Old friends, babysitting, child with special needs?
January 4, 2013 7:13 AM   Subscribe

Old friends, babysitting, child with special needs?

I've got a couple of old and dear friends. We've known each other since right before they got engaged, over a decade ago. We're neighbors.

Because we're all broke and I am underemployed, I sometimes babysit their children for a very low rate. I love these children like they were my own nieces and nephews. They trust me enough to discipline (and entertain) the kids any way I see fit. So I am free, for example, to say "don't talk to me that way" if I get sassed.

One child has special needs (Asperger's or high-functioning autism). She is becoming more challenging to work with as she gets older. I have no problem babysitting her in any combination with the other children. But babysitting her by herself I just don't feel up to doing anymore. She and I are friends, too--I mean this seriously--and I feel that the babysitting role is eroding our friendship.

Question: Should I talk to them or just be less available?

My first thought was that I should just be less available when I am asked to babysit the one child by herself. (They always tell me for whom I'd be caring when they make the offer of work.)

Asking my friends to pay (literally) double, i.e., market rate, is not an option I'm comfortable with. "Sure, I can take any number of your kids for our long-agreed insider price, but if you want me to take care of her alone, you'll have to make it worth my while." They don't have the money to pay double, anyway.

Talking to them would SEEM like the best option, sure, but who wants to hear that their kid is becoming intolerable when it's not even the kid's fault? They already know that she's hard to deal with. This would not be new information.

As for talking about strategies for becoming a better babysitter for their daughter...I've tried. I think (and they've told me as much) that they're still trying to figure it out themselves. As of yet, there is no "when she does this, you do that" protocol.

I'd like to hear some feedback, ideally from parents of children with special needs, on how I should gracefully retreat. Thank you!
posted by skbw to Human Relations (12 answers total)
Why not begin by asking the parents for the best strategies for dealing with the special needs child? Perhaps they have a lot of good ideas which would eliminate the problems you are facing.
posted by jazh at 7:22 AM on January 4, 2013

They live with their child. As you say, they know how difficult she can be, so it's not like it's going to be any great surprise to them. I think you should be honest and let them know that babysitting the special-needs girl by herself has become more than you can handle. By approaching it openly, you can figure out with the parents how you can continue to be totally AWESOME friend and as supportive as you can be as they struggle with this difficult situation, without exceeding your own limits.
posted by drlith at 7:29 AM on January 4, 2013

skbw: "But babysitting her by herself I just don't feel up to doing anymore. She and I are friends, too--I mean this seriously--and I feel that the babysitting role is eroding our friendship."

Talk with them, and especially emphasize the bolded part. No need to tell them their child is becoming intolerable or that they have to pay you what they can't afford.
posted by Grither at 7:33 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would vote for talking to them.

If the daughter has a diagnosed special need, they are probably already well-used to talking with other people about her (teachers, specialists at school, doctors) and I can't imagine you would say anything that would shock them about her.

Keep the conversation more oriented towards "I don't think I up to taking care of her appropriately" rather than "your daughter is intolerable" and I think (as a parent) that would be perfectly understandable.

Also, the fact that you have a genuine friendship with this girl is awesome. You sound like a great friend.
posted by pantarei70 at 7:33 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have a child with an autism diagnosis. I know full well how challenging it can be.

What I would suggest -- ideally --- is if the child is receiving ABA services (which are so AMAZING that I highly recommend her parents look into them if she isn't receiving them, just as an aside) then ask the parents if you can speak with the therapist about how to handle the more challenging behaviors.

Ask the parents what systems are used at school, and try to model that system when you babysit. My son has internalized the green, yellow, red system of warnings from school that he'll tell us when he's on red or yellow if he feels he did something he shouldn't have done.

I advise, as much as possible, consistency in discipline between home, school, and babysitters as much as is possible.

I think you are a great friend.

And if the diagnosis is relatively new and the parents are in the Greater Boston area, I have a number or resources to share.
posted by zizzle at 8:06 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, communication is probably the best thing for the friendship. You might also try to have an alternative in hand. For example, there are a number of organizations for families with children with special needs that offer respite services, which is wonderful. You might check with The Arc to see what you can get in your area.
posted by plinth at 9:26 AM on January 4, 2013

Everyone's different, of course. But projecting from my own perspective of having really close friends with a similarish kid (often-difficult high-functioning etc...really, just about all the notes, except that kid's easier by himself and harder with siblings), I'll reinforce the "communicate!" refrain. The below may be projection, but it's projection I'm comfortable with:

The parents know full well their child's difficult aspects, and the tension between the aggravation of working with them and still loving the heck out of the child for their more awesome-little-person aspects. They also deeply treasure having close family friends who are part of things and do what they can to help out. Beyond the stress they have parenting a special-needs kid, there's the stress involved with most friends and extended family not communicating with them about it, just being silent about the entire thing, and from only getting real communication and feedback from the limited time available from whatever professional assistance programs they've engaged. Talking to them about it will only be a good thing.

A "I'm starting to have some challenges dealing with X, Y, Z with Joe Kid in circumstances A and B. I've been trying C and D, and apologize for sometimes lapsing into E, which seems to be counterproductive at best. Is there anything you'd recommend, different things I should be trying, that kind of thing? I want to be able to help" might well be received so well it causes some tears, frankly, because it may well be the case that you'd be one of the few people doing that for them that they're not paying scads of money to, or going through scads of paperwork and red tape for.

So, yep: communicate!
posted by Drastic at 9:37 AM on January 4, 2013

I have had very productive conversations with friends whose kids have challenges of various types. I usually ask something like, "What are your strategies for dealing with it when X comes up?" are very neutral, non-judgmental questions, (you don't have to say, "This is driving me crazy!" or "I can't cope!") and can get you some good information.

You don't give details about why it's OK to watch this girl with her siblings but not alone, but say that you have a friend relationship with her. Maybe there's a way to shift your thinking about the time you're spending together from "I'm babysitting" to "I'm hanging out with my friend." This is another place where you definitely can engage the parents. Maybe there's a way to shift the energy, or adjust the activities you do. That sounds very woo. But it might be something to think about.

It is also OK to set some limits. There are a couple of kids who hang out at my place that I have very clear limits about; there's one, for instance, that I will more-or-less happily take on outings, but not bring home. Or I might limit my time with a certain kid to a couple of hours instead of the the all-day stints I'll do wtih other kids. I'll second people up-thread who say that these parents know their kids' challenging behaviors, most likely, and they will be glad for you to keep hanging in there in a loving and supportive way even if things have to shift somehwat.
posted by not that girl at 9:56 AM on January 4, 2013

You don't mention (or I missed) how old the special needs daughter is. Is she perhaps old enough that the idea of being babysat is troublesome to her? Say, a tween? Perhaps she's less challenging when siblings are around because she recognizes they need to be babysat. Could re-framing the situation for her help at all? When my nephew hit that age (old enough that probably everything would be fine, but young enough that an adult around was still a good idea) I would just acknowledge that I thought he was probably right, but it made his parents feel better. Then I'd repeat the rules his parents laid out (not to be pushy - just in case he and I had different understandings of the rules), let him know that his mother would ground ME if I didn't make sure those rules were followed, and otherwise allowed him to choose his activities. I made it clear that I genuinely dug hanging out with him, playing games with him, talking, whatever - but if he wanted to spend the evening playing computer games or texting with friends that was cool, too, so long as it fell within what his parents would allow. It worked out really well for everyone, I think.
posted by tllaya at 10:57 AM on January 4, 2013

I would talk to them because they need to know about her social skills deficits in order to work with her on them. You might think "they already know" but the thing about HFA is that sometimes it causes difficulties with generalizing.

Their child might already have learned "Do not call my mom a jerk. Do not call my dad a jerk. Do not call my teacher a jerk. Do not call my sister a jerk. Do not call my brother a jerk."

So her parents think "okay, she has the whole 'don't call people jerks' thing down". In reality, they still need to work with her on not calling you a jerk. That's why this is good information for them to know.

I'd definitely include the part about how you feel like it's eroding the friendship you have with her. That will soften any kind of hard feelings, I suspect.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:23 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Trust me, if you're worried about your role as carer undermining your emotional connection to this kid, it's something that they - as parents - have worried about a billion times more. You could not have worried about this more than they have, and if you talk to them about it, they may have some tips etc for you. I'm sure they would be very understanding.

Being an authority figure is not always compatible with friendship, it's true, but it sometimes is - I say this as someone who was a childcarer for five years. It's possible to get kids - even special needs kids - to like and respect you. But it can be hard and you absolutely don't have to do it, and any decent parent - let alone parent of a special needs kid - would understand that. :)
posted by smoke at 1:49 PM on January 4, 2013

> I'd like to hear some feedback, ideally from parents of children with special needs, on how I should gracefully retreat

I can tell you how not to do it. Don't quit in the middle of a shift, after letting resentment build up. I've had a sitter do that. Quit before you get burned out.

Since you've already decided not to babysit their daughter any longer, you should just tell them. I doubt you'll be the first person to tell them that their daughter is more than someone can handle. But heads up: don't expect your friendship to be the same after this, with either the girl or the parents.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:23 PM on January 4, 2013

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