I’ve been a parent, I’ve NEVER been open to keeping anyone’s kids. It may sound harsh, but I just don’t like children like that. Everyone does not share my discipline philosophy and it’s best that their kids stay over there and mine over here. And when my kids needed childcare, I had my MIL, FIL and my grandmother. So there were no imbalances of reciprocity.

    The mother in that scenario needs to be straight up. She should tell her what she’d like (i.e. the other mother to pitch in with childcare; send some damn money with her kid [who does not KNOW this???]; and explain to her that she feels that their relationship with the kids is unbalanced). Then you let the chips fall where they may. And I’m sure it wouldn’t be any skin off of Mom A’s back because she’s not getting anything out of this deal anyway.

    • EB – The one thing that struck me as a non-parent was that the visiting child had started acting out and bickering with Mom A’s kids. It’s one thing to be keeping someone’s kid, keeping someone’s BAD ASS kid. Yeah, no. If your child isn’t going to mind me, then you need to find someone else to keep them.

      • Ditto. I understand that kids will be kids and act up. But if you want your kid to spend extended periods of time with ME, I need to discipline them just as I would discipline my own. And everyone is not down for that.

      • And THIS is the problem I have with other people’s kids! I will babysit, but know that they are going to get dealt with if need be. You don’t like that? Keep your child your-damn-self then!

    • “It may sound harsh, but I just don’t like children like that.”…LMAO!!!

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