We all have at least one: a reluctant family member who doesn't want to help you with child care or interact with your kids. On occasion, we are happy that someone is reluctant as we may not feel comfortable leaving our kid in this person's care, but from time to time, a mom could really use some helping hands, and when family is reluctant to step in, it's frustrating. How do you encourage that family member to step in and help out without getting into a fight? It's a delicate matter and depends on why the person is backing away from his or her family responsibilities as it were.
Frightened of Babies
Is your family member reluctant because you have a small baby and he or she is not too experienced with babies? Those tiny heads do seem so fragile, and if you don't know a lot about babies, they seem pretty scary with their crying, burping, and projectile poop. Perhaps offer to spend some time with just the three of you — you, baby, and family member — and give this person a little baby tutorial! If you really need this person's help, perhaps ask to leave the baby alone in time increments that increase over time. So for example, if your dad is the only stable person you can count on but babies freak him out, give him a tutorial and then ask him to watch the baby first for an hour, then two, etc., increasing time with his comfort.
Sometimes it's not that a person won't help, it's that he or she is afraid to help.
Child With a Disability
The same goes for a child with a disability. Your family member may not know what to do with your kid, even if he or she is a parent already. This is a tougher topic to broach because you might find the person is reluctant to tell you, "Hey, I feel weird being alone with your kid." So this is a topic you will have to open for discussion on your own.
To keep it a productive one, ask directly and without judgment if this person is uneasy with your child. Ask how you can help change this. This is when you may need to do a bunch of education and awareness for this person. For example, maybe your aunt would be a great help to you if only she wasn't intimidated of your son who has autism. Maybe to her, she doesn't understand why loud sounds or too much sensory stimulation could create problems for him. This is when you help bridge the gap between ignorance and information. Would it be nice if your family member did the research all on his or her own accord? Yes, but sometimes people need a not-so-gentle nudge. Of course, don't be too harsh with this person as it can be embarrassing to admit one's discomfort, so be an open book and listen to the person's fears.
Your aunt, uncle, sister, or whoever may never be completely comfortable with your child, but it might get better and you may end up with some help, which is a mother's blessing!
Your cousin or uncle may not realize you need help at home with the kids because this person is too involved on his or her own planet to notice this. Is this going to be an easy person to convert? Nope, but a little frank talk with this person might ease this person's selfish tendency to not offer a helping hand. This is actually one person who you should be upfront with . . . not nasty, but upfront.
Be realistic too. The self-absorbed person should be asked in drips and drabs, because who knows how reliable that person will ever turn out to be!
Not Aware — Because of You
Hey, strong lady. Do you ever ask for help or let on that you need assistance? If the answer is no, this is why your family member might not be helping you. The person may not even know you need help!
Consider this: say you're dealing with postpartum depression and struggling with your infant, yet you're too ashamed to tell someone. This fear keeps people from knowing there is a problem. What about the mom who's working two jobs and struggling to stay afloat but has made it seem like she's got it all? Keeping quiet about your problems to save face but then wondering why no one helps is a losing battle. Reach out!
Terrible With Kids
Sorry, not sorry. Not everyone is great with kids. Not everyone is meant to be a parent. If your family member doesn't have the magic touch with kids, don't punish the person or write him or her off. Instead, think wisely: have this person help you with house items or shopping while you handle the kids. Your sister who doesn't like kids still could help with groceries or perhaps laundry . . . whatever you need to make the load lighter. Be smart and divide and conquer! Knowing someone's strengths and working from there will help a ton.
The Honest Truth: Your Kid Is Difficult
If your kid is tough to manage, you can't blame a family member for being anxious around her or him. In this case, how do you ask the person for help? A few ways:
- Ask nicely and acknowledge: Tell the person you know your child is tough but you really need the help. Is there any way you can do a favor for them in return?
- Short watch times: Ask the person to watch your child for brief periods.
- Partner up: See if you can get a second party to help so if your child does manage to burn out one person, the other can act as backup.
- Slow-ease: Invite the person over a few times while you're home to ease in this person before leaving your child alone with them.
- Set discipline standards straight: Let the person know in clear terms how you approach discipline with your difficult child. If you have to, write down steps. Explain why you do what you do so this family member will understand why deviating from the plan with this difficult child could make the day worse for the sitter. Be sure to enforce consequences if you come home to find out that your child did not listen to your family member, that way this person AND your child know you mean business and are a consistent parent who respects your child and anyone who helps care for him or her.
If a person has health problems, being left alone with kids may not be the best idea, but maybe this person wishes you would ask her or him to help you. It may be that your family member feels slighted or ignored because perhaps she can't be as helpful as your healthier family members.
Find a way to incorporate this person into the village, so to speak, in a way that is safe for the kids and this person and helps you out in turn.
And sometimes you just have to let a reluctant family member go on his or her merry way if the person is too unstable, unreliable, or not willing to help. It stinks for sure, but most of the time both you and your children are better off!