Friday, March 20, 2009

Lighten Your Load: Strategies For Dealing With Freeloading Friends and Family

How do you deal with family and friends who cavort around with entitlement spoons dangling from their mouths? Do you struggle to set limits or say no to those who know not where "what is yours starts" and "what is theirs ends"? How can you protect yourself from the Shameless And Relentless Askers (herein referred to as SARAs) in your life? 

The requests for resources, goods, time and energy come by phone, email and in person. They often sound like this:

  • Can you score me some free tickets to the game, Bobby loves the Yankees and his birthday is coming up!
  • I heard you won't be at your condo, cottage or chalet over the holidays - we are dying for a week away. By the way, are the beds made and is there gas in the boat?
  • Cheryl just got her driver's license and since you are going away for the month, can she take your new SUV - she'd like to go north with her boyfriend.....Mike and I don't want to be without a car!
  • Your pool is perfect place for Melissa to run her swim school this summer. Maybe you can let her know the hours you won't be in your own backyard?
  • I would love to use your home for your nephew Trevor's birthday party  - which weekend would work? Is the fridge filled, or do I need to get drinks?
  • Your house is the perfect venue to host the family holiday, event or rite of passage?
  • Can you pick up, drive or deliver the children? 
  • It's my daughter Tiffany's 16th birthday next week - she would like a watch, cell phone or necklace. I know your daughter's birthday is coming up, but really - there is nothing she needs!
  • Will you take the kids next week? We need to get away.
  • Can you help Brian get a job, set up his business, finance his venture, advise him, do his resume, connect him and be the father figure he needs. 
When the pain begins to set in and you come to realize that the relationship is a one way street - you give and they take, it may be time to change your behavior for your own sake. From requests for your clothes to your money, from your professional services to your ear,  from the guest that regularly arrives empty handed to the house guest who forgets to leave - the freeloader habitually takes advantage of your generosity. When you inevitably hit your "giving wall", and realize that reciprocity is not a part of the relationship recipe with a SARA, the following strategies may save you from annihilation and depletion.

  1. Remember, SARA's  are impervious to etiquette or social decency and their behavior is marked by a bold lack of shame. How you factor into their request has not crossed their mind. Their blatant disregard for your feelings or rights says nothing about you. Their requests say everything about them. This is SARA School 101.
  2. Your job is to set desired limits and not to teach the SARA a lesson.
  3. When the desired response is NO - say NO. Do not go past GO.
  4. Saying NO requires NO explanation. You do not owe the SARA an excuse. 
  5. When the SARA gets nasty, goes underground or uses gorilla warfare like triangulation by engaging spouse, friend or parent or worst of all, their own children to get what they want - name the behavior and call the the SARA out on it. Don't let the SARA be the elephant in the room.
  6. Be elegant and try the following lines if NO doesn't work for you: "I/we would like time alone with our family; Your request doesn't work for me/us; My/our home/time/resources are otherwise committed.
  7. Don't be afraid to say YES if it works for you. While the fear of the slippery slope is scary, you are only a word away from NO.
  8. Be prepared to repeat yourself.
  9. Practice with a child. They too repeat themselves and don't give up easily. Note that this is developmentally healthy and on task for a child to be relentless. They provide the perfect boot camp for NO training.
  10. Be prepared to be unpopular. 
You can run but you cannot hide from a SARA so don't even try. Instead, create boundaries, use your words and be firm. Sara's come on strong and leave you spinning until you no longer remember who is right and who is wrong. If you are challenged by freeloaders, moochers, cadgers or habitual imposers, be steadfast and confident in your right to say NO to those looking to reap what they did not sow.

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1 comment:

  1. What if the SARA is living with an uncle that is lonely and thinks this person is a friend? I want to help but don't want to overstep my bounds. My wife is taking care of his finances so I think she/we should have some say about this SARA living with and taking advantage of my uncle.