Let’s be honest, some grandparents are more work than help. When my parents or in-laws visit for the weekend, they do not help. Most of the time, my in-laws sit on the couch watching television as I scramble to keep things in order. On top of the chaos of having to care for children, having unhelpful guests in the house often means the majority of extra tasks will fall on my spouse and me. Unfortunately this is often the case, and I find myself stressed out and counting down the hours until they’ll be leaving.
When parents and in-laws visit but don’t help
I grew up in a suburban town where my parents lived directly across the street from my grandparents. Too often, on our way home from school, my brother and I would stop at my grandmother’s house for dinner, homework help or to read. Unfortunately the relationship between my little ones and their grandparents is very different, as the four hour distance between us doesn’t allow for that special, everyday bond I was able to have as a kid. The memories from my childhood of spending so much time with my grandparents make me a bit sad for my young kids, as both will miss so many special moments I shared with my grandparents. I remember gardening, swimming, cooking, doing homework, and hearing stories about their upbringing in Texas or how their parents emigrated to the US.
When parents live far away
Today, my parents live 3+ hours away. My husband’s family lives 5+ hours away. Albeit my grandparents were younger and more active, today both of our families face a similar challenge of distance, declining health, lowered mobility and aging parents. The relationship my partner and I have had with our parents has shifted to arranging medical care, assistance with financial planning, and so on. On top of that, since our parents have been toddler-free for so long, they forget the importance of a regular routine, anticipating snacks, and all the tasks that fit into loaded activities planned for that day.
I find myself constantly struggling with the concept that not only does distance separate my children from their grandparents, but also their health, mobility and ability to step into the family day-to-day and assist with chores. In addition, let’s be honest, some grandparents are more work than help. When my in-laws come, they don’t drive, grocery shop, plan meals, cook, independently babysit for a date night and so on.
I get frustrated when I hear from friends about helpful grandparents that offer to watch their kids for an occasional date night. The feeling can be so isolating. Not only do I struggle to encourage the grandparents to make memories with my children; they offer little help.
My 5 tips to prepare for a visit from parents or in-laws:
Tip #1: Emotionally Prepare
Designate a time and length for your in-laws/parents to visit that is mutually agreeable, not too long, and just right. Consider the amount of time they have to travel to get there, but know your limits and don’t feel pressured to have them stay too long. For us that means a long weekend, typically four days. Opt for grandparents to either stay in a dedicated space in your house, or even better, a neutral place like a rental or hotel if it’s financially feasible.
Tip #2: Lower Your Expectations
As a daughter-in-law I find it very difficult to “task” my in-laws when they seem so unwilling. Asking them to fold some laundry, make their bed, prep dinner for the grill, or empty the dishwasher always feels like an awkward conversation. Lately I’ve found that I prefer to just put in the work, understanding that they will not contribute. Their visits often leave me feeling frustrated, tired, and overworked. However, setting this expectation low prior to their arrival leaves me feeling less upset overall.
Tip #3: If Grandparents are able, invite them to take on chores
Carry on with your children’s routine… meals, bathtime, playtime, naptime, bedtime and so on. Find ways for your in-laws and parents to engage and support this routine. For us, that typically meant watching our kids play on the floor or asking them to set the table, load the dishwasher, or clean up the table after eating.
Tip #4: Focus on making memories: “Assign” an outdoor activity with your kids
Ask the grandparents to take the children outside for a walk or to sit outside while the children play. I find that both sets of grandparents like to be outside, take a walk, or watch the children explore. They get a chance to talk one-on-one with them in that environment. Again, everything is in short time spans – my expectations are about 15 minutes for each activity. Reading together is another idea. Watching a movie is always great (much longer than 15 minutes!). I also make sure to have a planned activity for older kids that could be helping with a lemonade stand (pre-planned signs, setup and lemonade). Older kids may also be interested in hearing about what life was like for them at their age, what activities they did, what school was like, who they played with and so on.
Tip #5 Navigate Challenging Conversations With Your Spouse
For our family at least, we only have one grandparent that is able-bodied to watch the kids for a date night. All of the rest are physically unable. We know this. When challenges come up, find time to “vent” but also remember they are your spouse’s parents. Vent gently and gracefully.
Take courage and let’s all remember what it’s like with young children. When we are grandparents, we should step up to be the best grandparent always wanted our children to have. Which really included taking care of our own health!