Care and Feeding

My Friend Needs to Know the Truth About Why I Can’t Babysit Her Kid

This time I got lucky.

Woman with her hands out by her sides.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Khosrork/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding, 

I was recently asked by a friend to watch her 10-year-old child. I declined because I had a work commitment that day. But I didn’t tell her the truth.

Honestly, I don’t want to watch them. They’re not well-behaved when we’re together. They don’t respect boundaries that are set by their parent or myself. They refuse to leave my pets alone, demand access to the TV, and act bratty when they don’t get their way. The last time I watched them, they refused to wash their hands before a meal, which was the last straw for me. I may have overstepped my boundaries but I made it clear, if they weren’t going to wash their hands, then they would have to wait to eat until they got home.

My pets are afraid of this child and hide when they come over. I’ve pointed this out to my friend, who brushed it off and said it’s because they’re rescues and not very social. They are rescues, but they have no problem being social with other people who come to the house. I know my friend has spoken to their child about leaving my pets alone, but they continue to try to interact with them. I now put the pets in a bedroom and close the door while they’re here.

How do I tell my friend I really don’t want to watch their child? My friend is very nice but is living in a bit of a fairytale where their child is concerned, complete with rose-colored glasses about their behavior. This time I got lucky and had a commitment as an excuse, but I’m worried about next time. I suggested another friend watch the child, but that friend was also “busy.” How do I let my friend know I am not available as a babysitter without losing our friendship?

—Perplexed in Portland

Dear Perplexed,

It seems that an honest conversation with your friend is necessary. But there is no guarantee that the friendship won’t be impacted by having one. Still, it’s important for you to tell the truth about how you feel about caring for her child and why. Politely tell her that you don’t think it’s a good idea for you to babysit for her anymore because her child doesn’t seem to have a great time in your care. Explain that her child refuses to follow rules that you set and that you don’t feel equipped to take care of a child who won’t listen to you. Let her know that you care for both her and her child, but that you are uncomfortable babysitting a child that is unwilling to accept your authority. It’s not just a matter of your comfort; you have to think about this child’s safety. That becomes a major concern when a kid isn’t willing to take your directions.

I’m sure that your friend is more aware of the problems with her child’s behavior than she has admitted to you, and you may not be the first person to tell her that they can’t care for them anymore. Ideally, hearing from you will force her to do some reflection on her approach to her child’s behavior, and hopefully, she’ll be able to receive what you have to say without pulling back from your friendship. However, I do think you should prepare for the possibility of her being offended and engaging with you differently going forward. It’s unfortunate, but this is a very sensitive situation and what happens next will have everything to do with your ability to deliver a difficult message in a sensitive way—and her ability to receive it. The stakes are high, but you owe it to this woman to be upfront with her.


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