How to spot one: It’s your pleasure to bring her daughter home from dance, but suddenly you’re doing it every week. It’s a birthday party “carpool,” but you’re the only driver. You agree to co-chair the PTA book drive, but you’re knee-deep in Judy Blume while she ignores every email. And you don’t mind, do you, if your nanny watches her four-year-old twins this afternoon…again…for free?
How to deal: First of all, you need to recognize that the taker is, in fact, taking advantage of you (get it?). She is practicing what psychologist George Simon calls “covert-aggressive” behavior. This is different from passive-aggressive behavior because there’s nothing passive about it; she is actively trying to manipulate your desire to be a good friend to serve her own needs. She is relying on you to pick up her slack, without reciprocating or even acknowledging your sacrifice. Parenthood can be a lonely road. It helps to share some of its burdens. But there’s a lot of potential for imbalance in these relationships, especially because no two families are the same: Perhaps one mom works outside the home full-time and the other doesn’t, or one is nursing a newborn and the other has older kids and thus more “free time.” Boundaries must be drawn and respected. If you’re crystal clear about what you can and can’t do for each other, the friendship may even flourish.