Dear Amy: My husband and I have been married for almost five years. We have two great kids. My husband has had some mental health problems, and life has been very difficult over the last year. I have a wonderful support system, with three girlfriends in particular — all married with kids of their own. They have rallied around us during a turbulent time.
Last month, I went back to work part time. All three girlfriends have offered free child care in their home to help us out.
The kids stay primarily with one person, “Anna,” most days. “Rose” and “Charlotte” pick up the slack when Anna is unavailable, or if I’m able to pick up an extra shift.
All of these wonderful friends have stated how happy they are to help us. All of our kids are close in age, and they get along well and entertain each other.
My question is this: What signs should I be looking out for regarding burnout?
I’ve been on the giving end, where I helped out a single mom with child care when she could not afford anything. I ended up burning out.
Is there anything I can do to help prevent this from happening to my girlfriends?
I know keeping communication open with everyone is important, but I also know that people on the giving end can feel guilty since their friend is going through such a tough time. I worry they won’t say anything until it’s too late.
— Finding My Way
Dear Finding: I appreciate your dilemma, and your insight into the shifting dynamic of providing regular “free” child care. This sort of bighearted effort can lead to burnout.
You need to be continuously transparent when communicating with these friends. Make sure that they all understand they can be completely honest with you.
The most obvious solution would be for you to compensate “Anna” by offering to reciprocate. Can you take care of her children part of the time?
If she knew that you would take care of her kids every Friday evening or Saturday morning (possibly even in her home), she could go out, do errands, exercise or simply clear her head.
You should also look for free or low-cost play groups for all of these young children. Anna and you could both get a break by enrolling all of the kids in a weekly cooperative play group.
I’m a big fan of Head Start, which offers quality early learning in a safe environment. Pre-enroll your children for next year.
Dear Amy: This year at the company Christmas party we all received envelopes, which we were told to open after we left the restaurant.
These envelopes generally hold our Christmas bonus, which is usually pretty substantial.
This year, after leaving the restaurant, I opened my envelope and saw that it held half of what I usually get.
Being that we weren’t allowed to open our envelopes at the restaurant I’m assuming that it is supposed to be a secret of how much money every person got.
But I’m still left with the question in my head: “Did I only get this amount, or did everybody?”
I know it’s not proper to ask. I feel like my boss doesn’t like me anymore.
How should I deal with this?
— Receptionist with a Deficit
Dear Receptionist: The reason your boss handled this in this particular way is because — of course they don’t want you to talk about your bonus.
But guess what? Your boss is not “the boss” of you. You get to ask questions and be as nosy as you want, outside of work. Ask around. Find out whatever you can.
Depending on what you learn, you should set up a meeting with your boss and say, “I’m concerned that my bonus was half the amount of last year’s. This is awkward for me, but can you explain it?”
Dear Amy: My spouse was just like the guy described by “Nose-Plugged Wife.” He almost never brushed his teeth!
I did everything you suggested, I even asked his parents for help.
His mother told me, “Nobody tells him what to do!”
It became an ongoing battle and I realized that this was just one example of his being controlling, stubborn and childish. Then it crystallized: I looked at the entire marriage. I could see other areas where this attitude came through. I divorced him.
Now I am with a cleaner, caring and all-around great guy. I have never been happier.
Dear Liberated: Hooray!
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