08/06/2012 09:06 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

The Semi-Detached Parent: A Favour Too Far?

The Semi-Detached Parent: A favour too far? PA

People – friends, neighbours, the odd relative – are always telling me "If there's anything I can do to help – just ask."

This usually comes AFTER I have relayed some tale of my ridiculous uselessness in the face of changing a plug or light bulb, or having a flat tyre or locking myself out for the nth time.

But this week, something happened that made me realise that sometimes, you just can't go and knock on a neighbours' door and ask for assistance – even if they are always telling you you can.

There are lots of occasions when I could do with an extra pair of hands, and that's when the fact the buck stops with me as a single parent really hits home. Usually it's around dinner time when I am simultaneously cooking, supervising homework and music practice, answering work emails and holding hands-free conversations on my mobile AND landline and some minor household calamity occurs, like the dog runs through the house spreading mud everywhere, or everything will start boiling over or burning at once.

Or when I am in the shower and can hear someone knocking at the door while my son anxiously stage whispers through the bathroom door "There's someone THERE." (Usually a courier who will then disappear into the sunset with my much-needed parcel the second I slop and foam down the hall).

And then there's when my son is in bed and I need to nip to the corner shop for milk or dog food (Oh go on then, for wine and chocolate) but I can't because there is no one to watch him. On these occasions I REALLY wish there was another adult in the house, or that I could take my neighbours up on their generous offers of help.

But this week's dilemma took the biscuit. Getting ready for an event, I wriggled into my frock and realised I couldn't reach round to zip it. And as my nine-year-old son looked on in horror refusing to assist and running off screaming "I can see your bra-thing", I was left in a bit of a quandary.


Could I really pop round to one of those neighbours who impress upon me so often "If there's ANYTHING we can do?" and ask them to zip me into my dress?


Where does the line on what is a reasonable 'ask' get drawn?

Would it have been just too much if I had gone and asked the elderly neighbour next door to do it? Worse if I'd asked middle-aged male neighbour on the other side? Even worse still if I'd gone a few doors down to paramedic neighbour (who crossed my mind because I thought the matter was verging on medical, and he would have seen it all before). Perfectly OK if it had been fellow-single mum at the other end of the road, or just simple never OK because you do not ask your street-mates to do up your clothing?

I just didn't know. And rather than risk being the talk of the town, I changed in to something I was capable of doing up myself...

(I once returned a neighbour's underpants, freshly laundered, and in a scented nappy bag after they blew from their garden into mine. Now THAT's above and beyond, IMO).

What's the worse thing you've ever had to ask a neighbour or relative to do for you?

Catch up with previous Semi-Detached Parent columns here.