Background

I have this family member, my cousin, who lives 30 minutes ride away from me. She has a full-time job and her mother takes care of her 6-year-old child during the day, while she is at work. The "taking-care" in this case is mainly taking the child to school. Public transportation to school is not available in my country. Usually, parents drive their kids to school. Recently, for some reason, her mother has to leave town for 2-3 weeks.

This family member asked me to take her child to school for this time period.

Note that I have a full-time job too and a very demanding job as a software developer. I really don't have the time and energy to deal with this situation.

School starts at 8 am and I also have to be at work at 8 am.. So this'd mean for me to maybe arrive 45 min to 1 hour late at work. (Although the child could arrive at school maybe 15 minutes early, this would still make me late for work.)

She probably asked me because she knows that I can substitute my working hours. If I come to work 1 hour late, I can substitute it by working an extra hour in the evening. I have decided not to help her this time because if I say yes, I have to do this for 2-3 weeks, most probably 3 weeks. Coming up to 1 hour late for 3 weeks would not be acceptable by my manager. Plus, I've just finished a project for which I had to work 65 hours a week (for 6 weeks), so I don't have the energy.

There might be other alternatives besides me helping her. My family member has two brothers also living in the area, one of them lives three blocks away from her apartment. So one of them could help, she told me by herself that I'm the first person she thought to ask for help. Also, hiring a person as a nanny, would be an alternative. Finally, she could work something out with her supervisors at work, to allow her to come late at work for these 3 weeks because she has a child to take to school.

Question

How to say NO to this request gently, without hurting her feelings?

I also want to point out that she is divorced and has had lots of difficulties to bear in her life. She is indeed an excellent woman and mother.

Update

I talked with her over the phone and told her: My boss won't be ok with me coming 1 hour later for 3 weeks straight. She said she understood me and will ask another family member, one of her brothers who is married with two kids. He is very much likely to agree to help.

I wanted to be discrete, but now I decided to explain why I was firm to say NO. I am a rational person and I put my work first because I thought that in this situation, she could find a different solution to her problem. I have helped her other times and I am not regretting it but this time I though she asks me for help simply because I don't say "No" to her. And truly, my work situation was that adjusting my schedule would be very difficult for me. Considering everything, I decided that I couldn't agree to my cousin's request.

Thanks a lot for your help!

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  • Hello and welcome to IPS! I edited to add in the info from your comments so it's easy for everyone to find. Please feel free to edit it yourself if I missed anything or there's other things you think would be helpful to add! – Em C Dec 4 at 22:31
  • As a matter of curiosity, how is the child to get home? When we were ferrying the kid to school, we needed to handle both ways. Showing up late and working late on a job with long hours really doesn't allow for that. – David Thornley Dec 4 at 23:14
  • @DavidThornley This school can keep a child up to 6 pm, according to the contract signed prior with the child's parents. In the afternoon, children play and do homework with teacher's supervision. My cousin has a full time job as I mentioned and usually takes her son from school at 5 pm. She has this arranged with the school. – user9415 Dec 5 at 15:14
  • @EmC Hello, your edit was on point, thank you! – user9415 Dec 5 at 15:15
up vote 3 down vote accepted

I think that you might be making this out to be more complicated than it is. The factors that matter:

  1. Your cousin absolutely needs assistance if her son is to attend school during this period (unless she quits her job)
  2. It would be a substantial disruption for you to provide this assistance for the entire period
  3. The disruption is more than you are willing (or able, though that's a poor line of argument to take here) to provide

It seems clear from the question that, if forced to choose between agreeing to help your cousin or hurting her feelings, you would choose the latter. There is no point in pretending that this is not the case, especially because you probably technically could help her.

So the best response to your cousin will be firm in your refusal, with only the broadest (true) explanation as to why:

I can't adjust my schedule that way for 2-3 weeks, my boss won't accept it.

Any equivocation on this, or expansion to pretend that you literally cannot help is risky. Specific reasons that you've provided so far do sound like excuses because they don't actually preclude you from helping. They may be excellent reasons why helping would be a big burden for you, or why you don't want to help, but those are not the same as saying you want to help but truly cannot. Pretending the latter will only make you look dishonest if she presses you at all.

If you really want to avoid hurting your cousin's feelings, you can agree to help out for part of the time that she's gone:

I can take him to school for one week, but that's the most leeway my boss will give me. You'll have to make other arrangements for the rest of the time.

That way you're still helping with the problem, and seemingly to the maximum extent you can (whether or not that's actually true). It completely avoids the (not entirely incorrect) impression that helping your cousin with this difficult and (perhaps) unavoidable situation just isn't important enough for you to do. It's that impression that's going to hurt her feelings, if anything does, so addressing it is the best way to address your goal.

  • Thanks for taking time to respond to my question. I read it before and actually decided to follow your advice. I had a phone conversation with my cousin, and responded as you suggested, mentioning that my boss won't accept the fact that I would be coming 1 hour late for 3 weeks. I offered help for one or two days, if she can't find help. She agreed and will ask one of her brothers for help, who has two kids of his own and is most likely to agree. Thank you! – user9415 Dec 5 at 15:29

You need to be direct with her:

Unfortunately, my work schedule does not allow for me to be able to drop off the child at the scheduled time.

This makes it clear that your reason for not accepting her request is solely because of your work obligations and not because you don't want to help. Her feelings should not be hurt as she is presumably in the same situation with regards to work schedule ( this is of course, assuming that the cousin is not aware that you can modify your schedule ).

Also, if she tries to argue that you should adjust your work schedule to be able to drop off HER child at school (i.e. initiating a confrontation ) you can politely ask her why can't she do the same?

  • 1
    Hey, could you tell us why this won't hurt the cousin feelings? – Noon Dec 4 at 20:33
  • I can't imagine how the cousin's feelings would be hurt due to the OP's schedule not allowing for the drop off. If the cousin knows that OP can adjust their schedule then that is different but nowhere has he indicated that the cousin knows this fact. The last sentence is only if the cousin attempts to confront the OP and ask them to adjust their schedule. – sf02 Dec 4 at 21:11
  • Hi @sf02! As Noon's comment suggested, we require answers to come along a bit of explanation why you think doing what you suggest would help OP. It'd be great if you could edit your answer to add what you mentioned in comments, as those are not supposed to last and only are here for asking clarifications. Thanks in advance! :) – avazula Dec 5 at 8:14
  • Thank you for responding to my question. As it's stated in the question(was in one of my comments) : She probably asked me because she knows that I can substitute my working hours. Your advice for being direct was helpful. I talked with her and because I mentioned specifically that my boss/manager won't accept my schedule adjustment, I accepted @Upper_Case answer. – user9415 Dec 5 at 15:30

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