Demanding relatives, wimpy parents

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  July 14, 2011 06:00 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Hi Barbara,
My husband and I are the parents of two school aged children with a baby on the way. My husband and I both work full time. My parents (and the majority of my extended family) live about 1 1/2 hrs away from us and at times can be very helpful. However, we are expected to pack the kids up every weekend and visit them, often for both days of the weekend. If we fail to visit on a given weekend, we are inundated with calls and questions about why we cannot visit. Often when we do visit we will plan to head back home on a Sunday afternoon to get ready for the week ahead, but then a family member will find a reason to get us to stay later, for example one of them will ask our children if they would like to go to another relatives house to swim, play etc...

We have tried setting clear boundaries such as only visiting every other weekend, only staying a few hours, etc... We have tried to explain that since we both work full time, weekends are our only opportunity to do chores, spend time together with our own family and visit friends. When we do this we are met with feelings of hurt and anger and are told we are depriving our children of their time with their extended family and that we don't care about our family. As a side note I will mention that most of my relatives are retired or work part time and NEVER visit us in our town.

This has become a very frustrating problem which I fear will only become worse after our new baby arrives. I would like to avoid hurt feelings and fighting about this issue on a weekly basis. Any suggestions?

From: Exhausted, Cambridge, MA


Dear Exhausted,

Usually I tell parents that they need to learn to tolerate their children's unhappiness when they set a limit. In your case, you need to learn to tolerate the unhappiness of your relatives.

Since you've already tried setting boundaries and explaining why you want to leave early (which, by the way, is perfectly reasonable), the answer lies with the two of you. Think of your family as toddlers and then set limits accordingly: "We're going to leave at 4 pm today." Then when a relative offers to take a child to swim at 3:45, you need to say, "No thanks. Remember? We're leaving at 4 pm." And then develop thicker skin so that their comments don't bother you as much and you don't wimp out. Once you follow through, hopefully they see you are serious and be more respectful.

Use the up-coming birth as your deadline (explanation) for setting a new schedule. Let them know that you will visit once or twice a month, whichever suits you best. Ask them to choose which dates are best for them. Invite them to come to you on one of the alternative dates. Your relatives have forgotten what it's like to have a young family; they also sound selfishly impervious to your needs. You're not telling them you don't love them or don't want to see them. You're just saying that you need space to make your lives and schedules work. Let them know, in a nice way that the baby is the tipping point. Because, really? It is.

Readers, do you agree?

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with
some aspect of child-rearing, href="http://www.boston.com/community/moms/barbara_meltz_mailbag/">j
ust write to me here
.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

9 comments so far...
  1. It’s a different world today than when your elderly family members raised their kids. There seems to be much less time and the weekends are so precious and fly by too quickly. I have a family that does the same thing; gives us grief if we don’t devote every minute of our “free” time to driving all over the state visiting them – yet they have NEVER set foot in my house (and most are retired). I finally got to the point where I told them “this is what I am capable of doing, if that doesn’t live up to your expectations, than you either need to change your expectations or find some other way to cope with it.” They still haven’t come to my house, but they have backed off of trying to make me feel guilty for not visiting more than once a month.

    Another note – kids need to spend time in their own home, in their own rooms with their own stuff as well. They get shuttled around between work and weekday afternoons, they don’t need to be shuttled around every weekend as well.
    Leila

    Posted by Anonymous July 14, 11 09:29 AM
  1. It is beyond ludicrous for them to expect you to visit every weekend. It is your family and you need time as a family alone. If you have tried explaining this to them and they truly do not get it than so be it. If they want to whine and cry like toddlers about it that is their problem. And I disagree with Barbara about setting a schedule to see them. They have all the time in the world, see them when it is good for you. You need to get a backbone and just do it and deal with their petty griping. Why they cannot visit you tells me that they enjoy taking advantage of you.

    Posted by Dad July 14, 11 09:30 AM
  1. Along with what Barbara and others have said about setting limits, you'll need to be proactive if you want them to visit you. Send out an invite for a specific date, inviting them to your house for a cookout, etc. If they say no, just say, "I'm sorry you won't be able to join us!" and leave it at that. It's a lot of work to host, but you probably would only need to do it once a month or so. Good luck!

    Posted by oona July 14, 11 11:38 AM
  1. I went through a similar experience and finally flat out told my husband (as they were his relatives for the most part, although mine were certainly not blameless either) that I was done. My house is not located in outer Mongolia. It's relatively close to the families and it's centrally located to all sorts of entertainment (restaurants, malls, movie theatres, etc). We gently started turning down invites, saying things like, "I'd love to visit, but we have X, Y, and Z to do this weekend. Perhaps you'd like to come by." If they got flat out rude about our not visiting, we just told them it wasn't convenient for us this weekend, but if they still wanted to see the baby, they were more than welcome to come by for dinner or visit us the following weekend.

    I stopped feeling guilty about it right as I realized that my kid was sleeping better, eating more closely to his own schedule, and since I was less stressed, he was more mellow too. Weekends were less like a free for all in terms of naps and meal times and more like the structure he was used to during the week. It was better for him in the long run and that's why we did it.

    That's not to say we NEVER visit any more; it's just more on our terms than someone else's. Plus, it makes the visits more special, something you can ramp your kid up for rather than just about chore you have to do.

    It's so not worth the stress, especially since you're expecting again and you need LESS stress now, not more.

    Posted by T's Mummy July 14, 11 11:47 AM
  1. As your kids get older, the allure of visiting Grandma and Grandpa every weekend will definitely wear off so it's best you do the cutting now. I agree with the first commenter-your kids have games and toys and friends in their own house/town. Why shouldn't they be allowed the luxury of playing with them in their free time? A schedule seems silly to me, too (unless it's to ease the weaning process). I have two families to deal with and the only "scheduling" we do is to call up maybe a day before to ask if a visit sounds good.

    Posted by Linney July 14, 11 12:39 PM
  1. Exhausted,

    An important point to realize is your relatives haven't done anything wrong, even when they purposefully try to convince you to stay longer than you had stated you were able to.

    You say that you "have tried to explain" your limitations, but the truth is, you have FAILED to explain them. Communication cannot be judged by what is said, but by what is HEARD. If your intended audience listened to your words, but not actually heard them, then it is time to better explain yourself.

    Imagine what your relatives are thinking when you tell them that you have to leave at 4, "Oh, she always says that, then stays later as long as I have some small excuse to keep her." This situation is entirely of your making and can be easily remedied by your actions.

    Stick to what you say. If you want them to come to you, be persistent and tell them to do so. You will be shocked by how easy this will be to fix and how smoothly the transition will be. My guess is that any residual friction that you perceive will be in your head and that your relatives will soon forget about any confrontation.

    Good luck.

    Posted by Ben Z. July 14, 11 01:07 PM
  1. My guess is that there will be major friction. No matter how wimpy the parents have been, they're dealing with guilt tripping whiners and there is always friction from those people when things don't go their way. Yes, you can hang up the phone, but refusing to listen to the friction doesn't mean it's "all in your head."

    Posted by di July 14, 11 09:59 PM
  1. Thanks for the advice... We have definitely been too wimpy with the family. The time has come now to make a break for it though. I will say, the friction is definitely not in my head. If we don't visit two weekends in a row they have been known to have my 85 year old grandmother call and beg to see the kids 'because she can feel that she doesn't have much time left.' Then if we say we have other plans, some other relative (usually my Mom) will call and ask how I can do such a thing to an elderly woman who just loves her family. And then despite myself, I do start feeling guilty, cave in, and then I get mad at myself for letting them manipulate me again. Ahhh, families.

    Posted by Exhausted July 15, 11 02:16 PM
  1. What about "Just Say No." You and your husband are adults, and the parents of your kids. I'm not sure why this is even a question. Do what is best for YOU and YOUR FAMILY (meaning your children, not the rest of the people that are acting like children). You don't have to explain yourselves to anyone. "Thank you for the invitation, but we're going to stick close to home this weekend." End of story. These people are manipulating you and you are letting them. It is time to take control of your life back. It won't be easy, and you're going to feel guilty and they are going to lay it on thick, but stand your ground. You, hubby and kids will be happier for it and the rest of them will just have to get used to it.

    Posted by M July 18, 11 12:13 PM
 
9 comments so far...
  1. It’s a different world today than when your elderly family members raised their kids. There seems to be much less time and the weekends are so precious and fly by too quickly. I have a family that does the same thing; gives us grief if we don’t devote every minute of our “free” time to driving all over the state visiting them – yet they have NEVER set foot in my house (and most are retired). I finally got to the point where I told them “this is what I am capable of doing, if that doesn’t live up to your expectations, than you either need to change your expectations or find some other way to cope with it.” They still haven’t come to my house, but they have backed off of trying to make me feel guilty for not visiting more than once a month.

    Another note – kids need to spend time in their own home, in their own rooms with their own stuff as well. They get shuttled around between work and weekday afternoons, they don’t need to be shuttled around every weekend as well.
    Leila

    Posted by Anonymous July 14, 11 09:29 AM
  1. It is beyond ludicrous for them to expect you to visit every weekend. It is your family and you need time as a family alone. If you have tried explaining this to them and they truly do not get it than so be it. If they want to whine and cry like toddlers about it that is their problem. And I disagree with Barbara about setting a schedule to see them. They have all the time in the world, see them when it is good for you. You need to get a backbone and just do it and deal with their petty griping. Why they cannot visit you tells me that they enjoy taking advantage of you.

    Posted by Dad July 14, 11 09:30 AM
  1. Along with what Barbara and others have said about setting limits, you'll need to be proactive if you want them to visit you. Send out an invite for a specific date, inviting them to your house for a cookout, etc. If they say no, just say, "I'm sorry you won't be able to join us!" and leave it at that. It's a lot of work to host, but you probably would only need to do it once a month or so. Good luck!

    Posted by oona July 14, 11 11:38 AM
  1. I went through a similar experience and finally flat out told my husband (as they were his relatives for the most part, although mine were certainly not blameless either) that I was done. My house is not located in outer Mongolia. It's relatively close to the families and it's centrally located to all sorts of entertainment (restaurants, malls, movie theatres, etc). We gently started turning down invites, saying things like, "I'd love to visit, but we have X, Y, and Z to do this weekend. Perhaps you'd like to come by." If they got flat out rude about our not visiting, we just told them it wasn't convenient for us this weekend, but if they still wanted to see the baby, they were more than welcome to come by for dinner or visit us the following weekend.

    I stopped feeling guilty about it right as I realized that my kid was sleeping better, eating more closely to his own schedule, and since I was less stressed, he was more mellow too. Weekends were less like a free for all in terms of naps and meal times and more like the structure he was used to during the week. It was better for him in the long run and that's why we did it.

    That's not to say we NEVER visit any more; it's just more on our terms than someone else's. Plus, it makes the visits more special, something you can ramp your kid up for rather than just about chore you have to do.

    It's so not worth the stress, especially since you're expecting again and you need LESS stress now, not more.

    Posted by T's Mummy July 14, 11 11:47 AM
  1. As your kids get older, the allure of visiting Grandma and Grandpa every weekend will definitely wear off so it's best you do the cutting now. I agree with the first commenter-your kids have games and toys and friends in their own house/town. Why shouldn't they be allowed the luxury of playing with them in their free time? A schedule seems silly to me, too (unless it's to ease the weaning process). I have two families to deal with and the only "scheduling" we do is to call up maybe a day before to ask if a visit sounds good.

    Posted by Linney July 14, 11 12:39 PM
  1. Exhausted,

    An important point to realize is your relatives haven't done anything wrong, even when they purposefully try to convince you to stay longer than you had stated you were able to.

    You say that you "have tried to explain" your limitations, but the truth is, you have FAILED to explain them. Communication cannot be judged by what is said, but by what is HEARD. If your intended audience listened to your words, but not actually heard them, then it is time to better explain yourself.

    Imagine what your relatives are thinking when you tell them that you have to leave at 4, "Oh, she always says that, then stays later as long as I have some small excuse to keep her." This situation is entirely of your making and can be easily remedied by your actions.

    Stick to what you say. If you want them to come to you, be persistent and tell them to do so. You will be shocked by how easy this will be to fix and how smoothly the transition will be. My guess is that any residual friction that you perceive will be in your head and that your relatives will soon forget about any confrontation.

    Good luck.

    Posted by Ben Z. July 14, 11 01:07 PM
  1. My guess is that there will be major friction. No matter how wimpy the parents have been, they're dealing with guilt tripping whiners and there is always friction from those people when things don't go their way. Yes, you can hang up the phone, but refusing to listen to the friction doesn't mean it's "all in your head."

    Posted by di July 14, 11 09:59 PM
  1. Thanks for the advice... We have definitely been too wimpy with the family. The time has come now to make a break for it though. I will say, the friction is definitely not in my head. If we don't visit two weekends in a row they have been known to have my 85 year old grandmother call and beg to see the kids 'because she can feel that she doesn't have much time left.' Then if we say we have other plans, some other relative (usually my Mom) will call and ask how I can do such a thing to an elderly woman who just loves her family. And then despite myself, I do start feeling guilty, cave in, and then I get mad at myself for letting them manipulate me again. Ahhh, families.

    Posted by Exhausted July 15, 11 02:16 PM
  1. What about "Just Say No." You and your husband are adults, and the parents of your kids. I'm not sure why this is even a question. Do what is best for YOU and YOUR FAMILY (meaning your children, not the rest of the people that are acting like children). You don't have to explain yourselves to anyone. "Thank you for the invitation, but we're going to stick close to home this weekend." End of story. These people are manipulating you and you are letting them. It is time to take control of your life back. It won't be easy, and you're going to feel guilty and they are going to lay it on thick, but stand your ground. You, hubby and kids will be happier for it and the rest of them will just have to get used to it.

    Posted by M July 18, 11 12:13 PM
add your comment
Required
Required (will not be published)

This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.

About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

Submit a question for Barbara's Mailbag


Ask Barbara a question

Barbara answers questions on a wide range of topics, including autism, breastfeeding, bullying, discipline, divorce, kindergarten, potty training, sleep, tantrums, and much, much more.

Send your questions to her at:
meltzbarbara (at) gmail.com.
Please include your name and hometown.

Child in Mind

Moms
All parenting discussions
Discussions

High needs/fussy baby

memes98 writes "My 10.5 month old DS has been fussy ever since he was born, but I am getting very frustrated because I thought he would be much better by now...has anyone else been through this?"

More community voices

Child in Mind

Corner Kicks

Dirty Old Boston

Mortal Matters

On Deck

TEDx Beacon Street

RSS feed


click here to subscribe to
Child Caring

archives