Dear Carolyn: My sister asked me just now if I’ll give her and my nephews a ride to a birthday party tomorrow. She has two kids and no car.
I’m irked that she waited so long to ask me (again). But the real problem is that I was planning to do nothing tomorrow. No one else is available to drive them and I’d hate for my nephew to miss his friend’s birthday party, but I also hate the thought of driving people around on my day off. I already do this one or two times a week.
Having plans with myself to do nothing doesn’t seem like a good enough reason not to. What to do?
Carolyn says: “Yeah, well ... sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.” Could be we all need more Luke in our lives.
So yes, actually, your taking a day off on your day off is a good enough reason to say no.
That is, if you can still enjoy its benefits knowing your nephew is missing out on a party, which is where things get complicated.
To be clear: I don’t judge either way.
In a strict discussion of responsibility, it’s easy to point out that you’re not responsible for his missing anything. It’s his mother’s sequence of choices that left her up two kids, down one party ride and asking for help at least 24 hours after the courtesy buffer expired. It’s on her for not lining up a fellow partygoer to take them (assuming ride-share apps aren’t an option).
Choosing not to bail her out for these choices is not the same as your being at fault.
But it can sure feel that way, can’t it? And since your alternative plan for the day is all about how you feel, feeling bad for it would defeat the purpose. It’s also absolutely normal to feel bad when a little dude doesn’t get cake. And it would be OK to make your decision based solely on which choice would feel less bad: blowing off your nephew or breaking up your day off.
Though saying no still might not even be bad. We all must do without sometimes and manage our disappointment, and a frill such as this party is a fine opportunity for your nephews to develop this invaluable emotional skill.
The logistics of this column mean both day off and birthday party have come and gone and the decision itself is moot. But there’s a way to answer the longer-term question that can help you for next time, since there’s pretty clearly going to be one: Spell out your driving conditions in black and white, and stick to them.
So: Tell your sister you will drive only X times per week and with Y days’ notice, except in emergencies, which you define as involving risk of bodily harm.
When your rules are clear, the responsibility is clear, too. She calls too late or too often, then your “no” is on her.
Again, this was the case already — any consequence of your not driving them somewhere ultimately traces to her choices. But setting clear limits addresses the important matter of letting yourself off the hook. Guilt has no place in a healthy transaction.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.