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Tending to neighbor's child may provide lessons for yours

Tending to a neighbor's child may provide lessons for yours

Q: A neighbor's child, 12, spends tremendous amounts of time at my house with my child, including for snacks and meals. There is no reciprocation. The parents are well-off, so this is not the issue. They are otherwise extremely nice but seem to be into themselves, leaving the child to fend for himself.

When the mother gives lip service to thanking me, I would like to convey just how much he is here and how much he is "treated" to.

I realize I am not obligated to host/entertain/feed this child. I have had a tough time setting limits because he calls to come over every day, and I know that otherwise he would play video games all day. I suspect the mother just thinks her child is running around playing all day, when in fact he is being taken care of by us (and one other family who is similarly annoyed). I did begin to tell the child to bring money when we went places that cost something, and he does, but of course it is still free babysitting, transportation, meals, etc.

My main annoyance is that the parents choose to be so oblivious. I wonder if it is fair to my other kids that we are "supporting" this child so much. What do you make of this situation?

Pennsylvania

A: I can see why you're worried about fairness to your children; you're spending significant time and money on a neighbor, and whatever time and money you spend on him is no longer available for your own children. In black-and-white terms, your kids come up short.

But raising kids isn't a black-and-white business. I could easily argue that for the relatively bargain price of, let's say, one dedicated hour of your time and one meal and snack a day, you are teaching your children such invaluable lessons as generosity, compassion, inclusion and forgiveness. Lessons that can't be taught with mere "lip service."

You believe your welcoming this child is all that stands between him and neglect; given the way families work and kids perceive their world, there's an excellent chance your kids see what you're doing and why. Even if they miss the subtlety, they do witness inclusion.

Closing the door on the boy, therefore, could beam them the opposite message: Hey, kid, get your own lifeboat; this one's full.

I realize this approaches a fine line, marking a slippery slope into a minefield of nasty cliches: If this boy ever becomes such an attention-suck that you're neglecting your kids' basic needs, then that would certainly negate any compassionate teachings.

Your primary responsibility is to your own children, obviously, should you ever be in a position to choose.

But as long as there's enough time and money — enough of you — to go around, then please try to see your larger-than-expected family as a privilege, not a burden. His parents aren't getting off easy; they're paying dearly in lost time with their son.

Keep that in mind for their next thank-you session (which could well be sincere, by the way). Don't call them out on the time and money, since they may respond by keeping him home on his couch.

Instead, try: "We're no substitute for his family, but it's a privilege to have him along." Warmer delivery, deeper truth.

Tending to neighbor's child may provide lessons for yours 08/01/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 1, 2009 5:31am]

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