She drops the kids at your house every school holiday and expects you to babysit for free.
She calls at the 11th hour and begs you to pick up her kid at the bus stop. Again.
Her children eat their weight in popsicles, fruit and sandwiches from your kitchen during the summertime, but she has yet to pitch in with money or reciprocal playdates.
These, my friends, would be “Mom Moochers,” and we’ve all known a few of them in our day, haven’t we?
While it’s great for our children to have friends around, sometimes it’s hard not to wonder—are we being taken advantage of? And let’s be honest, if we’re constantly shelling out money to feed someone else’s child, or spending time and gas money to drive them places, it can put a dent in our family budget, as well.
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We’re here to help you figure out if your kindness is being taken advantage of … and what to do about it.
Are You Being Taken Advantage Of?
As we talked about here, no relationship is a perfectly divided and completely equal split. Just because you’ve offered to watch Jimmy a few times in the past doesn’t necessarily mean that his mom now “owes you one.”
There is a difference, though, between the occasional good deed done and being taken advantage of. There may come a time when you feel like you are doing so much more than another parent that it starts to feel unfair. Here are a few things to be on the lookout for to tell if this is happening:
- You compare the number of times you’ve driven both kids somewhere over the past month, and the other Mom has only driven a handful of times, compared to your dozens of times, or not at all.
- You pay for all the snacks, outings and other expenses when her child is in your care, but the other parent never reciprocates or offers to pitch in.
- You’re expected to help out without having been asked first whether you’re even available.
- You feel the demands this person is making on your time are burdensome and unreasonable—well beyond what you yourself would be comfortable asking someone else to handle.
- The work you’re doing to help her is impacting your or your family’s quality of life.
Once you recognize a situation where you feel you’re being taken advantage of, the next thing you’ll need to do is address it …
What to Do
Major life changes like a divorce, caring for an aging relative, job loss, or even happy occasions like a new baby or going back to school can make a person feel overwhelmed, meaning she may need to lean more on her circle than normal.
Start out assuming that there’s a good reason behind this person needing help with her child, and not that she’s just being greedy. Whether the offending person is a good friend or just an acquaintance, you should always approach the topic in the same way. First, gently ask how things are going, starting with a friendly, “You seem very busy these days, is everything okay?” If she does mention that things have been rocky for her, lend an ear, show empathy and offer to help how you are able, without taking on more than is doable for your family. Whatever the reason for this other parent’s requests, you have a right to set limits. Follow these steps to do so:
- Be upfront with her, suggests Peggy Post, Emily Post’s great-granddaughter-in-law and a director of The Emily Post Institute. Tell her that you’re happy to help out when you can, but that you just can’t do so all the time.
- Be as kind as possible, and set parameters by telling the mom that you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed with the current set-up, rather than blaming her for anything. A gentler approach will make it easier to avoid hurt feelings on either side.
- Try suggesting a schedule to help the two of you share playdate visits or rides. If that’s not feasible for the other family, offer to help out to the extent that makes you feel comfortable. It’s okay if you wind up doing more. You’re earning some good karma for when you’re the one someday in need of a hand!
- Most importantly, avoid vagueness when you talk to this other parent. Statements like, “We’d love to have Susie over every other Saturday,” or “We enjoy Hudson’s visits, but please call before sending him over to make sure it works” will help alleviate confusion.
What If You’re the Mooch?
If the checklist at the top rings a bell, and you realize that—gulp—you’re the one relying on the kindness of friends way too much, don’t panic. Give the other mom a call to thank her for everything she’s done lately, and apologize for putting so much on her plate. Make an offer to do something for her, whether it’s inviting her kid over so she can have a break, paying her back if she’s spent a lot of cash on your child lately or offering to babysit one evening so she can have a night out—or maybe even all of the above.