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The One Thing Everyone Needs to STOP Doing to Moms

Photograph by Twenty20

There are days when the boundaries around me seem to be invisible to everyone but me. That's the only way I can explain why my 5-year-old pulls back the curtain when I'm in the shower to demand I brush her hair ("You need to do it because Daddy is a boy!"), why my neighbors open our front door without knocking, or why some stranger reads over my shoulder and actually comments out loud about what I'm writing.

I get it. I'm a mom and sometimes people assume we have built-in neon signs fixed over our heads that blink: "Of Course I Have a Snack for You" or "Yes, I'd Love to Wipe Your Butt," or "Come on In, Despite Me Being (pick one) Naked/Doing Something/Not in the Mood to See You. "

Here's what I don't get, though. Nay, here's what I don't accept: People who ask me if I'm available but don't say at the outset what they want.

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Take, for instance, a friend who recently asked if I were free after school next Thursday.

"Yes," I said.

"Oh, great," she sighed. "Could you pick up Alexandra from school and keep her until after dinner? I have a meeting and then a work function and I just don't want to stick her with a babysitter."

Backing me into a corner to do something for you isn't going to strengthen our friendship.

See what she did there? If I told her no, all of a sudden I'm the jerk for allowing Alexandra to get stuck with a babysitter. However, if she'd asked me if I were free and told me why she was asking at the same time ("Thursday is going to stink because I have a meeting then a work function all while Alexandra needs to be picked up. I don't suppose you're free to watch her so she doesn't have to spend the time with a babysitter? I totally get it, by the way, if you're not available!"), it would have given me a moment to find a respectable out if I wanted one.

Of course I shouldn't need an excuse for being picky about my Thursday after-school schedule or wanting an out. It's totally legitimate to be too tired, have meetings and work of my own, or just not up to taking on an additional child. I may owe my friend a favor, although I should have some say as to when it's repaid. Backing me into a corner to do something for you isn't going to strengthen our friendship.

Sure, I could ask "Why? What's up?" when I'm asked if I'm free, but you go ahead and try it and see how oddly defensive you sound. Go ahead. I'll wait.

I've seen the same thing done on Facebook and via text. A friend will write, "Is anyone driving to Denver in the next week?" You may think they need a ride to the airport, which is easy enough to do if you're already heading that way, so you say yes. Then it turns out they want a specific flavor of ice cream that's only available in one grocery store somewhere outside the city lines, and if you're not willing to get it—along with a cooler and some ice—you're kind of a jerk because you're not joining in on their tasty scavenger hunt. (This really happened, by the way.)

I'm not saying people other than moms don't have a lot going on. However, perhaps people pile on moms in particular because they figure they're used to it. I just know I'm not speaking just for myself when I say it can be uncomfortable to explain how favors that don't include keeping my immediate family alive, fed, clothed, bathed and chauffeured to 17 after-school activities aren't always high on my priority list.

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The entire village can and should help raise each child—including me and mine. I chip in when I can and sometimes even when I can't. I give, I take and it's all good. Me not wanting to take your kid after school doesn't mean she's not a good kid or you're not a good enough friend—or even that I'm just a jerk (although arguably, I probably kind of am). Still, please, let me decide when and if I can help you, and know that if I can, it shouldn't be just because you asked me in a way that only allowed for a single affirmative answer. I get enough headaches on a daily basis and my friends shouldn't be the ones causing them.

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