DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband’s sister and her husband often ask us to watch their children. We love their children and do so willingly. We also see them as a group at least twice a month.
I’ve noticed that they will often flip out when they’re worried about their kids, and this is sometimes directed at us. For example, when closing a drawer, I had not realized that one of the children (age 5) had her fingers near it (not in it). Her mother screamed, “Watch your fingers!” and I immediately stopped closing the drawer.
It wasn’t the child’s fault, because she wanted to help with baking and was waiting in the kitchen for that, but I also meant absolutely no harm. The mother did not acknowledge me or say, “Wow, that was close,” but walked away after giving me a look.
Another example is when my husband was playing a game with his 4-year-old nephew when they had to slap cards. The game was introduced by the child’s parents. The child slapped a card using the back of his wrist, and his father yelled, “Stop, that’s how you break a finger!” towards my husband. He then took the cards away and said it wasn’t safe.
I do respect that these are their children, but it has started to feel like we’re walking on eggshells. I have nieces and nephews on the other side of my family and get along very well with them. I often watch them overnight and no harm has come to them.
How do I respond when these situations occur?
GENTLE READER: Beware of your argument. Pleading that you did not mean to slap a hand or crush a finger does not offer much comfort to hurt children or overprotective parents.
Forgive Miss Manners. She has been the inadvertent victim of one too many strangers who have accidentally stepped on her toes or elbowed her ribs, only to hear by way of apology, “What?! I didn’t see you there!”
A genuine apology is required for any action that causes pain, no matter how benign or unwitting the intent.
But blaming someone -- or holding a grudge -- for an accident that almost happened is a bit much. If you want to continue watching these nieces and nephews, Miss Manners recommends that you get a layout of what is expected, clearly and in front of both the parents and the children. “Just so that we are all aware, the kicking and punching game that Daddy taught you is NOT allowed when he is not here. Are those the rules?”