If you’re a stay-at-home mom, you have probably been asked to look after someone else’s kids. Often this happens when a working mom finds herself in a bind and is reaching out for help. Let’s be honest: it’s a tough situation for both of you.

Your friend hopes that, since you’re already at home with your kids, adding hers into the mix doesn’t change things all that much. In reality, however, adding a couple of kids into the mix changes things a lot.

Extra kids means extra tantrums, extra mouths to feed, extra bums to wipe and extra car seats if you dare leave the house that day. Yet you feel like you don’t have a valid reason to say no. So what happens next? How do you support your friend while honouring your own needs and valuing your sanity?

Evaluate the request

It’s important to start things off right, and the first thing to establish is what is actually being requested of you.

When a friend asks, "Are you free next Tuesday?," you can get caught in a tricky situation. You might assume that your friend is hoping to get together, and so you reply that you and the kids are free that day. But what if your friend then explains that she has to work on Tuesday and needs someone to look after her kids?

Although you may not want to, you now feel obliged to help out because you did just say that you are available that day.

But is it really just a question about you being available or not? What does it mean to be available anyway?

Redefine availability

Without an appointment or a family commitment, moms will readily say they are free on any given day. Although there may not be something "official" on the calendar, as a stay-at-home mom, the days are not exactly clear of obligations. Making a household function, running errands, tidying up, cooking meals and having your own children in tow while doing it all doesn’t really define a free day.

Whether you’re a mom who works outside of the home at a paid job or a mom who works inside the home at an unpaid job (i.e., a stay-at-home mom), we can assume that every mom has a day of work ahead of her. It’s not about being available; it’s about being able.

What you’re really trying to ascertain is whether you are able to look after your friend’s kids next Tuesday.

Stick to the script

Answering too quickly can lead to stress and bitterness if you later regret your decision. So it’s helpful to have a go-to response like, "I’ll think about it and get back to you."

With this as your automatic answer, you give yourself some time to contemplate what next week holds. Even though your friend’s only asking for one Tuesday, there may already be a jam-packed Monday and Wednesday on either side of it. Before you end up overcommitted, take time to consider each childcare request as it comes.

Negotiate the details

Although it’s easy to see your friend’s request as a take-it-or-leave-it scenario, there’s always room to negotiate. If all day is too much, offer to help out for just the morning or the afternoon stretch. That covers half of the day and puts your friend in a better position than having none of it covered.

If you do agree to the full day, you need to know exactly when the kids will be dropped off and when they will be picked up. There’s also no harm in asking your friend to send lunches and snacks with her children. Ultimately, this comes down to two moms trying to help each other accomplish their day of work. She has made a request of you; feel free to make some requests in return.

Balance the benefits

Even if these details are fairly negotiated and decided upon, there’s still the matter of money, and the reality that this arrangement is financially benefitting one mom and not the other. Even though it’s rarely acknowledged, this is a dynamic that can lead to resentment.

Although your instinctive reaction is probably to immediately turn down the offer of financial reimbursement, it’s worth seriously considering and even accepting. It may seem weird to be paid to look after your friend’s kids, but it can make the scenario beneficial for both of you.

Keep your word

If you are both happy with the arrangement and you agree to help, then stick to it. You’ll be putting your friend in a very stressful spot if you jam out of your commitment.

Just as the stay-at-home mom hopes a working mom is understanding of her daily pressures, a working mom hopes a stay-at-home mom is respectful of her responsibilities. So make sure your yes stays a yes.

Retain the relationship

Don’t say yes to a childcare request just to safeguard your friendship. If you’re saying yes because that’s what a good friend should do, even though it’s not what you want to do, then you are risking the very friendship you’re trying to preserve. In this situation, saying no is actually the best outcome because it means you are being honest with your friend and truthfulness is at the centre of every solid relationship.

A childcare arrangement needs to be good for both of you because there is a relationship at stake.

Be real

Be realistic about the stage of life you find yourself in. You may want to be superwoman who can do everything for your family and other people’s families too, but you are a finite being with finite limitations. Your own kids and your never-ending to-do list may already be testing your capacity each day. That’s okay to admit, and that’s a perfectly normal situation.

Give yourself permission to say no. As Jesus instructs us, we just need to say a simple, "Yes, I will," or, "No, I won’t" (Matthew 5:37). If you decline the request to look after someone else’s kids, you are not a bad friend or a failed Christian. Saying no doesn’t mean that you lack generosity, character or fortitude. If you can’t help out your friend this month or even this year, there will likely be a time in the not-so-distant future when you can.

Us moms are in this together as we try to figure out how to raise some fabulous children in a crazy-paced world. If we help each other out when we’re able to and graciously accept when we’re not able to, then we just may find a way to support our friends, honour our own needs, and stay sane in the process.

Stephanie Carroll is a freelance writer and editor in Maple Ridge, BC.

© 2016 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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