By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
My wife and I have a 7-year-old son who would normally be attending the public-school system this year. However, for a variety of reasons mostly driven by the pandemic, we decided we would homeschool our son for first grade this year. My wife is currently a stay-at-home mom (she decided to take a pause in a great career in marketing when our second son was born a couple years ago).
We also have very dear friends who live in our neighborhood, and also have a son who would be entering first grade this year. When my wife decided this summer that she would homeschool our son, we offered to homeschool their child also. Our friends readily and excitedly agreed. These friends are in our “COVID bubble” and are essentially the only ones we see in person.
I thought the family would offer some financial consideration (they hinted about it last September) but we haven’t discussed the issue since then.
My wife currently runs the home school four days a week, and between prep, actual classroom time, and some after-school play time, she’s putting in about 15 to 20 hours each week. Specifics on how the arrangement would work financially were never discussed. The two families have shared the costs of the curriculum, school supplies, art supplies, etc., but the other family has not offered (nor have we requested) compensation for my wife’s efforts.
I thought the family would offer some financial consideration (they hinted about it last September) but we haven’t discussed the issue since then. We and the other family are both comfortably upper-middle class, so money isn’t a critical issue for either. However, I see how much effort my wife puts into the education, and feel she deserves something. The other family readily spends a lot on nannies, other day care, etc.
Is it too late to tactfully request some consideration for my wife’s efforts? I don’t want to jeopardize our friendship or embarrass them. How do you think I should approach this, if at all?
Father in Southern Texas
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This is an act of service for your friends and, for your son and his friend, it is also an act of love. Once you commercialize a friendship and turn such a gesture into a transaction, something fragile, pure and unspoken in that friendship will be forever altered. Given what you say about your comfortable financial position, this feels like a “want” rather than a “need.” Remember the precious cargo you four friends are carrying: two children who are oblivious to the shifting sands of adulthood around them.
I understand that there may be some underlying frustration that you could have come to a more equitable arrangement. “We’ll take little Jimmy for a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday, and he can have dinner here a couple of evenings a week to give you some time off...” would have been nice. It would also have given a clearer path ahead. But don’t give up on your friends’ ability to show their appreciation in other ways by inviting your son on vacation this summer, or some other surprise.
By giving your time to both these children, you will also teach them another valuable lesson in life.
You are not committed to doing this every year, but finish this year out as you started it. You are in each other’s pandemic bubble, and there is likely a reason for that: You hold each other in high regard and trust each other. Don’t underestimate them. They may already be thinking of ways to express their thanks. And yes, sometimes “thank you” is enough. And maybe, just maybe, seeing the improvement in their son and the love you instill in him for his favorite subjects is enough.
This is a better situation for your son too. There is a big advantage to your son having social interaction with his friend and classmate every day. They can amuse each other, learn from each other, help each other and feel like they’re not alone during the school day. If one child struggles one day and another child struggles the next, it shows that it’s OK to ask questions, and it’s human to have both strengths and weaknesses.
By giving your time to both these children, you will also teach them another valuable lesson in life. Little Jimmy will look back on this year and think highly of his mother and hopefully pass on that lesson when he has the chance. Maybe he will help a colleague in high school or university. Your friend’s son will, perhaps, look back fondly on this time. In normal times and in extraordinary times, it’s often better to give of yourself without the expectation of anything in return.
It’s difficult to drive a neighbor’s car as a gift and, after five months, be surprised with suggestions for repayment.
I want to be clear. Women are more likely than men do to unpaid work in the home and in the office, and that’s NOT OK. “Women typically spend disproportionately more time on unpaid care work than men, according to the OECD. “On account of gendered social norms that view unpaid care work as a female prerogative, women across different regions, socio-economic classes and cultures spend an important part of their day on meeting the expectations of their domestic and reproductive roles.”
My response is not even based on your relative wealth, although I understand that it clearly plays a role because this is both a vocation and a lot of work for your wife. It’s because a fee was not discussed before classes began, and because there is no real power imbalance here as there may be with partners or employer/employee or manager/direct report. It’s difficult to drive a neighbor’s car as a gift and, after five months, be surprised with suggestions for repayment, monetary or otherwise.
The real lesson plan for all of you may not be in the curriculum at all.
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