“I wouldn’t be successful in my job without her”: My boyfriend cleans, cooks and takes care of my child. I pay her $50 a day. Am I taking advantage of her?

I’m a work-from-home mom and my bosses have no intention of bringing me back to the office right now. To really get the job done, I have pooled childcare using the help of family and friends.

I have a friend who has gone above and beyond to adjust her own flexible work schedule around my meetings and deadlines. She cooks, cleans and takes care of my little daughter while I’m busy with work.

I still nurse my daughter, put her down to sleep and change her dirty diapers. If there’s a lull in my day, I’ll play with them. She says she is more than happy to be here with us and said we don’t have to pay her, although she appreciates it when we do.

“Due to family health concerns and COVID-19, we hope to delay daycare for as long as possible.”

I wouldn’t be successful in my job without it, and I want to make sure I’m not taking advantage of it. I don’t feel like I’m taking away from her work, and we often pay for her food while she’s here, and she’s also contributed food and drink.

With gas prices going up, I’ve been giving her about $50 to $100 a week for one to two days of support (some days my work is very light and we basically hang out, other times I’m busy all day and I try and pay her accordingly ).

I know I could just send my daughter to daycare, but due to family health concerns and COVID-19, we are hoping to delay daycare for as long as possible. Plus, spending time with my child is priceless.

Ultimately, I want my family and friends in my daughter’s life, but I don’t want to lose relationships along the way. Any advice?

Guilty at a distance

Dear Guilty,

There is a transaction here, but it is not simply a monetary transaction, nor is it an equal one. You need to recognize this before deciding what your next step will be. Otherwise, you could both end up paying a very high price for this childcare arrangement, and a price neither of you expects to pay.

Your friend is happy to cook and clean and take care of your child during breaks from work. You are thankful and appreciative of her efforts, so much so that you pay her $100 for two days and $50 for one day as a gesture. The deal walks that fine line between a chore and a favor from a friend, but it’s neither quite.

The average cost for a nanny to care for a child in 2021 was $694 a week, up from $565 a week in 2019, according to Care.com, an online marketplace. That works out to about $140 a day, assuming a five-day week. If you had a nanny, you’d be paying them nearly three times what you’re paying your boyfriend.

So why is the transaction uneven? To her you are a found family. Your friend clearly enjoys being part of the family. She can be lonely, and she wouldn’t be the only one who felt that way during the pandemic. I assume she has no children of her own, and my guess (wild card) is that she is also single.

You have become more than a friend to her, but she has become less than a friend to you. Not less of a friend, but less of a friend.

To you, she is a friend who has been incredibly generous with her time and her effort. But the fact that you’re already paying her blurs the precious lines between friendship and business. You have become more than a friend to her, but she has become less than a friend to you. Not less of friend, but less so from A friend.

Your friend gives you her homework for next to nothing because she loves your child and thinks it’s important to serve your family. Even though she loves being there and finds the crowd in your household nourishing, your friendship has changed because you’ve commercialized it.

At some point, your friend may realize that this arrangement was not entirely in her favor. Most middle class families today couldn’t afford Alice from ‘The Brady Bunch’. But Alice wore a blue suit to demarcate her place in the house at home, called Carol “Mrs. Brady,” and was probably being paid the market rate.

It’s time to put your friend in Alice’s blue outfit—figuratively, not literally, of course—and pay her properly for her time, or end the deal and put your kid in daycare. Alternatively and preferably, hire another nanny for one or two days a week and pay that person a fair price.

Otherwise, this will end in tears – and not your baby’s.

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