Your neighbor drove your kid to soccer practice along with her own … do you have to take her kid next time?
The parents of your child’s best friend offered to bring your kid along on their upcoming Disney World trip … do you owe their child a vacation?
While it’s wonderful when friends offer to make our mom lives just a bit easier, their generosity always leaves us wondering: Do we have to match them dollar for dollar, or minute for minute, in our own actions?
According to Peggy Post, Emily Post’s great-granddaughter-in-law and a director of The Emily Post Institute, the simple answer is: You don’t. “Imbalances happen naturally throughout life in all sorts of relationships,” she says.
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There may be times when another family does “more” for your child than you do for theirs, and other times when you are doing more for another child. Whether or not you feel it’s necessary to reciprocate in some form will be up to you, but no matter the scenario, these are the three rules of thumb to keep in mind when you find yourself in a situation that feels imbalanced.
1. Always Talk Things Through
The example: Another family invites your child to join them at a baseball game.
What you should do: It’s not always clear when a family is offering to treat your child to the price of an event, or just volunteering to chaperone a fun day. If someone invites your kid to come on an upcoming outing, pick up the phone and talk to the parents. Don’t email or text, says Post, as things are too easily misconstrued that way. Thank the family for the offer, and ask what sort of budget they had in mind so you can decide if it’s doable. If you’re not able to afford the day, it’s okay to say, “We’re sorry we can’t go this year, but thank you for the invitation.” Avoid any hints that you want them to pick up the tab, Post says.
2. Show Gratitude
The example: Another family offers to take your kid to a Broadway show … and they make it clear they’d like to pay.
What you should do: There’s nothing wrong with accepting a grand gesture. What is important, Post stresses, is to be appreciative, and to reciprocate somehow. A matching Broadway show with great seats may be out of your budget, but a movie might not be. If your child spends a long weekend at a friend’s beach house, perhaps you can have that friend at your apartment one weekend in return, or have the whole family over for a home-cooked meal. There’s no need to force your kid to miss out on fun opportunities just because they’re being handed to him—it’s just a matter of getting creative with how you make it up to the generous people offering the opportunity in the first place.
3. Avoid Resentment
The example: You realize another is always the one to pick up the children after karate class and drive them home, not the other way around, and you’re feeling guilty.
What you should do: Assuming you didn’t even realize the discrepancy until now, and haven’t discussed it with them beforehand, give the parents a call and ask them if they are okay with how things have been going. It’s possible they may say, “Thanks so much, I was getting overwhelmed.” Or, perhaps they will assure you they are fine. Either way, clear, honest communication with no beating around the bush will keep the relationship healthy and open, and avoid feelings of resentment.
Don’t Allow Yourself to Be Taken Advantage Of
Though we note that relationships aren’t usually a 50/50 split, there are times when the imbalance tips over into unreasonable. If you’re the one feeling like your generosity is being taken advantage of, you should use the same methods mentioned above to address it with the offending party. Talk through how you’ve been feeling lately, show gratitude for any of the times that this person has helped you in certain circumstances and avoid feeling resentful. It’s entirely possible the person had no idea how much they have been leaning on you lately.
Tell us—how you handle reciprocity with other families, and what strategies do you use to make sure no one feel burdened or resentful.