Help With Your Mother's Rule

Help With Your Mother's Rule is a forum for women who want trouble-shooting help with their Mother's Rules or about any aspect of the 5 Ps of the married vocation.

Ask Holly: This blog is composed of your questions. Contact me at the address listed on Holly's Helpers page and I will respond. Please share your unique ideas as well. The more ideas and experience we share, the more successful every mother will be in designing her own unique Mother's Rule.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Balance Between Charity to Others and Living One's Rule

Dear Holly,
I am working very hard on having an orderly home and routine. I have a long way to go, but what has been accomplished so far has brought much peace to my family and me. However, I am having a bit of a dilemma and would like to hear your thoughts about this situation...

My sister-in-law has 4 small children under 6. She is young but regularly asks others to care for her children, usually my mother-in-law or myself. In the past week alone, it happened 5 times, which is not unusual. Her outings are not emergencies, just "fun" things she wants to do, and she seems to have no qualms about asking. At times I feel taken advantage of. I plan my weeks out carefully, making sure we have time to do all that's necessary and spend time together as a family. We do not go out often, and perhaps I'm just not sympathetic to her because that's not how we are. I should also mention that I am older and have only one young child. We've had many miscarriages and fertility problems, and she always tells me how "lucky" I am to only have one (she says this in front of her children!) and sometimes she even prods too far into such a painful topic for me, as if she enjoys hearing all the horrible details of our troubles. This makes it hard for me to like being around her.

My question is this - when she asks me to babysit a couple of her children while she and her husband go do something with the older ones, and asks only the day before the event, and asks often, what should my response be?

Her children, except the baby, are pretty poorly behaved, but I do love them and part of me wants to give them a sense of normalcy and order and love for a few hours; but part of me resents being asked only a day prior (or the very day!) to watch them. I'm trying so hard to live a good rule and have an orderly home, but these kids can really create chaos in a short amount of time... I'm not sure it's good for my child to be in that environment very often, and it throws me off schedule.

My first instinct is to say no to her, but I'm not sure if I'm correctly balancing my vocational priorities (having a peaceful home and daily routine, and making sure hubby and son are cared for) and charity for others. Where do you draw the line between being kind and helpful and not being walked on?


  1. You can choose which route you want to take. You could focus on the possible irresponsibility of the mother, and in doing so, you may find yourself very reluctant to assist, and wanting to say No all the time in order to teach the mother a lesson.

    Or you could focus on the needs of the children who may be experiencing a type of 'abandonment', even psychologically, as a result of the mother. In this instance, your heart would probably go out to them, and you may feel a strong desire to give them, as you say, some sense of normalcy.

    To me, your direction here all depends upon how you weigh the situation with the children. Do you believe they are being neglected in some way? While we cannot take over someone else's parenting, and while you do not want to facilitate any irresponsibility on the part of the mother, it is possible that if you or your mother-in-law were not available, she could drop them at any stranger's house, whereupon you would wonder if they would be well cared for.

    Alternatively, if you made yourself available, you could have a great influence upon those children. Being an aunt has a place in those children's lives and it could be the foundation of a life-long love and mutual benefit.

    If the mother is being irresponsible; if she does not really want all her children; if she is suffering from the burden of not feeling supported; if she is desiring to seek escapes - all these situations to me are good reason to make yourself available, not necessarily for her sake, but for the sake of the children.

    My personal opinion? I'd opt for the children, and consider their presence in my life a direct request of God. If they end up on your doorstep, now matter when or how, open the door. You could even call it "an open door policy" - that if you are there, they can come. It may be , in part, a way of God's consolation to you given your own fertility problems - a way to exercise your spiritual motherhood in the lives of other children, while you wait to resolve your own situation, if at all possible.

    However! This does not mean that you must tolerate chaos, disorder or disrespect when they come, nor can it compromise the living of your own vocation in any way.

    To deal with this - let it be understood that you will treat them as you treat your own child. So when the children come to your house, you could incorporate them into your routine and teach them how to function in your home and what life was like here. You could even think of some activities etc that correspond to your rule, that they could do when they come.

    So, for example, if you have a quiet reading time, you could have books available for them, with their assigned spots, and begin to teach them how to do it. When its time for the park, you could teach them how to walk with you properly, how they are to play, etc etc - just as you would if they were your children. If you weed the garden, they would be expected to help. Etc..You could very well be the only stability they will know, and your influence will also affect how they live at home.

    As for the mother, there is no need for you to feel you must hang around with her, nor are you obligated to share anything with her that makes you uncomfortable. You would be acting here in the best interests of the children, and assisting the mother as she learns to grow into her vocation at the same time. Your example would be an inspiration.

  2. Dear OP, I just wanted to share with you how much visiting my aunt's home meant to me as a child. Their home was neat and clean and quiet. They had more children than we did but there was no bickering and fighting. My aunt and uncle never raised their voices at their children and they never fought with each other. They were not perfect. But my aunt had a far greater influence on me as a child regarding how I wanted to live my life and what I wanted to be. Though both my mom and aunt were SAHM's my aunt gave it a beauty and dignity and desirability that my mother never gave it. I remember baking with my aunt though my mother never baked with me. I did not spend a great amount of time with her but the time I did spend I know she was deliberately influencing me for good. And I have a lot of sweet happy childhood memories because of that time with her.

  3. I read a book that really helped me and thought I would pass it along. Perhaps you have heard of it: Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend. There is also one for parents (great! -- I am not the boundary, I enforce the boundary!). Anyway, reading that book really helped me to interact with friends, but more importantly, relatives!

  4. I have read parts of the book by Cloud and Townsand too and recommend it as well. The Boundary book by Cloud and Tounsand is called either Boundaries and Kids or Boundaries with Kids. I wouldn't discount what Holly and the other lady said about helping the kids, though.

  5. Thanks so much to all of you for your responses. I will look into that book... sounds like it might be worthwhile reading even if not for this particular situation.

    Holly, my heart does go out to the children, and you are right that my personal dislike and disapproval of the mother is why I would even consider saying no. I can think of a dozen friends that I would say yes to if asked to watch their children (of course these people would all ask well in advance, as they are all respectful of others' time, except in cases of emergency).

    You wrote that if I do have an "open door" for these children it can not compromise the living of my vocation - and I guess that's the point that is making me feel so conflicted about this. I am in the process of going through my home and organizing the various spaces. This is a big job that I'm working on in stages which are planned out in my weekly schedule. I would like to have this done by fall as we are discerning whether we are called to homeschool our son or not, and are planning on giving it a try with pre-k/kindergarten work this fall (he'll be 5 later this month). I would like to be on top of home-related things when we begin school, and caring for these other children takes time away from that. Does that make sense? I know that children are more important than an organized home, but do you see how I'm having trouble reconciling my desire to have an organized home as part of living my vocation with the task of taking care of these children?

    Also, the discipline it would take to successfully integrate them into our routine is almost overwhelming to think about. It is not their fault, but they really don't get much discipline (in my opinion) and are defiant when anyone tries. If they were my children I would not hesitate, but the truth is that I am hesitant to discipline these children because I would inevitably make the parents angry with what I feel is appropriate. This also raises concerns about my son spending so much time with them. And, this is probably pure selfishness on my part, but I so want to enjoy my time with my son during this time of childhood, knowing that he most likely is the only baby I'll ever have. I don't want to neglect him in order to teach these other children how to behave.

    One more point is that her requests usually pick up during fall when her husband is back to work, and in winter when my mother-in-law is in out of state. Since this would be during our school time, would it still be right to say yes to taking them?

    By the way, the mother is very particular about who watches her children (which is a compliment in a way, I guess) so she would not leave them with a stranger, I'm certain. But she would be unhappy if she couldn't have others watch them (I know because it has happened a couple of times) and she might possibly take it out on the children, not outright abusively, but in some way.

    I know you will be honest with me, Holly, and I know that part of this is my own selfishness, but I feel that something is bound to be neglected - either my vocation and all it entails, or these poor children.

  6. Hi there-- I wonder if you could try organizing a time in your week when you would have the children over intentionally, by planning it ahead. "Why don't you bring the kids over on Tuesday afternoons and I'll look after them when you go out?" That way you could be charitable toward them, and also do it in a way that fits your life. Perhaps that would take care of the mom's needs. Perhaps not, but it might be worth a try.

  7. TO the original poster -
    If you truly feel this would overwhelm you and detract from your vocation etc, then the answer is VERY clear: Focus on your vocation, pull your rule together, discern your homeschool vocation and pray for this family. That's it. If the lord wants to call you to a special apostolate as 'aunt', as I mentioned above, you will have a desire to do it, find a way to manage it and have peace about it. In the absence of this - your vocation is your calling, and nothing can compromise this. Until you feel ready, limit the babysitting.

  8. Just a few thoughts. Please pray for direction. Maybe you are a life line to this Mom. 4 small kids is really, really hard. Maybe the Mom is overwhelmed and really needs the help. These children are your son's cousins and that is an opportunity for wonderful relationships. Teaching young children is tiring and frustrating and messy, but Jesus said let the little children come to me. He holds a special place for them. Offer up the difficulty openging your home to them creates. Try the boundaries as another suggested - "I'm only available Tuesday afternoon for 3 hours" etc. Do what you can handle. A few hours once a week, or even once a month won't cause so much havoc that your rule will be ruined. It might take a little longer to finish your organizing project, but if Jesus is asking you do this then that is more important. PRAY about it! I want to just include a few scriptures that might help:
    As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
    41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
    Luke 10:38-42

    35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
    Matthew 25:35-41

    37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]
    Matthew 22:37-39

    14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
    Matthew 19:14

    I don't mean to possibly go against what Holly has said. The other Mom should not take advantage of your generosity either. Just that I have walked those frazzled shoes with a house full of small children, to fearful of leaving them with a stranger, but oh what a gift it would have been had someone lent a helping hand.

  9. At the same time ...

    Since your mother in law is available right now to sit, there remains nothing wrong with you focusing on your vocation, pulling together your rule and establishing order in your home. It is not an abandonment of those children.

    Focusing at this time on your rule may be the very thing that ENABLES you to fulfill this second possible 'calling'.

    Remember, that the signs of God's Will are threefold - first, to follow the Gospel and Church teaching; second, the duties of your vocation, and thirdly, WHEN these are in order, anything extra-ordinary to one's vocation.

    I still say, since you find this overwhelming 'at this time' - get your home and family in order. Then, you'll be able to attend to others better. There is nothing disordered about putting our priorities in proper order - and family comes first.

    It's very similar to the need to care for our health first, so we can be available to our family. So too, care for our family first, so we can be available to others. It is a matter of priorities - meaning, some things take precedence over others in relation to their importance.

  10. I can totally understand this gal's predicament. I have the exact same scenario with my own sister. She is much younger than me, and has several children from 2 fathers. Our parents are both gone, and I'm the only family near. I feel that her children are somewhat neglected, so I want to help, for the children's sake. BUT I have to balance this with the needs of my own large family. It really is a very fine line, with requires much prayer. But usually I will do it if she asks for a good reason, like a doctor appointment.

  11. I know this comment is very late, but I would ask your sister to do a babysitting swap with you. Since the ratio is 4 to 1, it would be fair to have her take your son for 2 - 3 hrs, every time you have hers over for 1 hr. This would give you some free time to organize your home, and would probably cut down on her asking considerably since she would come to understand that a little charity would be expected to be reciprocated. Your son would probably have a blast with his cousins once or twice a month - and she could see how disciplined your son is in comparison - which may also motivate her to do more.