Hi, Carolyn: I have a question about an adult child, her husband, and two small children paying a two-week visit. I am still recovering from their appalling behavior and the damage done to some irreplaceable family heirlooms. My daughter seems to think they have the right to treat my home as a cheap motel, and I need to accept that children must not be constrained by teaching them not to use a velvet settee as a trampoline, etc. If I asked her child, gently, not to do that, I got an angry tirade about how I wasn’t bonding properly with my grandchildren. I stopped asking. It was a nightmare.
Now, I don’t know how to tell her without harming our relationship that they cannot stay with me on her next visit.
I didn’t bring her up to think this was appropriate, and I don’t want her to feel I don’t love her, but I am heartbroken at the lack of respect indicated by her entitled behavior. – Shattered Mother
I am too, on your behalf.
Entitlement is appalling.
And people do point their fingers at The Parents when they see it, so, thank you for the reminder that kids taught to be polite can still grow into adults who choose to be rude. Agency has its downsides.
Plus, you’re about one step removed from what is basically a legal, commonplace hostage situation: The parents of their parents’ grandkids know they have potentially cruel leverage in their control over access to these kids.
That makes people in your situation uniquely right to be concerned about harming the underlying relationship.
Sympathy doesn’t help you with the dilemma of your next visit, alas.
But I hope you can start to address it by cutting its duration 75%. A two-week home visit involving two small children sounds ghastly: too long to sustain guest manners and too short for housemate manners to kick in.
I also encourage, if financially feasible, the neutral-setting dodge. At least until the kids grow out of the feral stage, move your visits/vacations to a kid-friendly attraction built for the kind of punishment toddlers dish out. Grandma’s treat! No one else has to know you’re primarily treating yourself to a house untrampled by savages.
If that’s not realistic, then – again, as finances permit – they can stay at a hotel or rental near you, framed as a gift to them. “There’s a pool!” Or, as an act of sympathy: “I realized a house full of heirlooms sets kids up for failure.” (It does, by the way.) “So, less pressure on you and the kids, plus more privacy for you and [husband]. It’s hard to be a parent in front of an audience. I remember well.”
Or, discuss options with her: “Un-childproofed house, lesson learned. I’m sorry. Any thoughts on Plan B?”
If your daughter ever gives you a clean shot at the larger issue by, say, bringing up her concerns about bonding in a non-defensive way – I am not hopeful – then please take it, using the we’re-all-parents-here position. “You have to say no to your kids sometimes, right, even if it’s just hot stoves and busy streets? So that tells me every good parent-child bond happens despite a lot of saying no. I’d argue because of it. Don’t you think?” Just two parents talking, not parent dictating to child about parent dictating to child. It may seem counterintuitive to ask when you most want to tell, but defensiveness says she already (rightly or wrongly) feels cornered. You’d best leave her room to get out.
Dear Carolyn: I have a full-time job and try to do extra freelance artwork as I can, usually after work. My wife is a stay-at-home grandma watching the grandkids, the 10-month-old all day and the 3-year-old when she gets out of school. I’m sure that is not easy.
But she will give me a call about something else and always throw in, “What’s your ETA?” If I say I need to get something done, she’ll counter with something like, well I’ve had a stressful day, these kids … then I feel guilty and go home.
I’ve got nothing to hide, there’s no other woman, I’m not stopping for beers on the way home, but I’d be a little more Bohemian. – Drawing a Blank
I’m sure you would like to be, understandably.
As would I.
As would, I’m guessing, your wife. Who is on her second go-round at one of the most exhausting jobs there is.
Are you “sure that is not easy,” by the way, because you shared the workload with her equally of raising your kid(s), or are you at least somewhat projecting?
Maybe your wife volunteered for this against your wishes. Maybe you both failed to account for the variable of being older. Regardless, the fact of your marriage has you in this together. Don’t prioritize your concern over hers: You both want some freedom. And deserve some. Bring it up when you’re ready to see that.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com.
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