Dear Etiquetteer: My adorable little nephew came into the world last February. I’ve offered free babysitting to my sister and brother-in-law. Until recently, there haven’t been any problems. More often than not, I care for the little tyke for an agreed-upon afternoon or overnight stay. Don’t get me wrong, I love every minute I have with my nephew, but lately my post-babysitting engagements have had to suffer on account of his parents’ over-reliance on me. Lately, my sister and brother-in-law will be late in picking up their little bundle of joy. The agreed-upon afternoon extends into an unanticipated evening or even overnight. Five times in the past six months, I have had to cancel evening plans because my nephew’s parents took it upon themselves to extend their absence. Sometimes, it’s understandable (like a delayed flight). Other times, they just assumed I had no plans and thought it was no big deal to show up several hours late to take the baby home. I’ve held my tongue thus far. Granted, I’m still a "single old maid," but I do have a life! How presumptuous of them! Rather than let this fester, I think I should say something on both counts: "You presumptuous twits! I have a life, too!" and "Your child is adorable, but 4pm means 4pm. Unless there is some emergency, I expect you to be here at the agreed-upon time to take the baby home." How do I tactfully raise the issue? Dear Barry Poppins: First of all, how fortunate for your nephew that he has someone like you in his life who actually demonstrates care and attention. His parents sound a lot like Eloise's mother in the late Kay Thompson's engaging children's book Eloise. If your sister and brother-in-law are taking you for granted then you need to be sure that they don't. The way to do this at this stage (you're a doormat and they're walking all over you) is not to be available the next two or three times they ask you to baby-sit. You don't need to tell them you've been invited on an Adriatic cruise; but you can say that you have plans to go to the movies with friends, or that you yourself are giving a party, or whatever -- you're not available to baby-sit little Galahad because you're actively having a life.Etiquetteer knows all too well the self-absorption of young parents and their needs (as opposed to the needs of their mewling infants) and can only imagine their shocked protests when you present evidence that you're not available at their beck and call. It's then that you may tell them that they get what they pay for, and their carelessness in honoring pick-up times has already led you to miss out on several of the most glittering occasions of the season (which it has).Then, and most important, make outside plans and honor them and send your Lovely Notes afterward. No one can do this for you but yourself. Otherwise you could turn into old codependent Uncle Barry babysitting little Galahad's children 20 years from now.
Dear Etiquetteer: Can you comment on the advisability of parents bringing their little darlings into quiet adult environments if the children cannot be assumed to be disciplined past the age of making piercing squeals and running rampant? Not too long ago I was studying at the library on the "quiet floor," where signs reading "Please preserve the silence of this room" appear on every table. It just so happened that a family activity was scheduled on another floor; since the "quiet floor" is quite lovely, not a few parents brought their children to see it. That would have been fine if the parents had not let the little darlings treat the place as a playground and not a library. The truth was brought home even more as I noted one truly delightful little girl, of no more advanced age than the rest, who stayed by her proud papa and examined the books with not-undue curiosity while uttering nary a peep. That was most gratifying to see (and not to hear), but it certainly showed up the behavior of the other little hellions. Dear Besieged: Etiquetteer could not agree more that children who cannot behave, and/or whose parents cannot or will not make them behave, should not be brought to places where Perfect Propriety is expected. Parents who do not realize that the rest of the world doesn’t regard their children with Unquestioned Delight should be disabused of this notion with an Icy Glare or, as the last straw, with instructions from the management to get it together.
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