By Daniel Mallory Ortberg
Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. No-win situation: My Aunt “Louisa” was diagnosed with a terminal illness; her doctors say she may have from six months to two years to live depending on treatment. Until her diagnosis, she was taking care of her grandchildren while her daughter, “Irene,” worked full time. Aunt Louisa can no longer take care of the kids. Irene has asked members of the family, including my retired mother, to watch her kids while she is at work. Irene has no plans to take family leave to care for her mother or find day care options, even though she and her husband are doing well financially. Can we politely tell Irene to send her kids to day care instead of expecting other members of the family to do it? I think my mother has earned the right to spend her retirement any way she likes, but my wife thinks the both of us are being insensitive.
A: You can certainly decline to provide day care if you’re not available, and you can encourage your mother to answer honestly if she doesn’t feel up to taking over from Aunt Louisa, but you’re overstepping your bounds if you tell Irene not to even ask her other relatives. You don’t know what the nature of family leave is like at Irene’s workplace, and you don’t know how easy or affordable it is to get her children into day care at this time of year. Nor does it sound like she’s asked anything of you directly. If your mother doesn’t want to do it and needs help finding a way to say no without feeling guilty, then by all means help her figure out a kind but firm way to decline, but don’t go further than that.