Advice

Confessions of a terrible person: The Facebook edition

Note: This post was written a year or so ago, when the events were still fresh.  I waited for a while to post this because I didn’t want to risk hurting anyone who was close enough to the situation to be able to see through the name changes.  Why post it at all?  Well, this issue comes up from time to time on Facebook and I think it’s important for people to realize how they come across and what they can do instead to communicate their priorities more effectively.

I love Facebook – I really do.  Because of Facebook, I keep in touch with my siblings, high school classmates, high school church friends, college classmates, former coworkers from the military and my old job, acquaintances that I would REALLY like to get to know better but we haven’t found the time to get together, my stepchildren from my first marriage, and many others.  Without Facebook I would never be able to stay in touch with all these people, see pictures of them, see pictures of their growing families, or read what they are thinking, feeling, and what’s going on in their lives.

But that doesn’t mean I like everything I see on Facebook.

Here’s the deal –  I like pictures, I like funny things, I like commentary, I like opinions, I like reading that you’re proud of yourself / spouse / kid, I like silly Buzzfeed quizzes.  I like a lot of things; I happen to think I’m pretty chill about most of the stuff that people post.  I DON’T like spam, I don’t like “copy and paste this to your status for 1 hour if you care about (insert miscellaneous cause here),” I don’t like disgusting pictures, I don’t like “you won’t BELIEVE what happens next!” clickbait, and I DON’T like incessant updates spewed at the general public about things I don’t care about.

So, on my Facebook for the last few weeks / months / honestly-I’ve-lost-track, I’ve been seeing a couple friends in particular spamming with regard to a particular cause.  I’m talking status updates, pictures, a hashtag – they were both sharing directly from a particular page someone created called “Team Jim and Pam Halpert” as well as writing status updates with the #prayforjim hashtag on their own.  Since my friends themselves were spamming their own status updates, NOT just from the page, I can’t unfollow them without missing all the things from them that are the reason I enjoy Facebook in the first place.

I finally decided to click around and see what the fuss was all about.  After a few minutes of clicking and scrolling I saw a reference to chemotherapy.  Okay, so some guy I don’t know has cancer and for THAT my Facebook feed has been clogged to hell and gone with “Pray for Jim!” #prayforjim, and the like.  Seriously?

Lest I sound like a jerk (a lost cause already, I know), there is a polite way and an obnoxious way to invite people to care about your cause.  There is a reason that even not-for-profits with the most urgent needs don’t rent large loudspeakers and constantly entreat us all out loud to donate; what I am venting about here is the Facebook equivalent of loudspeaker chatter.  Much more effective would be an approach that is the Facebook equivalent of being in a room with invited guests and talking about the things you invited them there to talk about.

But how do you do that?

Great question – glad you asked.

Do what my friend Katlyn did when Seth died (story here) – she created a page “In loving memory of Seth,” and invited everyone to the page.  If you wanted to talk about Seth, share pictures, find out when and where the memorial service was, you could like the page.  By “Like”-ing the page, you were opting in to having things about Seth in your feed.  Only the invite to the page was public and it was the one thing that hit everyone’s news feed.  If you didn’t know Seth that well or if you had other priorities (not gonna judge you for that), you don’t have to see it.

This creates a safe space for people who want to talk about nothing but Seth, all day every day.  Like maybe his sister or his mom – they kinda didn’t have much else on their minds at the time, and understandably so.  So they can receive a steady stream of support without harassing anyone and everyone.

So – if you want me to care about your random cause or random person, invite me to “like” the page.  I won’t do it, but I will appreciate what this means to you and I will definitely send some thoughts and prayers your way.  And then this part is critical – DON’T BOTHER ME AGAIN.  Not until there’s an actual significant change.  Like if the person is healed / cancer-free / back from a deployment / home from the hospital / whatever.  Or if the person dies, in which case I will express my condolences and pray for their soul.  To recap, I should see this random posting from you exactly twice – 1) the first time to let me know what’s going on; and 2) the last time to let me know that either the crisis is over or it’s a moot point.

So this morning, as usual, I am scrolling down past a funny picture (lol!), a baby picture (so cute!  Congratulations!), a Buzzfeed quiz (lol!), three political statuses (I don’t quite agree but I appreciate the thought you have put into your position), and YET ANOTHER #prayforjim.  I rolled my eyes in irritation before I noticed that this one was different – “Pray for peace as Jim goes to meet his King.”

Oh.

Jim of #prayforjim and Team Jim and Pam Halpert died.  Well, now I really feel like an asshole.  Deep sigh.  Never mind – I take it all back.  I guess I’ll just shut up now and finally #prayforjim.

Cows and Graveyards, Revised

Once upon a time, I went on a two-hour drive through rural Iowa with some classmates, and the girl who was driving taught us all how to play Cows and Graveyards.

Here’s how you play:

  • Divide the car into two teams: left side and right side. Note: It should be decided before the game begins which team gets the person sitting in the middle of the back seat.  It is recommended that they be on the “left side” team, as the “left side” team includes the driver, who cannot really commit to playing since they are, you know, in charge of driving.
  • Each team watches their side of the car.
  • When you pass cows, count them. You must count them out loud, and you must stop counting when you can no longer see the cows.  Cow totals are cumulative.  For example, if you pass a herd of 15 cows and later pass a herd of 10 cows, you have a total of 25 cows.
  • When you pass a graveyard, all your cows “die” and you have to start over.
  • The winning team is the team with the most cows when you reach your destination.

It was a lot of fun!  So naturally I taught my children how to play.

Good times, right?  Wrong.

See, the problem I run into while driving through the Chicago suburbs is that there are no cows.  There are plenty of graveyards, but no cows.  So to make sure we had a playable game while driving to my parents’ house in Iowa, I made some … minor modifications.

General rule:

If you can see it, you can count it.  All animals count – cows, horses, dogs, squirrels, birds, and even musk oxen.  However, the unit of measurement is still the cow.  So, for example, if you count five horses, two dogs, and three birds, you have ten “cows.”

Count modifiers:

Different things you see while driving will either add to or subtract from your total cow count.

Businesses:

Fast food: Some of your cows are hungry and stop to eat.  -15 cows.

Gas station: Your cows are more energized.  +10 cows.

Hotel: Your cows feel better after a good night’s sleep.  +10 cows.

Starbucks: Your cows are more energized.  And Mommy is in a better mood.  +2 cows.

Wal-Mart: Save money.  Live better.  +3 cows.

Optional rule:

As a practical expedient while travelling on the highway, players may elect to use logos on blue highway signs (i.e. “Lodging next exit” or “Food next exit” signs) instead of looking for businesses from the road.

Medical centers:

Secular medical center: +50% bonus cows.  Because science is awesome.

Religious medical center: +100% bonus cows.  Because science + God is even better.

Catholic medical center: +110% bonus cows.  THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU … to have more cows.

Churches:

Catholic church: +6 cows.

Any other church: +5 cows.

Note: Initially, passing a Protestant church required subtracting 2 cows for embarrassingly bad theology, but my 10-year-old protested, “Mommy, you’re not being very nice to people who believe differently than you.”  Point taken.

Other landmarks:

Water tower: Some of your cows drown.  -10 cows.

Community college or university annex: Yay for smart cows!  +30% bonus cows.

Trains: +1 cow for every train car with graffiti.

Optional and proposed rules:

Optional rule:

When passing a graveyard, instead of all of your cows dying, a number of cows equal to the number of gravestones in the graveyard die.  Useful for those small country graveyards with maybe 20 stones.

Proposed rule:

“Mommy, what about auto parts stores?” asked my 12-year-old.  I don’t know – it seems like we should do something with auto parts stores, but I’m not sure what.

Proposed rule:

When crossing the Mississippi River, all your cows fall into the river and drown.

“NOOOOOO!”

Okay, fine: when crossing state lines, your cows are confused by the new surroundings and get lost.  Lose 20% of your cows.

Proposed rule:

“Mommy, shouldn’t we get +10 cows for passing a barn because the cows are rested?”  You currently have almost 200 cows – clearly you are doing fine.  Why are you lobbying for more?  “I don’t know.  Just ‘cuz.”

The following rule is optional, but if adopted, it must be wholly adopted.  Partial adoption is disallowed.

When approaching a barn, barn-like structure, or a cluster of barns or barn-like structures, if cows are visible from the road, players may elect to either: 1) count all the cows they can see (consistent with the rest of the rules); or 2) use the 10-cows-per-structure practical expedient.  Before passing each newly-sighted barn, barn-like structure, or cluster of barns or barn-like structures, one option or the other must be verbally elected.

For each green highway sign (mile-markers and exit signs don’t count), one of your cows stops to read the sign.  Lose that cow.

(And this is how you know your mother is a CPA.)

(P.S. The above proposed rule was NOT adopted in my car.  I can’t imagine why.)


 

Obviously, you can do whatever you want with this.  If you’re an atheist parent, for example, you may want to flip around the bonuses for the medical centers, or subtract 5 cows for ANY type of church you pass.  Whatever makes it fun!

Helpful hints for life

Free of charge!  Provided by your friendly neighborhood blabbermouth blogger.

– Theoretically salvation is accessible to people who lack the intellectual capacity for logic.  After all, Christ did die for ALL men.(*)  So if you have faith and that’s all you have, fine – go on about being your bad self.  Just don’t break any civil laws and don’t hurt anyone and we’ll be cool.  That said, don’t pretend you have logic and history on your side, because you don’t.

– And don’t pretend you’re being attacked and persecuted when someone invites you to logic and you fail miserably.

– If you don’t know how to logic, methinks you ought to think twice before trumpeting about the superiority of your education.

– I know it’s scary when someone challenges the foundation of what you think and believe, but you really ought to be able to answer and explain how and why you believe what you do.  Even if that answer is, “Let me get back to you – I read up on all this once upon a time and it’s not fresh in my mind anymore.”

– Obviously you don’t owe me or anyone else anything, but if you issue a challenge like “prove me wrong” and then someone does just that, well then you have some work to do.  Work that involves something other than “Well I wasn’t talking to YOU anyway.”

(*) Despite what the new Eucharistic prayer says effective 11/27/11.  I refuse to believe that English-speaking Catholics all converted to Calvinism.


FAQ’s:

Q: Da fuq?  It almost seems as if you’re directing this at someone specific, but I see no names or links or anything – why is that?

A: Why yes, this was inspired by someone specific!  How very perceptive.  Unfortunately, as you may have picked up, this person fails at logic, so I can guarantee you all of the above will be completely lost on them.  And they do seem like a sweet kid, so I don’t really want to be mean and hit them in the face with it.  I’ll just vent here and leave it be.

Q: You COMPLETELY lost me when you started making obscure references to Catholic liturgical practices.  I don’t even know what to ask because that was confusing as hell.

A: My apologies – I forget sometimes that not everyone can read my mind.  The long and short of it is that back in November 2011 (if memory serves), the Catholic Church came out with a new English translation of the Mass.  I hated it then and I still hate it now; it has some real issues.  I’m actually working on a post that goes into more detail; if you happen to catch that one hopefully you will see what I mean.

Q: How can logic POSSIBLY lead someone to Catholicism?  Atheism is the one that has logic on lock-down; it’s a known fact.

A: Known fact, eh?  See my post “Sexism is ugly” for clarification on how I feel about “known facts.”

That aside, this is a great question, and it’s really too big to fully answer here.  Besides, other people have done a much better job than I could possibly hope to do.  Like this guy, or this guy or this guy (if you prefer your people to be alive), or many, many others I won’t link to.  Google “Catholic apologetics” if you really want to get lost.

Q: But religion is anti-science!  It’s a known fa … errr … established history.

A: The idea that the universe is a rational, orderly place that can be explored and discovered through logic and scientific experimentation actually came from the Catholic Church.  The idea is that if it is the nature of God to be infinite order, then those portions of His creation that do not have free will must also be orderly.  Such a framework not only allows for but encourages science as a way to better understand God’s creation.  For starters – the guy who proposed a helocentric model of the solar system was a devout Catholic, the father of modern genetics was a friar, and the guy who proposed the Big Bang Theory (the science, not the TV show) was a Jesuit priest.

Q: We’re getting off track.

A: Agreed.  Here’s where I was going with this –

At any given point, keep in mind the following –

– What do I know?

– How do I know it?

– What is the most likely explanation?

– What merit is there (if any) to dissenting thoughts?

That last question is by far the trickiest.  There has always been an issue with false / misleading information and the internet has done a great job at giving EVERYTHING a wider audience, both the good and bad.  But the good news is that, like I said, the good stuff has a greater audience, too!

Here’s my suggestion: do your best to have a good command of what you believe and generally why you believe what you do.  I’m talking the very VERY foundational things.  Do you believe in God?  Why?  Do you subscribe to a particular religion?  Why? Where does authority for doctrine and discipline come from?  How do you know?

If you have a grasp of WHY you believe these foundational ideas, you are better able to engage or fact-check yourself and others when someone challenges you.  Who knows – you might learn something.  Maybe you were wrong about some things.  At the very least you will stretch your brain and learn how to logic better, which is a very important life skill.

Dear Prudence – January 20, 2015

I don’t know how many of you follow Dear Prudence at Slate, but the chat on Monday (here and here) had a few things I want to comment on:

1

Okay, within all the extraneous commentary is buried a little sentence that gets us halfway to the answer: “You don’t even say if your daughter-in-law wants you buzzing around when she gives birth.”

Well, maybe you should ask her.  Your son’s wedding is important, yes, but it will go on and be wonderful with or without you.  Yes, your grandchild will be around a lot longer than the day of his birth (God willing, of course), but labor and delivery is excruciatingly difficult for any woman – is she counting on your support?  If yes, then you are making the right decision to be there for her.

On to the next one –

2

Any or all of a few different things are accomplished by complaining about a spouse:

1) Validation in feeling irritated

2) Venting so when you do approach your spouse later you aren’t angry

3) Enjoying the intimacy of marriage, including the fact that you see all the wrinkles of another person

I think Prudie’s advice is good – give the other women the validation they seem to be seeking.  And don’t think too much of it beyond that – complaining about a spouse isn’t ALWAYS the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad habit some people think it is.

Last one –

3 4 5

This one is a pretty heavy one.  I don’t know what it’s like to raise a special needs child, so to the original letter-writer I say: you and ONLY you know how much you can handle.  You may be wrong about how much you can handle, so I would emphasize what the second poster said about making sure you have resources lined up to help you.

However, I do know what it’s like to have a special needs sibling.  I have a brother with severe autism who is two years younger than me.  I remember being young, playing with my brother, thinking that it’s fine that he can’t talk to me yet because he’s still a baby.  That’s okay, though – I just have to be patient.  He’ll grow and learn to talk and before I know it he’ll be able to play with me.  I waited a long time.  It never happened.

At 30 years old, he can say any of several memorized phrases to express himself, but he doesn’t string words together on his own.  This progress didn’t come easily – my parents’ entire lives were spent trying everything to encourage his development.  Everything was about what he needed and what would help him.  It really did feel like my needs were a distant afterthought, if they were even a priority.

But here’s the thing – I am a functioning adult.  I am not a slave to a developmental disability like my brother is.  At some point I have to say to myself, “Sure, I do feel like I got shafted out of getting some actual attention from my parents, but so what?  They are only human; they can only do so much.  It’s not ideal, but I do have the ability to make up for lost time; essentially, to raise myself as an adult.”  That’s the approach I’ve taken and the approach I would recommend to fellow adult siblings of special needs children.

I hope this letter-writer and her husband are able to decide what is best for their family.


Agree?  Tell me in the comments.  Disagree?  Go eat a rock.  Kidding!  Tell me that in the comments, too – nicely.

An open letter to Kelsey

Dear Kelsey,

I glanced through your list of goals for your children and read your later post bowing out of the parenting advice arena. There’s no need to do that if you don’t want to!  Everyone’s experience is different and what works for you may not work for others … but then again it might!

I see since then you have rethought quitting parenting advice.  Good for you!

Since you got some discouraging comments on what was overall a good list,  I thought I would throw you some support.  In particular, the  I think it’s obvious you don’t have older kids. Do you really think you’re qualified to be handing out parenting advice?” comment REALLY irked me.  So, as a mom of older kids, I thought I would chime in.

Anyway, my kids are 10 (almost 11), 8, and 11 months. I like how aggressive your plan is regarding teaching them chores and other skills.  After all, the goal of parenting is to prepare kids to be functional adults, so the sooner they learn these skills, the better. My older two have been expected to sweep, take out garbage, do their own laundry, clean their own bathroom, load the dishwasher, hand-wash dishes, babysit their baby brother when needed (including diaper changes, feeding and bottle cleaning and prep), AND do their homework for at least a year now (in the case of the older one, a few years now).

We talk about money openly and honestly with both the older ones, including how much I make (wow, that’s a lot!), how much we pay every month for the house and other bills (wow, that’s a lot!), and how much we pay in taxes. We showed them the tax refund check last year (wow, that’s a lot! can we go shopping?) and explained to them that we needed the money for me to take time off work for when their baby brother is born (oh, that makes sense).

We had a puberty / sex talk with my older one less than a year ago, so she had some exposure to these topics at home before they started talking about puberty in school (definitely wise, in my book – take control of that narrative as early as possible and share YOUR values. Don’t do the “sex is bad, mmmkay?” that my parents did and then wonder why your kids don’t take you seriously).

Both the older ones can make sandwiches themselves and pour their own milk / juice beginning at around 7 or 8 (although cleaning up after themselves is still a bit spotty), and the older one helps chop vegetables with a large knife (while supervised of course) and is basically my husband’s little sous chef in the kitchen. She can make her own eggs in the morning (but she doesn’t usually because she tends to leave a mess).

And that’s just off the top of my head.  I look at my kids and I am so proud of who they are today and who they will grow up to be.  I’m sure you will be the same when your kids are 10 and 8.

I like your set of goals for the teen years especially.  My kids aren’t there yet, but I remember being a teen not so long ago.  I wish my parents had been more like the parent you want to be.  Again, the primary goal of parenthood is PREPARING kids to be adults instead of PROTECTING them until their 18th birthday, and I think that you really understand this.  It shows in your list.

So to sum up, your goals for your kids are absolutely doable.  Screw the haters.  You’re doing a great job.

Love,

Athena

Questionable financial advice: on credit scores

I swear that this is not going to primarily be a personal finance blog.  I just happened upon something else in that arena that I wanted to share comment on so I can hopefully correct bad information.

Of course it’s Mr. Ramsey again:

Dear Dave,

I’m 20 years old, and I’m trying to get out of debt. However, I’m concerned about what might happen when I’m older and don’t have a credit score. My girlfriend says I won’t be able to get a job or rent an apartment without a good one. Is this true?

Ian

Dear Ian,

No, it’s not true. I’m sure your girlfriend is a sweet person, but she has no clue what she’s talking about in this situation.

In either case you can simply explain that reason you don’t have a credit score is because you have no debt. Since you don’t have any debt, you have something known as money. That makes you very stable, and it makes you a fantastic candidate as an employee or tenant.

Listen to me, Ian. I’m a landlord, and if I had my choice between a tenant with no debt and no credit score and someone with a high credit score but lots of debt, I’d take the one who has no debt in a heartbeat. Why? Because that’s the one who is most likely to pay.

Besides, you already have a good credit history if you’ve paid your bills on time. Show them proof of that, if necessary. But taking on a pile of debt to have a high credit score or increase your current score is just plain stupid!

—Dave

See also his blog post here, in which he advises that a credit score isn’t important if you’re out of debt.

Here’s why that’s bad advice:

First of all, I mentioned here that all debt is less than optimal.  I’m working on getting out of debt myself.  But more and more, certain types of businesses check your credit score either as a precondition to doing business with you or as a way to help set your rates.  For example, insurance companies (auto insurance is still mandatory, no?), property management companies (from whom you can rent a place to live), even employers are checking credit as a way to evaluate both how trustworthy you are and how susceptible you might be to bribery from less-than-savory characters.  Back in the day, one of the conditions for maintaining my TS-SCI clearance was a certain level of financial responsibility, commonly expressed in a credit score.   Most places don’t know any other way to evaluate, and are not open to any other way to evaluate a person’s financial responsibility other than a credit score.

That means there’s no “explaining” that you have no debt or alternatives such as showing proof that you pay your bills.  If a company’s policy requires a certain credit score to do business with you, then that’s what they’re going to need and there’s not much they can do about it.  Although Dave might prefer a tenant with no credit score, unless you can rent from Dave, you will probably need a credit score.

Also, simply because you are out of debt doesn’t mean that you have the money lying around to, say, buy a house or replace your clunker of a car.  Guess what you need for those things – financing!  Guess what you need to secure financing – a good credit score!

Finally, creating and maintaining a good credit score doesn’t have to mean taking on “a pile of debt.”  Since I have a decent credit score and excellent cash flow management skills, I may share what has worked for me and what I have seen in another post.

Bottom line – pay attention to your credit score!  It is increasingly the key to being able to move through life financially.

Questionable financial advice: on homebuying

Let me just start off by saying that Dave’s not a bad guy.  He means well and his advice is usually pretty good.  Certainly much better than no advice if you really need to figure out which way is up.

But I do have a couple bones to pick with his “5 Must-Do’s Before You Buy a Home” –

1. Kick debt to the curb and pile up cash.

Sure – this is optimal.  Not going to argue that.  But I completely disagree with the idea that you should hold off building your own wealth (i.e. equity in a home) and continue throwing money at someone else’s income statement until you have competed this step.  Especially considering that it is increasing impossible to begin life without debt of some sort – student loans, auto loans, even a credit card balance to pay moving expenses while you get set up.  If you follow this advice you will not begin to build wealth until very, very late in life.

“Most people don’t wait to have this foundation in place when they buy, which leads to tough times when they face unexpected expenses or job loss.”

Sure – but you can either have those tough times as a renter or as a homeowner with an actual asset to your name.  So this particular point makes no difference either way.

2. Set yourself up to win with a nice down payment.

Again – sure, this is optimal.  Not going to argue that.  But again with #1, you are facing a HUGE opportunity cost if you spend your life getting to this point (and paying thousands and thousands of dollars in rent that could be working toward equity in your own home) before you consider buying a home.

3. Keep your budget conservative.

Now this one I am 142% behind. (Can I even be 142% behind something?  Sure I can!  It’s my blog; I can do whatever I want.)

This is ESSENTIAL.  Figure out how much money you can comfortably commit each month, then use a mortgage calculator using conservative estimates of your interest rate (at least 2% over what you expect to get), insurance, property taxes, PMI, and flood insurance (if you think you need it).

And don’t forget, your new home comes with extra costs like yard maintenance, roof replacement or repair and upkeep for your heating and cooling system.”

Yup.  Don’t forget those things, too.

4. Don’t let emotions rule.

142% agreed here, too.  This goes along with #3 above – figure out your (conservative) budget, aim for lower, but don’t go one penny above what your limit is.  You will be grateful for your self-discipline when those unexpected expenses come up.

5. This is no time to go on autopilot.

This.  Exactly.  When we bought our house, getting the offer accepted was the easy part.  Make sure you know exactly what you need to do, WHEN it needs to be done, and then get it done early.

Other thoughts – 

“All debt is bad debt.”

No.  All debt is less than optimal.  There’s a difference.  All things being equal, you shouldn’t go into debt.  But all things are not equal – sometimes (err … often), the cost of NOT going into debt is far too high.  Examples abound – college (assuming you treat college as an investment and chose a major with good job prospects), cars (you need something safe to transport your family), medical bills (because home births aren’t always the best idea), moving expenses (to get to the job you got hired for after college) … I could go on.

The name of the game is cash flow management.  Figure out what you need, don’t pay more for it than you have to, add up your income, add up your monthly commitments (i.e. payments for things), and use the rest of your money for groceries, gas, and paying down the debt you have.  Being debt-free is a great way to live, and I hope to get there someday, but it’s just not possible to start out that way.

When is it a good time for me to buy a home?

When you can afford it (see #3 above), and when you know you are going to stay in the same place for several years.  There are significant transaction costs to buying and selling a home, so this isn’t something you want to be doing very often.

Take notes from friends and family that have bought houses so you figure out what your must-haves are.  A home is a BIG purchase, so you need to know what things will make it worth it for you to commit to a house.  Do you need a park nearby?  Do you need a particular school district?  Do you need a Starbucks around the corner? (Not that I know ANYONE like that ….) Do you want to be within 3 miles of an emergency room?  Once you find a house that meets all your must-haves that you can afford (see step #3 again – I can’t emphasize how important this is), then GO!

Have fun – enjoy the ride!

“Entitled” to babysitting?

I ran across this post, and I was really taken aback by all the snark.  Why was I surprised?  It is the internet after all.  I guess I just expect more of people.  It’s a character flaw.

Here’s my response:

To me, the mission-critical elements are –

“[Mark] and his wife, “Sue”, are always offering to watch our children so we can go on a date because we never get the chance. Then when we actually need help, they never follow through.”

And –

“Mark & Sue have also implied they would want us to babysit when their children are born …”

This. Right here.

Yes, yes, no one is entitled to have anyone else babysit for them, but “good friends” don’t make idle offers. If they do, they’re not good friends. You and your fiance are perfectly justified in being frustrated with them.

That said, I’m going to assume that Mark and Sue, since they don’t have children yet, don’t really appreciate how helpful it is to be able to get out of the house once in a while. So I would table this discussion until their own child is born and then THEY want to get out for an evening. I see a couple possible outcomes –

1) You all develop a rhythm where you fairly and equitably trade babysitting services; or
2) You babysit for them (once, maybe twice) without reciprocation. After that, I would be “busy” anytime they ask until they reciprocate.

As far as the bachelor party specifically …. as long as not too much planning has been done, I’m actually on your fiance’s side here. If I’m reading your submission correctly, and your fiance says he would rather have a night out with you than a bachelor party, he should stick to his guns. There’s no law that says he HAS to have a bachelor party, and if Mark is willing to go to the effort to do something for your fiance like plan a bachelor party, he should be willing to go to the effort to babysit, especially since he had offered to babysit, multiple times, LONG before he even thought about planning the bachelor party.

Also, regarding the weirdness about guys babysitting … that just seems a little over-the-top.  But then again, maybe I’m biased because my husband is a stay-at-home dad, so he’s alone with the kids every day.  Plus, plenty of women are lethally abusive to children, so it would seem to me that having gender-specific hangups about who watches your children is a little old-fashioned.