He Said, She Said: Couple taken advantage of by young military Family Print E-mail
Thursday, 23 April 2015
By Shaun and Pamela Collins
Special to GUIDON
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It started out as an innocent gesture of good will. An NCO’s wife in my battalion had some medical appointments out of town that required her to spend the night. Her husband wanted to stay with her, but with two small children and both their Families in California, they had no one to help.  

My wife and I offered to watch their children for the night. What was one night became three, and then the following week for two more nights. At first my wife didn’t mind, and rather enjoyed the company (we have no children.) The kids, 6 and 4, were well behaved and seemed to enjoy the new attention. Then they dropped the kids off with no warning for another two days. Another time, his wife asked my wife to watch her kids while she ran to the commissary, but didn’t come back for them until nearly midnight and claimed she fell asleep at home after shopping.

When I caught up with the Soldier again, I asked him if his wife was OK and it turns out she was … after the first night, and the other evenings were so he and his wife could go party in St. Louis. I told him that I didn’t appreciate that and he offered me $20 for the extra nights to “make it right.” (I refused the money.) I told my wife and she was upset we were deceived at first, but then became more upset because she now understood that the kids were often left alone or ignored.  

I don’t want to watch his kids anymore, but my wife feels that it would hurt the children more if we refuse. I don’t see the Soldier on a daily basis and I refuse to take this to the command, as they would probably tell me to tell the Soldier to find someone else to watch his kids. My wife and I aren’t going to call children’s services, because the kids are well fed and clean. I don’t think this warrants government action. But I could use some good advice on what to do.

HE SAID:  Something I have learned throughout my life is there are nearly as many people who will take advantage of kindness as there are people willing to offer it.  The bottom line in dealing with such matters is realizing what you can control and what you cannot – then acting accordingly.  

You must establish and maintain healthy boundaries in your life that allow you to be kind and charitable, but recognize when people are taking advantage of your nature, then formulate a plan to ensure you are not sucked dry so to speak.  

The key to identifying when you are beginning to be taken advantage of, is generally the point at which you are doing something you think is a kindness, but begin to resent doing so. It is clear you have reached that point. Making that assumption, you must recognize you will never change other people to adopt your sense of right and wrong, but rather you must learn to modify your behavior so that you no longer feel resentment for your intended good deeds.  

I recently showed up to volunteer at a local charity and was met by a man, who felt he was in charge and had the right to yell at and talk down to volunteers, which at that point included me; in that case, I simply stated, it appears you have this all under control, collected my belongings and left. I have no intention of returning, as I would resent being treated in a way that I would not treat others.  

There are a multitude of variables in every situation that can change what I, or anyone else for that matter, could, should or would do in any given situation.  So, I will just tell you what you likely already know. You can either embrace the opportunity to spend time with the children, you can divorce yourself from it entirely, or you can find some middle ground that allows you to be a part of the children’s lives. Foster an understanding that prevents you from feeling you are being taken advantage of.  

At the end of the day, this is about your sanity and about the children’s well being.  I would also suggest you engage in some courageous communication with both of the parents to honestly discuss the situation; there are clearly deeper issues at play when a mother would opt to spend time partying than parenting … that is not your issue, but addressing it may allow you to find your role in the situation.   

SHE SAID:  Some people don’t know how to be gratuitous when others show acts of good will. They see it as a way to take advantage.

These folks have pegged you and your wife as a couple they can take advantage of.  It would be different if they were bringing you their children when they had an emergency or last-minute commitment they had to fulfill; but at this point, you have become a safe and convenient place for them to dump their children, free of charge, for as long as they want.  

Let me start by telling you that, without any discussion, my husband will be frustrated by your request for advice prefaced by a litany of things you won’t do. So let me tell you what won’t happen.  This couple will not all of a sudden become responsible and accountable. They are users.  And like alcoholics, there is no “safe” or “acceptable” limit you can hold them to that they will respect. This has to be an all or nothing proposition. Which means this:  You either cut them off completely, telling them you will no longer take their children for any reason, period.  

The alternative is they will continue to use you, abusing your good nature and just when you think it can’t get worse, it will.  I understand your wife wanting to take care of these kids because she feels as if their parents are sub-par.  My brother, who is retired and in his 60s, has the neighbors’ kids come over every day and spend countless hours with him and his wife. He enjoys the kids and knows because they live behind him, he can send them home anytime.  He also knows the parents have a history of incarceration, drug abuse, and infidelity.  He wants to be a good example and he is.  But he also has the time, inclination, and desire to do so.  He doesn’t feel taken advantage of because he truly enjoys their company. From your letter, I can see this isn’t the case.  Even if you enjoyed spending time with them in the beginning, the fact that they have taken advantage of your good nature has soured you.  I can completely understand that.  

Unlike my brother, if you are continuing to help out for any other reason than you want to, it’s time to push back.  The kids will be fine.  I would be more concerned about the lesson they are gleaning from seeing this entire scenario unfold in front of them.  What are their parents teaching them by taking advantage of others?  What are you teaching them by letting it happen?  You have two choices and there is no middle ground.  Either draw a hard line and tell them no or be willing to be taken advantage of on an ever increasing and more frequent basis.

(Editor’s note: Shaun and Pamela Collins were both career Soldiers with a combined history of military service spanning over a half of a century. They have been where you are, so if you are facing a difficult situation, ask them. Send your question to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it This column and other original content from Mr. and Mrs. Collins can be found at http://militarysuccessnetwork.com. The opinions expressed are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office or the GUIDON.)
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 06 May 2015 )