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Staying Home

How Do I Say "No" to Other Parents?

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22, No. 2 March-April 2005 pp. 72-73

"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I am amazed by the number of times I have been asked to provide child care for others since I've decided to stay home with my own children. People assume that since I'm home, I'm available to help. I have yet to come up with a reply that I'm comfortable with, one that is sympathetic but also clearly states, "No." Have other mothers experienced this dilemma? How do you respond when you're asked to care for other people's children?

Mother's Response

I have frequently been asked to look after neighbor's children because I am at home. I think honesty is the best policy. Sometimes you can say that you have had a busy time lately and your child needs some uninterrupted "mummy time." You can also mention that you have tasks that would prevent you supervising more than one child adequately.

Other times it is a good idea to inconvenience yourself a little to help. It can be fun to play with other people's children and, at the same time, provide social interaction for your child in a safe and non-threatening environment. I am complimented when a mother trusts me to take care of her precious children.

Barbara Higham
Ilkley England

Mother's Response

Since I am also a stay-at-home mother, I also get requests to watch other children. Sometimes they are not even requests, but statements. I had a father of a newborn at church say to me in conversation that I could watch their newborn full-time since I was home with my toddler. I politely thanked him for his vote of confidence and then said that I am staying at home to be with my daughter as a choice that would benefit her. If I wanted an income, I would not have quit my former job. Being at home full-time is equal or more work than being employed outside my home.

Even though you're at home with your children, that does not make you a child care provider. You can politely decline by saying that, at this time, your schedule does not allow for you to be responsible for another child. This is true if you are nursing, have a busy toddler, or if you have a preschool or other activity schedule you adhere to. You should not apologize for your actions or go into detail, since you know what is best for you and your family.

Amy Previti LeBeau
Lombard IL USA

Mother's Response

I admit that I'm guilty of being one of those mothers who ask other stay-at-home mothers to watch my children for a few hours. And I have three boys, so it's no small favor. I homeschool my children and take them with me practically everywhere. But there are some places where I can't or don't want to take them, and sometimes I just need time away for a few hours. I have found other mothers who are willing to do trades; you watch my children for a few hours on Wednesday, and I'll watch your children for a few hours on Friday. It works best if you schedule the trade in advance so no one feels taken advantage of. Ideally, the trade is done with someone who has the same number of children as you.

When my oldest was six and my youngest was nursing less frequently, I found that I really wanted to pursue some interests that required time away from my children here and there. My life-long secret desire was to do stand up comedy and acting. My husband was more than willing to watch the children while I took an occasional evening class, and during rehearsals and performances of the comedy improv troupe I joined. Sometimes, however, I needed time during the day to write. It is challenging to find a balance between my new-found "career" and my family, but having a supportive husband and friends who were willing to trade has made it possible. Plus, I know that making time for myself has made me a better mother and role model for my children.

Hilary Lyons
Tucson AZ USA

Mother's Response

Whether we are negotiating bedtimes with our children or refusing a keen salesperson's attempts at a home remodeling offer "ya just can't beat," limit setting is an extremely powerful communication tool. Limit setting is covered in the third session of the La Leche League basic Communication Skills (CS) series. It is a helpful tool when there are no options from which to choose to make your point clear. It is a very concise way to say "no" without ever having to use that dreaded "n" word.

In his book, People Skills, Robert Bolton outlines a simple yet effective pattern to follow when we really need to state our position and let others know that we mean what we say.

  1. Begin by deciding upon your limit.
  2. State your assertion message. ("When...happens, I feel... because...").
  3. Listen to the response.
  4. Empathize ("You feel...because...").
  5. Acknowledge/give a stroke.
  6. State your limit.
  7. Recycle steps three to six until the other person has heard you.

Each of us has been in a conversation that seems to be going out of control. Someone wants us to do something that we definitely don't want to (or can't) do. Sometime during the course of the situation we must determine our limit. For example, your neighbor knows that you are frequently available at home, and since you stay at home to watch your own children, could you watch hers once in a while? You like your neighbor, and don't want to damage your relationship with her, yet you find yourself watching her children at least twice a week. This is an imposition on you, and you vow to set a limit with her next time she calls to ask you to watch her children. What is your limit? Will you never watch her children again? Will you require 24 hours notice before agreeing? Will you watch them once per week, but no more? This is something to consider carefully, because once you set your limit, you will be sticking to it for the sake of consistency.

If you have taken a basic Communication Skills series, this should be a review to you. If this is all new, you could check with your LLL Leader and see if there is a CS series scheduled close to your home. This is a skill that will empower you more than you can imagine!

Claire Charlton
Berkley MI USA

Mother's Response

Are the people asking about this wanting you to provide full-time child care for them? Child care is an awesome responsibility and not something any parent should take lightly. No one should assume that because a mother is home-based with her own children that that automatically means she should be able to take on additional children. Where I live, it is required that anyone who regularly cares for children other than their own must be registered or licensed and follow certain regulations. Not every home-based mother has the desire, time, or temperament to provide this service. It is no reflection on her as a mother or caregiver if she chooses not to provide care for others' children.

I am an in-home child care provider and it is my home-based business. If that's not what you want to do, you might rehearse a disclaimer for the next time someone asks you to care for their child.

Cathy Coon Bitikofer
St. George KS USA

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