Here is an excerpt from an email I got recently from a good friend:
I am only asking this because you are a good friend and have small children. Have you ever said no to help?
My sister-in-law is our only family in town and since J***** was born she is always offering to babysit so I can "get out of the house" for a haircut, manicure whatever non-Mommy thing. It is a sweet gesture and I truly do appreciate the intent, however, when I have taken her up on it, I come home to my house being a wreck! She usually helps herself to food (not a problem) but does not clean up after herself and leaves toys all over the house not to mention when she changes a diaper, she doesn't dispose of it. Period. She leaves it wherever she changes the baby. It's to the point now that if she asks it is more stress on me than just being at home alone with the baby ever could be. The last couple of times she offered, convienently I had other plans that included the baby already. Do you know of a way I could nicely decline her requests without hurting her feelings?
I think we have all had a friend, family member, fellow church member or whomever whose favors to us often come with a price we didn't exactly pay up front for. I felt horrible reading this email. First of all, I don't really believe there is a way you can be sure you will not hurt someone's feelings in any situation. I think of one of my favorite movies, You've Got Mail, when Meg Ryan says she hates the phrase, "It's not personal," because all it means is that it is not personal to the person saying that.
That being said, you should throw good manners and consideration out entirely!
First of all, I think one should consider what kind of favor the person is offering. If it is something that is really necessary to you (for example watching kids when you have a doctor's appointment or something to complete that you otherwise could not do with children present) I would probably let go of whatever inconvience this comes with unless it is something potentially dangerous to said children (ie--smoking in your home, driving around without carseats, etc.) If it is more of a courtesy gesture, such as the one my friend mentioned, perhaps suggest a pre-scheduled monthly or weekly event. Maybe once a month grandma or whoever can have the children come play at her house or take them to the movie or the park for a couple of hours so Mom can have a break. That way you know ahead of time what is expected and it could even be a time that the kids and the person watching them look forward to. Now, if the favor is something that really is outdone by the "collateral damage," personally I would thank the person for the offer and gesture and assure them that if the need arises you'll let them know but you're covered for now. The best example I can think of for this happened to my next-door neighbor who, after her third child was born, received an offer from a family member to watch all three kids while she took a nap for an hour. When my neighbor awoke, the two unpottytrained (the newborn and her almost two-year-old) babies were soiled through the diapers and clothes, her older child had been allowed to make a "sandwich" which involved him using a knife without supervision and food was all over the kitchen and living room as well as broken plate. For one hour of sleep, it wasn't worth it. So when this relative asked again, she declined saying she now had the kids on a matching nap schedule that gave her time to rest too but if something happened this person would be the first one they would call.
The second thing I would examine when considering if you should accept or decline the favor and how is your relationship with the person. And by relationship, it shouldn't be whittled down to saying yes to relatives no matter what and no to friends only. Sometimes, family understands better and some friends may no longer be. Now, if there is a serious problem arising from the favors this person is performing, again, the relationship issue matters much less. But, again, we should take into consideration if the person will respond better to a quick no-thanks or an offer of some kind of arrangement.
Finally, I would say, you do have to examine why the person is offering. Is it a genuine good-will offer? Is it someone who you know will want a favor in return that may not be something you're totally comfortable with? Is is a family member or Godparent who would really like to spend more time with you or your child? I don't like to think of people having motives behind their behavior, but there is no better way for a relative to get time with a new baby than by offering to do a household chore that they may not actually do well. A regular visit time with no expectation of this person doing anything other than visiting the baby would solve that problem.
So, are there anythings you've ever had to say no to that put you or the other person in an awkward situation? Do you use a standard answer when someone repeatedly offers a service you aren't willing to pay for? I'd love to hear because as I've said, we've all pretty much been there before and I'm sure we could all learn from each other's successes at saying no graciously or failures.