Setting boundaries

By Katharine Swan On Thursday, May 05, 2016 At 11:00 AM

I don't know why, but setting boundaries has always been one of the toughest things for me.  Over the years I've gotten better about it in my personal life, yet I still have trouble with it in a professional aspect.  I often overburden myself because I have a hard time saying, "No, I can't," or even just, "No," when someone says they need me.

I've been trying to remain aware of when I'm letting myself be taken advantage of or overworked, however, and recently I had what I consider a pretty major victory.

Long-time readers probably already know that until earlier this year, I was nannying part-time, as well as babysitting for a few different families when needed.  Now I'm no longer a nanny, but I still babysit for several families on an as-needed basis.  For the most part, it's not all that often, and they are respectful of my other work -- my freelance work as well as my barn chores.  I've had to turn down the occasional babysitting job because of deadlines, and the families have always understood.

But then there's this one family, whose daughter I've been babysitting for about three years.  I adore her, and honestly, that's most of the reason I've put up with her parents.  They exhibit symptoms of what a friend calls "If you give a mouse a cookie syndrome," meaning that they continually expect more and more from me.

As an example, when I started babysitting for them, it was only four hours on the weekend, usually Sundays.  Then they started asking me to stay for five hours.  Once that became standard, they started asking me to stay for six.  I'm pushing back against that -- sometimes I'll stay the extra hour, and other times I won't.  I've become reluctant to give too much, especially given that they act entitled and never show any appreciation, and were even rather passive-aggressive about it when I called in sick recently.  Keep in mind that it was only about the fourth time I've called in sick over the last three years.

Anyway, they also sometimes ask me to babysit during the week when their daughter's school is closed.  I babysat a lot for them over spring break, and found that it was incredibly difficult to maintain my freelance work and my barn chores when they expected me to work nine-hour days with their daughter.  So when they asked me to reserve a few weeks at the end of summer for them -- a general time period, with no specific dates, despite me asking several times -- I decided enough was enough.

I told them that since I now depend on my freelancing much more than I used to, I need to limit my babysitting hours.  A few long days or even a week is fine, since I can schedule around that, but any more than a week and I need to limit my hours.  I told them I can work either three full days a week, or partial days all week -- their choice -- but that I need dates if I am going to reserve the time for them.  I need time to maintain my clients and I need to know the dates so that I can plan ahead.

Interestingly, they told me they would get back to me about the summer dates, but they still have yet to do so.  We'll see what happens come summer, but I intend to hold my ground.  I'm a full-time freelance writer again, and I can't afford to let my clients down due to one demanding family's unreasonable expectations.

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Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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