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My Neighbor Uses Me As A Free Baby Sitter — How Do I Deal With This Mooch?

Welcome to Survey Says, FiveThirtyEight’s advice column. In each installment, our two advice-givers will take a reader question, debate what he or she should do, and then survey a panel of people about what the best course of action is. Need our advice? Send us your quandary!

My neighbor is infringing on my good nature! I am a stay-at-home mom. My children are young and both are in school part time. My neighbor works part time and seems to have an enormous number of issues that “suddenly arise,” everything from “My regular baby sitter is out of town” to “I really need a pedicure,” and she always asks if I can watch her children. I certainly don’t mind helping someone out if they are in a bind. However, the requests are becoming more and more frequent and last-minute, not to mention a little demanding. The attitude I receive from her is that she is incredibly busy because she works, whereas I couldn’t possibly have anything else to do because I do not work. What should I do? I want to be neighborly, but I don’t want to be taken advantage of! — Blair

Morgan: First of all, sweetheart, your neighbor is using you. Has she ever offered to watch your kids when you want to do something for yourself?

Walt: She is playing you like a fiddle.

Morgan: So badly.

Walt: I’m glad Blair only wants to know how to be friendly — rather than be friends or anything like that. No advice column in America could say, “This is a manipulative person you need to get closer to emotionally!” So how do we fix this?

Morgan: The quickest and sharpest action is to start saying “no.” Blair seems like someone who puts other people’s feelings and concerns above her own. I empathize with that. But Blair should send her neighbor a letter raising these concerns and perhaps propose setting up a system of reciprocity — i.e. “I’ll watch your kids once, but won’t watch them a second time until after you watch my kids.” If the neighbor doesn’t agree to that or tries to finagle a way to make this system work more in her favor (i.e. inequitably), then say “no.”

Walt: There is a world where the neighbor is more than happy to baby-sit for our letter writer but just hasn’t been asked, or asked at a good time. Perhaps she should float a few trial balloons and see if the neighbor can pull off an impromptu baby-sit. If that fails … maybe pull out. The other possibility is that an honest, frank discussion about personal needs and time management won’t succeed against this species of parasite. What then?

Morgan: Cut that person off immediately. This neighbor is using her job as a crutch and, in a way, shaming Blair for being a stay-at-home mom. Like, “Oh, your life is not nearly as important and busy as mine so you should always be available to me.” She knows exactly what she’s doing.

Walt: Yeah. Honestly, I should introduce her to my close friend “Devon” — aka the fake friend I brunch with occasionally when I want to decline plans and have no better excuse. Sometimes the best way to avoid a manipulative person is to play their game and lie back to ’em.

Morgan: True that.

FiveThirtyEight commissioned a SurveyMonkey Audience poll that ran August 9-12 and received 1,009 responses. We presented respondents with Blair’s question and asked them what the best advice is, given the situation. They were allowed to choose only one option.

  1. Talk with the neighbor about these concerns.

    70.7%

  2. Start asking favors of your neighbor, and if they can’t reciprocate cut them out.

    9.0%

  3. Cut this person out of your life entirely.

    5.8%

  4. Lie and pretend you have previous plans whenever they ask.

    6.6%

  5. None of the above is good advice.

    8.1%

Morgan: I’m a little disappointed. I didn’t think that the vast majority of people would advocate for a conversation.

Walt: Our crowd is really forcing a potentially fraught situation. What would you have hoped to see?

Morgan: I thought more than 9 percent would suggest asking the neighbor for favors. Like, I assumed at least 20 to 40 percent.

Walt: At least!

Morgan: It almost makes me think that the 70 percent doesn’t want for Blair to get favors in return? I shouldn’t assume that, but it’s odd.

SHARE OF RESPONDENTS BY AGE GROUP
18-29 30-44 45-59 60+
Talk with your neighbor 67%
66%
73%
77%
Ask favors of your neighbor 11
11
8
5
Cut this person out of your life 9
7
4
5
Pretend you have previous plans 7
8
6
5
None of the above is good advice 6
8
9
8

Numbers have been rounded and may not add up to 100 percent.

Walt: Lemme tell you about the kids these days, Morgan: They’re on your side on this one. Turns out they and the 30-somethings love just asking for favors back — at least relative to to their older counterparts.

Morgan: *rolls eyes* What’s going on with the older crowd?

Walt: Does negotiating with mooching neighbors succeed long term? This person is pretty clearly being taken for a ride, so how much is a conversation really going to help?

Morgan: Then again, some people are just clueless. If you don’t voice your concerns, they think that everything is OK.

Walt: Men were twice as likely just to drop the neighbor out of their lives forever, which is admittedly extreme. Yeah, let’s just stick with: Voice your concerns and set boundaries until it gets better.

Morgan: Absolutely.

More of our advice:

Walt Hickey is FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.

Morgan Jerkins is a writer living in New York City.

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