Friday, January 11, 2008

I'm not very nice

There's a family on our street who moved here not all that long ago. We've only started to get to know them since their oldest child started school this year. They're nice people, but their religious and political beliefs are as opposed to ours as it is possible to get. For the few years they'll live here while the husband focuses on this particular stage of his career, we'll talk with them superficially at the bus stop or at neighborhood gatherings, but it will be impossible for a deeper friendship to develop as their beliefs are offensive to us, just as ours are to them.

This family has a greater number of children than we do and they are expecting a baby next month. I feel pretty confident that the mother is going to ask me for occasional help after the baby arrives, since we're walking there anyway. The mother hasn't said she'll be needing help, but as she can sometimes barely get her little ones to the bus stop in the afternoons to pick up the eldest and as she has already asked me on occasion to walk her child to school or deliver him from the bus stop, I can guess what is coming.

Herein lies my dilemma: While I have been known to be a helpful neighbor in the past, this possible aid is not something I want to give. I know this is not nice of me, but it's the truth and I am nothing if not truthful on this blog. This family has a very strong support network within their church, so I'm not at all worried that the mother will be alone in the house all day with small children and a baby while her husband works long hours. I know that her fellow church ladies will bring meals and offer childcare and will generally be supportive.

As for why I am so resistant to being helpful, I offer no good defense. When Pete and I walk the girls to school in the morning, that's our special time with them. He walks with one girl and I walk with the other. We talk about whatever is on that child's mind. We each focus on the child whose hand we're holding and really listen to what she's saying. Adding our neighbor's child to the mix spoils our routine. That alone is not a deal breaker in my mind; the other part of it is that we have walked this child to school a few times and it's not enjoyable. He's a nice boy, but he's much slower than we are and every single time he has complained about either an imaginary injury, being tired, or the cold weather. I really don't feel like dealing with this.

Last week, as we walked by this family's house on our way to school, the mother stuck her head out the door and asked if we could walk her son to school that day. It was cold and one of her children was sick and she simply didn't feel like going to the bus stop even though it's her damn job to make sure her child gets to school on a daily basis. We walked the boy to school, but I was pretty resentful about it. If we are asked in the next few months to walk this extra child to school, I'm sure it will be at the very last moment when we cannot easily refuse and I'm going to be pissed.

So I've been pondering this, wondering if there's any way I can deal with this nicely but on my terms. Or, should I suck it up and be the bigger person and just be helpful?

22 comments:

Professor J said...

Wow. That's a tough one. What if you just had a talk with her about how that's your special time with your kids? Other than that, I can't imagine. . .

Fannie Mae said...

I totally get your point about the special time. You have to savor those moments of having their undivided attention. They get fewer and further between as your kids grow up. That being said, it's tough to stop the “help” once the precedent has been set. My kids have “selective” sight and hearing; do you think that would work on your neighbor?

SalPal1017 said...

Is there a different way you can walk, so you don't have to pass her house?

The Guider said...

When I had Son, a neighbour came round and said more or less exactly these words: "When Husband goes back to work [he had two weeks paternity leave], can I help out by walking Daughter to school for the next two weeks?"
Wow I said, thanks, that would be really helpful. Means I only have to aim to get her ready by 8.30am, not her, me and baby.
That's where it ended, because she is a friend, so no need for the next bit.
But I would still have been grateful and thought her kind if she had followed up with:
"That's ok, happy to help. I'm not offering for longer because I really value the time walking my pair to school in the mornings, it's a special time where we go over the day so I like to keep it just me and them. But two weeks should help you get into a good routine with the baby."
So by offering, but offering for a set time, you might manage to ward off having to do it more and in the future?

Patience_Crabstick said...

It's not that you don't want to be helpful, it's that you don't want to have to commit to being helpful every single day.
It is a tough situation, and I don't have much helpful to say--I'm such a mouse that people take advantage of me constantly, and I end up seething with resentment,even weeks later.
You don't want to be seething with resentment, I'm sure. Maybe just wait it out and see if asking for help becomes a daily habit on her part, and then say something like, "I'm sorry, but it's not convenient for me."

John said...

I think Professor J's suggestion is a good one, though I suspect you'll have to be a bit more forceful than that. It's unfortunate the world is full of these kinds of manipulative people. I think you already answered your own question. Deal with it as courteously as possible, but stand your ground and let them know that you'll not be taken advantage of. Then hope for the best. Good luck! I know these situations are stressful and difficult.

nina said...

2 things
1. Don't borrow trouble. It hasn't happened yet. If she starts asking you to do it on a regular basis, you can tell her that it's family time and that you can only do it if there is an emergency or on a certain day. For example, you can do it on Tuesdays and Fridays. Or that you can only do it for a few weeks while she's recovering from having her baby.

2. Take the high road. This kid probably doesn't want to walk with you either. It would suck that his mom is too busy with a new baby to walk him to school (no matter how wonderful the new baby is). AND she should be able to walk him to school in a few months when the weather turns.

A side note: maybe you can indoctrinate this kid into your beliefs....ha ha ha...

I totally understand though. I wouldn't want to do it either.

Flutterby said...

Setting a time limit isn't going to work. She won't hear that part... she will hear "Sure." This is a tough problem. I am with everyone else about just telling her simply that you consider it special time with the girls and leave it at that. Maybe there is an older child in the neighborhood who walks to school who might be glad to do it for pay. And there is also the option of walking the other way around the block where she can't see you.

Flutterby said...

And that's also why religion and politics are best left out of friendships, lol.

Badness Jones said...

You're very nice....but nice doesn't have to equal doormat. I would take a 'wait and see' approach....if she asks you more than once or twice I would say, "sorry, I don't mind helping occasionally, but this is our special time in the day to talk with the girls....you must find the same thing, that you miss your son on the days he's at school?"

Good luck!

StLmom said...

I think I may be the odd one out here, but I think you should wait and see what happens -- and then walk the darn kid to school if she asks. It's not so bad -- and you'll be setting a great example for the girls. It's not the kid's fault.

Melissa said...

Oh honey, I feel your pain. Really. Because my pain just left my house an hour ago and I was nice but my whole day was wrecked with bitterness since I resented saying yes. So speaking from experience, you just have to say NO. Since it sounds like they'll be short-term neighbors, you have to be "superficial" helpful. Bring over one casserole when the new baby comes and that's that. When she asks for help, you just have to politely say no. And I hear you about that special time walking to school & back. That's the only time Team Testosterone still holds my hand and if another kid were along...they wouldn't.

Bummer that some people just never get it, though.

Ree said...

Ack. What a toughie.

I, like Fannie, understand about your special time with the girls. Often, those family traditions (and I love yours BTW) offer a foothold and point youngsters into who they will be as adults...with the kind of foundation you're giving, those girls are going to be marvelous.

But, my "you're too nice, says Mr. Hot" conscience is bothering me. Would it be possible to do this lady a favor, say, one day every week. Let her church ladies help the other day...or hell, she can do it herself. The tolerance and kindness to others would also teach your girls about the kind of people you want them to be.

erin said...

All of the things you mentioned seem like good reasons to me. Could you maybe speak with her and explain about the walk to school being special time with each child - throw in there that you don't mind helping out in the case of a real emergency, but you really aren't able to change your routine. Then maybe do the "human sacrifice" and offer up another neighbor for the task.

Or, you know, devise a new route to school, which is TOTALLY what I would do.

Actually, Nina might be on to something - the next time this mother asks you to walk her kid to school, spend the ENTIRE walk talking about how your beliefs are right and his family's are wrong. Once the kid goes home and repeats that conversation she'll never ask again.

erin said...

Sorry to double comment, but I just read Melissa's comment and I wanted to add that if you're going to be nice and drop off a casserole when this neighbor has her baby - send it over in a disposable baking dish so there's no need for her to return it. I'm thinking you probably want to minimize ALL contact with this family.

Anonymous said...

I would say;
just let her know that you don't like her, don't care to walk her kid to school; that you find her beliefs and politics offensive. Just tell her, I'm sure she means no harm and it's best she knew right up front where to spend her energies.
sounds as if it's not really the walking the kid to school. You just don't like her and have let yourself be offended by her beliefs.

Jennifer (Jen on the Edge) said...

All: I should clarify a couple of things.

I have told my neighbor, more than once, that our morning walk is important to us as a family.

Also, I don't actually dislike my neighbors. They're actually very nice people. It's just that their beliefs vs. ours will never allow for anything other than superficial communications. You all read my blog; it's pretty obvious what my beliefs are. Any one of my entries could truly and deeply offend my neighbor. And the time she put extremely religiously/politically conservative materials anonymously (but I was home and saw her) on my front door was hugely offensive to me.

Mrs. G. said...

I have read all the comments, and I would do that thing which is oh so hard: simply say no, I'm sorry, I can't. Don't explain, don't justify. Just suck it up and say no. It is not a crime.

Linda and her Surroundings said...

If you feel it will become an issue, just say no. Somewhere along the line, we always feel we have to explain the "no" we say. You don't have to. She has a support network and you are not obliged to join that network.

Flutterby said...

Ya know... Linda is right. Why do we have such a hard time just saying NO? Nancy Reagan had it right all those years ago.. JUST SAY NO. You don't owe an explanation. You don't owe anything. JUST SAY NO.

Lori Anderson Designs said...

Say, "I'm sorry but this is really special Mommy/Daughter time for us"

Caroline said...

Just say no. Don't elaborate. If you've already discussed with her about "family time" and she doesn't get it, she.never.will.

Be strong!