Minding the Minding

17 Jun

Dear LetterBalm: At least twice a week, my sister-in-law leaves my niece and nephew (aged 10 months and 3 years) with me to babysit last-minute. She knows I’m a stay-at-home mom, so I’m always available. But the last few times, I’ve had to take her kids with me to a pediatrician appointment for my one-year-old and errands and appointments I couldn’t cancel. I think this is unfair. My husband won’t stand up to his sister. He comes from a large Mediterranean family that is warm and generous. But his people can also be judgmental and intrusive. I’m walking a delicate line here. I don’t mind occasional last-minute babysitting, but is there anything I can say to my sister-in-law to get her to call me first, at least?

–Swimming in Kids

You’re in a tough spot. Ms. L.B. is well aware that your sister-in-law is taking advantage of you, relying on her gossipy relatives to keep you toeing the line for fear of their criticism. Perhaps the best approach is to appeal to her as a mother. Consider the safety of the kids. Three young children – one of them an infant – means you have your hands full. In the past, you’ve had to make contingency plans to shepherd them with you to the doctor and other planned appointments. This means you can’t give them your undivided attention in the safety of your home. It would be horrible if something unforeseen happened. She wouldn’t be able to forgive herself.  You get the picture. You need to set boundaries. Engineer a private coffee with your sister-in-law, away from crying children and prying relatives, and talk with her, mom to mom. Lay it on thick, you’re building a convincing scenario:

Gina, I’m so glad we have a chance to talk, just us. God knows, the kids keep us going – we can barely catch our breath. We’re lucky that Nicky, Isabella and Ava are growing up as loving cousins. And I particularly love that Isabella is so sweet with my Ava. But I have to tell you I’ve had some terrifying moments with them. Because I didn’t have advance notice, sometimes I’ve had to take all three kids with me on errands and appointments I can’t cancel, and I’ve had my hands full. Like, when Ava had her pediatrician appointment. Because Nicky was teething, he had a major meltdown in the doctor’s waiting room. When I had to take all of them grocery shopping, I had a real scare because Isabella wandered off in the produce aisle, and I was frantic until I found her. And, I had to bring them all into the examining room for my eye exam, and they were running around those heavy metal instruments – thank God my ophthalmologist is a patient person. Gina, if anything happened to any of the children, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself, and neither would you. You know I love having them in my house where I can watch them and make sure they’re safe. But I need you to call me a day or two in advance to make sure I can take the kids. If I can’t, I’ll tell you honestly. Are you O.K. with this? Because if you’re not, it’s important we talk and figure this out together.

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