Welcome to ask a child-free person, the blog where I, a child-free person who studies motherhood for a living, negotiate common conflicts that arise between the parented and the child-free.

Parents often need help.

They don’t say, “It takes a village to raise a child” just to be cute. When parents are left to go it completely alone, it is extremely taxing on them. Now, I like kids a lot, so when I’m free and a parent-friend asks me to babysit, I usually say hellz yes! I love little critters and I know their parents could use a break, that they simply deserve the opportunity to go to a doctor’s appointment without a toddler in tow. Doing free babysitting for friends is a nice way to provide parents with community support. Having said that, should you feel obligated to do it even if you don’t want to? My answer is an emphatic no!

Friendship is reciprocal. Friends can and should do nice things for each other. However, when searching for nice things to do for your friend, you probably shouldn’t have to do anything that makes you feel profoundly unhappy or uncomfortable. In my opinion, if you feel unable to do something, you should say no, and people should be understanding about that. We all have limits and for some of us, those limits are children.

I happen to love hanging out with children, but not every child-free person does. For those who aren’t especially fond of kiddies, when your friend decides to have a baby, you should profoundly care about that baby’s life – insofar as you care about all things that are important to your friend. That doesn’t mean you are suddenly obligated to become Uncle Joey from Full House. The onus is not on you to move into your friend’s alcove and start doing the school run.

I know, I know, declining to babysit for a friend feels like you are slapping them in the face, doesn’t it? How do you tell your friend that it’s not that you don’t like their child, you just don’t really want to be in charge of any child ever for an extended period of time?

Think about it this way: If your friend were in the market for a weekly squash partner, would you feel bad saying no if it so happened that you didn’t like squash and/or weren’t really sure how to play the game? No! You’d tell your friend that you’re happy they love squash, and you hope they find a really awesome partner somewhere else who doesn’t mind changing diapers – er, playing racket sports.

Given that life is hard, there are usually lots of opportunities to help a friend out, but you don’t have to take advantage of every single one. For example, a person experiencing a sore back might decline to help a friend move because they would find the experience of lifting couches and dining tables really painful. Well, if you would find the experience of looking after a child extremely stressful, noisy and exhausting, you’re allowed to say no too. That’s your equivalent of not moving a couch when you’re having back trouble.

So, how do you phrase your refusal? Of course, you could lie and say you’re busy that day. That often works in the short-term, but telling white lies won’t prevent your friend from asking you to babysit again at some future point. Because of this, I recommend a “rip off the band-aid” approach, where you are open and honest about not wanting to be a babysitter, ever.

For example, I might say, “I’m sorry, Caspar, but I don’t feel comfortable babysitting for Baby Bella. I care about you as a friend and I fully support your decision to have a child. However, I don’t feel comfortable showing my support for this decision in the form of babysitting. Childcare just really stresses me out.”

In my humble opinion, this response shows you are a supportive friend. You aren’t a judgmental prick who thinks they have no right to be a parent. However, it’s also honest about the not shameful truth that just like it’s okay to want children in your life, it’s also okay not to want to participate in raising children.

In no cases should you ever lead your friend on. There is nothing worse than the friend who hems and haws over whether to refuse a favour. Be firm and don’t be fickle about the decision. Make it early and stick with it, so your friend will have ample opportunity to find an alternate babysitter. There are few things more frustrating than friends who abruptly cancel or string you along regarding something really important.

In addition, after delivering the bad news that no, you won’t be able to babysit, I would temper it. How can one accomplish this? You could ask, “Is there anything else I could maybe help you with that doesn’t involve childcare?” This demonstrates that yes, you are a friend who is willing to help out. You are happy to return the favours they’ve done you in the past, or the ones they will do you in the future. You just aren’t the friend to call when the favour needed is looking after a tiny human.

In the end, I truly believe friendships involve reciprocal support; however, there are multiple ways to be supportive of others. You don’t need to feel bad if babysitting is a form of support you don’t feel comfortable providing.


Sarah Sahagian is a PhD candidate in Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies at York U, where her academic specialty is motherhood. Her writing has appeared in The Huffington PostxoJane, &  The Beaverton. When she’s not writing her dissertation, Sarah reads a lot of novels about other angsty young women, streams a lot of Netflix, and tweets about topics ranging from reproductive rights to who’s going to win The Bachelor.