We dread them, we hate them, we get thrown off our game when they happen.…
Does the thought of the in-laws coming to visit your young family bring a smile of joy to your face or… does it strike fear in your heart?
Perhaps you’re full of joyful anticipation about visiting your kid’s family and the youngsters or… you’re dreading the impending uncomfortable interactions?
Whether you’re having company come to stay with your family or you’re away from your home visiting the grandkids, both experiences can be wonderful and/or very stressful.
In this blogpost, I’d like to give you some perspective on intergenerational family “vacation” visits. (The quotes are around vacation because I’ve witnessed how sometimes a family visit is anything but a vacation.)
Over the years in my retail store, I’ve seen it all…
A mom was rushing around in the store trying to quickly buy some toys for her two kids – a baby and a 2 ½ year old. I asked her if she needed help…
“Quick,” she blurted out in a panic stricken voice. “I need a couple of toys for my kids. My in-laws are coming and they want me to pick up a few toys for the kids. They never know what to get them. Well actually… I never like what they get them… so they wanted me to choose the presents and they would pay for them… which is fine… except my house is a mess and I don’t want them to see it like that. They think I’m too “permissive and unscheduled” already. I’m a nervous wreck”
And for another perspective:
An older woman (whom I hadn’t seen in the store before) was taking a very long time going through the store picking up items, putting them back, picking up more items, putting them back and on and on. I checked in with her a few times and she said she was fine just looking around.
But her facial expression was pretty tense. She certainly didn’t look very fine.
As time went on she looked more stressed, and I cautiously went up to her and asked “You sure I can’t give you some suggestions?”
Then it all came pouring out…
She was going to visit her son and daughter in law. She wanted to bring gifts for the kids, but no matter what she brought them or sent them for birthdays or holidays, it was never well received by her daughter in law. “She’s just so picky. I can never do it right,” she bemoaned.
And when she went to visit she always felt judged for what she said to the kids, and when she offered to help with meals, she was turned down.
The visits were just tense and stressful. It always broke her heart. She loves her grandkids, and she feels she gets along well with them, but she doesn’t feel she “makes the grade” with her son and daughter in law.
So here you have it.
Relationships which should be fun and loving are filled with tension and disconnection. Each person is carrying a lot of anxiety about getting together. This does not bode well for a good visit.
And it is not uncommon.
When grandparents come to visit, they are parents to one of you, and, if you have a partner, in- laws to the other.
- If it’s your parents, being with them can trigger some very old, uncomfortable feelings and you’ll find yourself, much to your dismay, acting like a teenager again.
- If it’s your in-laws, you may find yourself very self conscious about the neatness of your house, your children’s behaviour, your fussy baby, etc.
- You may feel inadequate and judged every time your baby cries, or your toddler has a melt down, or your kids make a mess.
If you are the visiting grandparents, you are the parent to one of the couple, and in-laws to the other.
- When you are interacting with your child, you may unconsciously still see them as a child or teenager and interact with them in ways that don’t match who they have grown to become. This can trigger old feelings for you, especially if you trigger stuff in them.
- When you are interacting with your son or daughter in law you may unconsciously be judging and evaluating them and still assessing whether they are right for your child or not.
- You may not like the way your grandkids are being parented or the way the household is being run.
Again, this does not bode well for the visit. And you can rest assured that the children will pick up on the tension and probably act out in response.
So what if you have a visit on the horizon? What can you do to have the visit go more smoothly?
Whether you’re the visiting grandparent or the one being visited, here’s some things to think about:
- All people want to be valued and accepted for who they are.
- All people want to feel that they are “good enough”.
- No one wants to be judged and criticized.
- No one wants to feel rejected.
- Most people want to have good relationships with their family members.
- Most parents and grandparents love their kids and grandkids.
- No one can change anyone but themselves.
- No matter how much you want the other person to be different, parent differently, grandparent differently, you can’t make that happen.
- All you can do is change how YOU interact and respond to them and ask respectfully if they would like to hear your perspective on parenting, housekeeping, politics, or whatever.
- Unless your children or grandchildren are being harmed, accept the fact that children are adaptable and can be loved in many different ways.
And some other things to think about
- No one is, or ever was, a perfect parent. Babies cry, toddlers have “meltdowns”, preschoolers can be very stubborn and contrary. This is normal developmental behaviour. Don’t sit in judgement around it.
- Most parents love and know their children more than anyone.
- Everyone does the best they can as a parent.
- Parenting is very very very hard work.
- The neatness of your house does not reflect the happiness in your house, nor is it a measure of how good a parent or person you are.
- If you are the visitors, offer to help, and ask very specifically, how to help.
- If its your house, ask for very specific help and give clear directions about how you like things done. Sometimes grandparents don’t offer to help because they don’t know what you want and are afraid to do anything in case they do it “wrong”.
- If its your house, enjoy the fact that you have people who want to visit and who love your children.
- If you’re the visitors, enjoy the fact that you are welcome and have the opportunity to be with your grandkids.
- When someone is “getting to you”, take a few deep breaths, exit the room if you must. Try to avoid getting into conflicts in front of the kids.
Families are both wonderful and challenging. I hope these ideas will help you build positive and loving relationships and you can all enjoy your times together.
Have you got a family visit tip to share? Please post your idea in the comments below.
Regardless of how stressful your family visit may be, it is possible to create a wonderful experience for all of those involved. It takes a bit of work to establish a healthy family relationship but it’s always worth it.
And in the meantime while you’re working it out… remember – all visits come to an end!