Limits to Charity?


I’m not sure if I am being selfish or unsaintly in this situation. I have a friend who recently got back in touch and asked me to be godmother to her newborn son which I accepted. Since then she has invited me to her house several times over the year and each time her middle son who has a disability has been there. On each occasion I have simply helped her take care of her middle son and/or her newborn or been with her older son while she saw to the other children and served us all food. I have never had a chance to talk to or spend time with her as the children, most notably the disabled son needed total adult attention. I like her children and being able to help but feel used and that this isn’t quite right in friendship. When I asked if we could meet just the two of us - she said she and her husband didn’t have the time for that and didn’t contact me again - seemingly offended. I can see she is finding it hard to cope despite extended family support but I’m annoyed too. Am I selfish for insisting on chatting to her while someone else takes care of her disabled son? What would a saint do???


There are no limits to charity, think WWJD (what would Jesus do).


She isn’t using you. This is the only way she can socialize at this stage of her life as a mother of many with a baby and a disabled child.


You’re not selfish, and it’s okay that you stated you would like to get together with just her, but at the same time I’m not surprised by her reaction.

Often people who are stretched to their limit coping with some situation are specifically looking for friends who can and will concretely help them, not friends who have needs of their own or who want social time. I know I have turned down requests or overtures from friends who wanted me to have lunch or hang out during times I have been dealing with caring for an elderly, sick parent for a couple of years, or coping with a family death that had a lot of baggage and tasks attached to it. I know the invitations were meant well and these were people who during another time of my life I enjoyed just spending time with, but they didn’t have a good idea of the reality of my days which were completely packed with activity. To be honest, if they couldn’t help me with anything concrete, I would rather use any free time to get an extra couple hours sleep than to put another responsibility on my plate by having to drive somewhere to meet them and have a social meal with them while they chatted about their love life or other stuff that had very little interest for me.

You and this lady just don’t have the same needs for a friendship. Let it be.

I would add that this is also a reason why people tend to group up with others who are in the same boat with their struggles - single people don’t hang out with mothers of kids even when the kids don’t have special needs, unless the single person wants to play babysitter or just loves being around kids. Mom’s attention is going to be focused on her kids pretty much every moment.


At the same time, if the OP is helping this lady due to charity, then it’s charity - not a friendship.

When people go out to do charity work, they generally don’t expect anything back from the people they are helping. If they go expecting thanks or to be made to “feel good”, then they’ve already received their reward, as the gospel says. It’s nice if they get thanks, but often when you go do charity, people don’t act grateful for the help, and instead just take it for granted or have an attitude or come up with 25 new things they need you to help them with.

A friendship, on the other hand, is a give and take. Each person is spending time with the other not just out of charity or duty, but becaues they expect to get some fun and support out of the interaction. The OP was looking to be friends with her old friend, probably like they used to be, whereas the friend seems to be desperately looking for someone to help her with the kids.


We shouldn’t exercise charity as a “means to and end” of friendship, but indeed friendship can arise naturally from the exercise of genuine selfless charity.


If you can reconcile immediately, seek her and accept things as they are. Have no doubt your charitable attending to the children is a great work.

Your godson will need your “evangelical” and “catechetical” support until receiving the sacrament of confirmation and even beyond. That is the comprise you assumed with being godmother. That you are there for him to guide him towards Christ. With baptism you received “spiritual kinship” witch cannot be broken. Yes, you probably would like some alone time with your friend, but let it come and be patient in the meanwhile. Charity doesn’t seek its own interest, (there is no need to let yourself get “used”, yet you shouldn’t be hasty as seeing it as such, which I believe it isn’t. Your friend having a disabled son is also in a very difficult situation, be forth-giving as you can.)

And remember Our Lord prefers “mercy over sacrifice”, you are indeed given a golden opportunity to love, do works of mercy, and accompanying your godson, all together. Have no doubt and rest assured, Our Lord will pay you back with great interest, with an overflowing measure, when you come to most need it yourself.

God bless.


I would offer to treat her to childcare while the two of you went out for lunch followed by mani/pedis. It will be on you to find someone experienced with disabled children. A nanny agency may have a referral, or you could search for someone at a nearby university.

Some parents simply don’t trust anyone but themselves to care for their children. While I disagree with this attitude, there’s not much you can do to change someone who has it.

It is curious why her husband won’t stay home with the children to give her a break.


Thanks for everyone’s responses.

I think the main point is that friendship is not the same as voluntary work though obviously we should always be guided by charity in a broader sense.
Friends can expect to just spend time with friends once in a while - whatever their state or situation.
There’s a lack of clear communication here - invited for a social call but really just needed to babysit.
There are other people - grandparents, cousins and aunts also helping - as does the lady’s husband when he can. In fact at one point I was told I was to be slotted in on an afternoon when no one else could make it.

I was helping as I felt it was right to do but I think friendship needs to be give and take. I don’t have children but I’m human and also have needs and struggles. I’ve got plenty of friends - so I want friendship to be a free choice and open and honest.

If I’d been told “I just need childcare help” - I could have decided to help or not - freely and considering my own resources. Childcare is not something I have a natural talent for and I get tired doing it on a very regular basis.
The worst is - feeling I have to do it, that spoils the friendship most but also my willingness to help.

I know there may literally be no time to spend with me at the moment - and there’s no need to. Friendship can’t be forced and we are in different life situations. If I needed help with an aspect of my life - I would clearly say and not expect the other person to just come and help tidy my house each time I asked them over for example. What if I had mental health needs?

Ofcourse I might have noticed she’s having a difficult time and her way of getting me to help has been imperfect. I could just understand and help anyway. Yet I think I owe it to our friendship to say what I feel - in the nicest possible way.

In any case she has since replied to me saying she’s not offended and that she would be in touch to say more.

There’s no limit to Charity as in Love - but what we do in a situation can have various aspects to consider.


Until you have been the primary caregiver for a disabled spouse, child, parent, it is impossible to grasp the overwhelming nature of such responsibility.

I am primary caregiver for my disabled spouse. I still work full time (will compare this part to the duties to care for her non-disabled children). Those two things take everything I have.

Received a lecture from my boss a couple of days ago (I work for a church) that I need to be volunteering for the church outside of work hours. I came home and cried. If I had the internal resources to volunteer like I used to, don’t you think I would?

If a friend asked me to go out for mani-pedis and a lunch, the work it would take to coordinate that event on my side (arrange for someone to look after my husband) is enough to overwhelm me. Then to need the energy to get ready (makeup, outfit, do my hair) during a non work time, the energy expended having the “day of fun”, well, I did that 3 weeks ago. The next morning my husband had a major seizure because someone did not quite grasp how important his medication, food, hydration is. He was in the hospital for 4 days. Do I REALLY want to do THAT again?

Have compassion for your friend. She is literally being crushed by the weight of the responsibilities. If you cannot support her where she is, right now, without asking anything extra of her, then it is kindest to simply fade away.

When we deal with these things, when they are LONG TERM, we quickly find out which friends meant it when they said “let me know if I can do anything”. My dearest friend for 10 years, she vanished when I was not up for fun and outings anymore. It hurts, I miss the old me. But, this is what I have to do right now. I will not desert my spouse.


Sure - I understand - I’m sorry for what you are going through. If I can help my friend - I will. I’ve got mental health needs myself - and I guess I just wanted my carer friend to be honest with me.

I’m not sure what exactly her situation is - each one is different.

I have a friend with schizophrenia and I call her from time to time to listen to her. I don’t get anything out of it - and I do what I can to help as I know she’s not capable of giving any more to the friendship. (She also doesn’t want to meet in person etc). I can’t call her every day though - as I’d go mad.

I suppose we should each give what we can out of our capacity in response to what we see as the other person’s need.


I’m glad you were straightforward with her and told her. That’s always a risk.

I have watched people struggle with this type of issue and build up a lot of resentment when they feel “used” by a friend but they don’t want to say anything for various reasons - not knowing how to say it, being guilted into allowing the behavior to continue, wanting to do the “kind” thing but feeling increasingly resentful that their friend is not meeting their own needs. Eventually the pot boils over and not in a good way. I have had to let several friends go in the past because it was clear they were so overwhelmed with their own problems that they wree just going to keep using me and/or taking their frustrations out on me, and had stopped caring about my boundaries or my needs or my well-being. Maybe they didn’t have the capacity to care because they were overwhelmed, but it wasn’t healthy for me to have people like that for my friends, especially when the overwhelming situations or illnesses or whatever show no sign of ending any time in the near future. It’s better to be honest and I hope you can salvage some of this friendship if that’s what you want to do.


Thanks! I think there are further issues that my friend needs to sort out - given how many family members are involved : something’s not right. If I felt free to say yes or no to helping - I would help a lot more and maybe even other friends might help too. But expecting it on a rota without asking - too much for someone who’s only just got in touch.

These things aren’t always as straightforward as poor family person in dire need versus free single person with loads of free time. I guess discernment comes in.

Not judging her - I’m sure she’s overwhelmed psychologically if not materially - but I don’t think going along and silently slotting into the rota is actually helpful.

Thanks again.


I also think that you are being used though I think her needs are genuine.

It is a difficult situation for her, but her seemingly insincerity by asking you to come for dinner but instead tasking you with looking after the disable child, does not look nice at all. You are not selfish in that sense though it is good that you gave a helping hand.


I don’t think anyone is making it family person versus single person with free time. Your first post did not include the information that she was trying to work you into a childcare rotation or that you just got in touch. It sounded like you just happened to help a lot while you were there and then became upset that she can’t make time for one on one time with you.

If that is what happened, she asked you over and then told you you’re now in her rotation as a childcare person that is too much. It’s like going somewhere and finding out it’s only you and the other person thinks you’re on a date. Or getting excited about a party only to find its a multilevel marketing sales pitch once there.

Being misled or having things presumed of you is no good, but your first post really didn’t sound that way so people responded accordingly.


Thanks for replying. Yes maybe I should have put these details in to provide more accurate picture.

Also - they only have one bedroom and one lounge for married couple, 13 year old, Asperger/attention deficit 7 year old and newborn boy.

Don’t seem to be able to claim state support though it is available at least theoretically in the UK. Older boy has complained to me about the situation.

Will try to bring up moving into bigger home again when I see the lady tomorrow but surely their extended family which helps them regularly have already encouraged them to get a larger flat?

I just don’t know what’s going on. They are practicing Catholics and mean well I’m sure but I don’t want to enable them in continuing as they are. Totally without judging I’m a bit worried about the kids lack of space.

Thanks to all for replying to my dilemma.


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