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The Moneyist: ‘I wouldn’t be successful at my job without her’: My friend cleans, cooks and cares for my child. I pay her $50 a day. Am I taking advantage of her?

Dear Quentin,

I’m a working-from-home mom and my supervisors have no intentions of bringing me back to the office at this time. In order to actually get work done, I have pieced together childcare using the help of family and friends.

I have one friend who has really gone above and beyond to adjust her own flexible work schedule around my meetings and deadlines. She cooks and cleans and cares for my infant daughter while I’m busy working. 

I still nurse my daughter, put her down for naps and change her dirty diapers. If there’s a lull in my day, I’ll play with them. She says she’s more than happy to be here with us and said that 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 at my job without her, and I want to make sure I’m not taking advantage of her. 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 has also contributed food and drinks. 

With gas prices rising, I’ve given her about $50 to $100 per week for her one to two days of support (some days my work is super light and we basically just 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 hope 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 Remote Worker

Dear Guilty,

There is a transaction at play here, but it’s not just a monetary transaction, nor is it an equal one. You need to acknowledge that before you decide what your next step should be. Otherwise, you could both end up paying too high a price for this childcare arrangement, and one that neither of you expects to pay.

Your friend is happy to cook and clean, and look after your child during breaks from her own work. You are grateful 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 arrangement walks that fine line between a domestic job and a favor from a friend, but it’s not quite either.

The average cost for a nanny to care for one child in 2021 was $694 per week, up from $565 per week in 2019, according to Care.com, an online marketplace. That works out at roughly $140 per day, assuming a five-day week. If you had a nanny, you would be paying them nearly three times what you are paying your friend.

So why is the transaction unequal? To her, you are a found family. Your friend clearly enjoys being part of the family. She may be lonely, and she would not be the only one who has felt that way during the pandemic. I’m assuming she doesn’t have children of her own, and my (wildcard) guess is that she is also single.

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