DEAR AMY: My wife and I both recently retired and moved to our vacation cottage. I am a retired tradesperson and very familiar with repairs and home maintenance. Our neighbors are a very nice and prosperous older couple who have owned the cottage next to us for 50-plus years. They are both retired professionals and spend their summers here. My problem is this: Because they have little or no knowledge of how to do repairs on their cottage, they ask me to do it for them. Before we moved in next door, they relied on a neighborhood handyman for their cottage maintenance and repairs, and they paid for this service. Now they rely on me. I like being neighborly. But I spend hours at their place, performing work from which I am retired. They always offer to pay me, saying they realize that I used to work in the trade and should be paid, but after the work is done, they offer me a beer and some crackers and cheese snacks and think this is payment for my services. On top of that, they ask for our lawn mower, ask us to pick up their mail, bail out their boat if it rains and water the plants when they go away. I feel that I have done enough "pro bono" work for them. How do I go about politely telling them they should pay me for work that my wife and I do for them, or hire someone else?
DEAR TORMENTED: Some people will simply take advantage of you as long as they can -- and just when you think they're finally done asking you for favors, they'll follow up by asking you to mow their lawn. These neighbors might actually tell themselves that you "like" doing these things for them because doing this work allows you to feel useful (I had a neighbor say that to me -- once).
One choice would be to say, "I'm offering to come out of retirement in order to help you maintain your cottage. Here are the hourly rates I will charge, plus the cost for materials." They can either hire you to do this work, or rehire the handyman who lost his gig when you moved in next door.
Otherwise, you will simply have to start saying "no." Trust me -- "no" works.
DEAR AMY: Our niece is leading a life of luxury via social media (vacations, expensive car, high-end home furnishings) but is actually out of work and maxed out in real life. She features her dog on Instagram but leaves the pup in a kennel for nine-plus hours at a time. She rants and curses her mother, blaming her mom for her two broken engagements. She is our goddaughter; her father died prematurely. She is stressing her elderly grandmother (our mom) with daily phone calls bemoaning her life. She is going to a counselor but says that mental illness isn't real. We are worried about our mother's health and stress. What can we do? Do we fight fire with fire? What should our role be?
DEAR WORRIED: Your role here is to be calm, positive, supportive and nonjudgmental. You should be the voice of reason, firm when you need to be and sympathetic when it is called for. You should not let your niece manipulate you, and if her calls are stressing out your mother, you should advise her on how to avoid (and cope with) them. I hope you are helping your mother not to feel pressured to give her granddaughter money. That would be a big mistake.
DEAR AMY: I was floored to read the letter from "Frustrated Sister in PA," who was so openly contemptuous of her sister's choice to be a stay-at-home wife and mother. This sister's harsh judgment was an attempt to invalidate a lifestyle choice that is valuable and rewarding for many people.
DEAR HOME: Parents who choose to stay at home are often the heart, soul and heroes of the family. It is a completely valid choice to make.