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Helping a neighbor: When is it too much?

If a child will be affected by you refusing help, is it okay to say no?

For a neighbor who asks too many favors, asking for tasks done in return or drawing back may be the solution.

Melanie Stetson Freeman

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A neighbor frequently asks for help with her elementary-age daughter: rides, baby-sitting, meals. But she never reciprocates. Do you say no, knowing the child is the one who will suffer?

Parent advice (from our panel of staff contributors):

Is she a neighbor who really needs help? If so, offer it as one parent to another, hoping someone will be there for you if you and your child need such help in the future. If she is a selfish taker, then she needs some not-so-subtle suggestions from you: “When can you pick up the kids tomorrow? I have a meeting.” “I am happy to watch your child tomorrow after school; I need you to watch mine Saturday afternoon when I have an appointment.”

–Dodie Hofstetter

Have you spoken up or asked for similar assists? If the mom obviously needs help, step in and help when you can. But if you’re building a stockpile of resentment, you can decline some requests politely and suggest a reliable babysitter.

–Judy Hevrdejs

Expert advice:

If you believe you’re offering much-needed support to a struggling family — and you feel good about it — there’s no need to keep score here. If you feel taken advantage of and a little ticked, you should find a way to decline her requests. One thing she doesn’t need, regardless of her station in life, is your resentment.

If you’re not sure how you feel about helping, consider a few angles.

Family therapist Fran Walfish, author of “The Self-Aware Parent” (Palgrave MacMillan), offers this: “You should continue to be generous and help this defenseless child. Someone else might say that saying no is creating reasonable boundaries, but it all depends on your point of view.


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