How to stop visiting parents so frequently?
June 10, 2015 3:33 AM   Subscribe

Both my parents and parents-in-laws are in the same city. The same city we're in. We feel overwhelmed with the once-a-week visits. How do we mitigate their expectations that we visit so frequently? A storm of culture-specific and special snowflake details follow.

My partner and I are late 20s, married, no kids. We live in the downtown of a large city.

My parents and family live in the midtown of the same city, about 9 miles or 14 KM away. It’s a 15 minute drive in good traffic, but in rush hour, it can be 30 minutes.

My partner’s parents live in a suburb of our large city. 44 KM away (27 miles). In good traffic, it’s 35 minutes. In bad traffic, it can be about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

We visit both sets of parents frequently. Once a week for each family. So we see his parents about 4 times a month, and my parents about 5 times a month. That's 8-9 visits every month total. That is a large chunk of our free time (evenings/weekends). We sometimes will drop by my family's while either coming or going from his family, because it's on the way to his family's.

We do enjoy spending time with the families; however it’s also due to obligation. We are both from very family-oriented cultures that are not Western. We both have big families, including our parents and siblings, but also grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces/nephews. So there is always something going on with both sides of the family-- Mother’s Day, birthdays, one of the out-of-town siblings visiting, weddings, baby showers, etc, and we are almost always expected to be there. We do decline some invitations -- we say we are busy with work or we're sick. Because it would not go over well to just say "no, thanks" or "I'm seeing friends instead that day." But even apart from special events, we do still see the parents and siblings once a week in routine life. It is just something that is expected and that we haven’t been able to successfully set boundaries on.

We don't want to stop visiting entirely. We don't want to move away, although we often fantasize about moving to a different country and just seeing them once a year and Skyping the rest of the time.

We do enjoy the actual time spent with the families, but it feels overwhelming to constantly be scheduling it and then driving there. I have two younger siblings who need us right now. We are teaching one to drive, and we help the other with homework. It is very important to me to be involved in their lives. My parents do not have the financial resources to be able to hire a tutor, for example. When we skip a visit with my younger siblings, we feel guilty. When we skip a visit with our parents or try to put them on a biweekly schedule, we feel bad as well, but because we are subtly guilted.

Both sets of parents are also getting older and need help with the yard work. They think we should live closer to them. Secretly, maybe they even think we should live with them. We definitely do not want to live with them. We do like seeing them once a week. But it feels like we spend too much time driving to get there. Sometimes it feels like we live in the car. It feels like we are forever scheduling our lives to make time for date night, for seeing friends, for hobbies, for exercise, and for family events. Very scheduled, very responsible, not fun and free, not spontaneous and unstructured like other young people/newlyweds. But there is no reward. Nobody says "Thanks for tutoring the kids", just "Why didn't you come this weekend?" They never think it's enough no matter how often we go-- they are always inviting us to the next thing, or saying "See you on the weekend?"

Sometimes our weekends are jam-packed with family events, and we have no time for us, or our laundry or housecleaning. On those weekends, family time feels very obligatory, and not very fun. We try to do weeknight visits to free up our weekends, but rush hour traffic in this metropolis means we don't get to his parents' house until at least 7 PM.

Maybe the solution really is to just move further away. Or maybe the solution is to move closer to them to make for less driving and drop-in visits more possible.

We think the solution is to see both our families less, but how do we do that without feeling guilty? Further, how can I help my siblings if I don't visit?

Any thoughts welcome! If the answer is just "get a therapist, you people pleaser", that is fine too, and thank you for taking the time to read this.
posted by spicytunaroll to Human Relations (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
We think the solution is to see both our families less, but how do we do that without feeling guilty?

You can't. You will feel guilty for a short while, but the feeling will immediately be replaced by the sheer joy of having so much more free time to yourselves and for your own adult needs and relationships. You just gotta put on your Big Boy And Girl Pants and tell your families that you're exhausted from all of the back and forth driving and have decided to cut visits down to once a month (or whatever). You can make them feel better by letting them choose the day or event that they consider most important for you to attend.

Further, how can I help my siblings if I don't visit?

posted by LuckySeven~ at 3:43 AM on June 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

Also, the sibling who you're teaching to drive should be doing the yardwork for your parents. S/he lives there, right? Or just hire somebody with the money you'll save in gas from not visiting so much!
posted by LuckySeven~ at 3:46 AM on June 10, 2015 [27 favorites]

I grew up with both sets of grandparents fairly nearby (about a 45 minute drive from our house); one from a similarly family-oriented non-Western culture. We saw each set every 1-2 months on average.

Seconding Skype, Facetime, Hangouts, and/or other video chat.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 3:59 AM on June 10, 2015

One of the biggest obstacles you're going to face here is your own guilt. It'll break your resolve when you're trying to put your foot down, it'll lessen your enjoyment of your own time, and it'll lie to you about what's best.

So get yourself an anti-guilt weapon. Mine, if this were me, would be "QUALITY NOT QUANTITY".

Sit down together and talk about how, if you spend less time with them, you can enjoy the time more - do nicer things together, put more energy into the support you give them. Make yourself really believe in your decision. Decide how much time you need to reduce your "weekly spend" to, in order to see a real benefit in quality.

Then, every time you say those hard words to them, "sorry but we're busy that day", you get to turn to your partner after (in a quiet moment), and say "QUALITY NOT QUANTITY", and that's like your talisman against guilt. You believe it, you did something to support it, you're winning.
posted by greenish at 4:03 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Can you see both sets of parents at the same time sometimes? Hold events at your house to which they are both invited. Hell, even having one set visit you saves on your driving time. Or invite both sets out to a restaurant, or a picnic or something at a third-party location.

If that won't fly, how about each of you visiting your own parents without the other one, at the same time. Not for every visit, maybe just every second or third time. That way you can get both visits out of the way in the same chunk of time rather than it using up two blocks of your weekend.
posted by lollusc at 4:04 AM on June 10, 2015 [9 favorites]

Couple of suggestions:
- rather than try to go bi-weekly in one go, could you maybe set one weekend a month as "yours". You can say you need the time as a couple, or just don't say anything about it. They won't like it, but it establishes a boundary. Of course sometimes you will have to go anyway if there's a special event, but then you can negotiate about taking your weekend another time. You will not convince them that this is reasonable, but if you keep doing it they will come to accept it.
- could you use skype to help with the homework. Then you are at your place, so you save driving + have more control of the interaction (and maybe set a new norm that skyping is okay in place of some visits). The driving is more difficult, but maybe you could offer to pay for instruction?
posted by crocomancer at 4:14 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

On the week/ends that there's a special occasion or larger family type event, could you count that as your weekly visit and not make a special trip to that set of parents that week?
posted by pianissimo at 4:42 AM on June 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

In our household Sunday is lunch with the family day. Keepingit all to one day and birthday dinners helps a lot. You have to set a few boundaries, and while they may not like it, once they understand and get used to the new routine it will help. You are reaching the age most people start to do this, to start to set up their lives to revolve around the new family unit you are making and a slow fade to a more comfortable level of contact works for families as well as relationships. I did however have to tell my mum to stop calling every night of she ever wanted grandkids.

Whenever you feel guilty remember it's better to set your boundaries now than end up resenting people you love.
posted by wwax at 5:44 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Tell them you have an ongoing appointment (or a class) every second Sunday which means you won't be available to visit. And you do, it's quality time with your partner, but they don't need to know that! I would also start insisting they come to you at least some of the time. There's no reason the burden of travel should be solely yours, and if they want to see you, they should be prepared to make an effort too. And if not, well, you just got another free afternoon.
posted by Jubey at 5:52 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think that if you like visiting and like spending time with your siblings but don't like driving, the only solution would be to have them come to you.

But when I was in a similar situation and trapped between school, work, and family, I just turned my phone off on Sundays. I went to church, had a nice brunch, and played video games all day, and if anyone called me I had no idea. It pissed my mom the hell off ("What if there's an emergency??!!") but it was essential for my sanity.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:55 AM on June 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you are actually seeing them many times a week each. If you try to bring it down to once a week each, you would probably save a lot of time, even if this takes over every Sunday for you, half to each family. Then you could switch the first week of every month to "everyone comes to us and we make you dinner", if you want (I am not sure this is possible).

(For what it's worth, I grew up seeing one set of grandparents -- who lived much closer -- a few times a week, and it was wonderful. We saw the others every few weeks. I know many people who see one or both families multiple times a week -- it's not as uncommon as you'd think. If you want to bring it down, of course, that is totally fine too.)
posted by jeather at 6:04 AM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh, I understand this problem. As said earlier it may be that you have to reserve a day for yourselves or your friends with a "class" or activity. But if your families are from an Asian or South Asian culture, let me suggest to you that you describe the "class" as related to financial planning or some kind of education/work. (I can't speak to parental responses from other cultures).

Again, if the culture is eastern, my guess is that suggesting they come to you would cause great offense.

Some other suggestions -
- definitely skype with the tutoring, and make it visible and frequent. When you visit in person, remember to talk about how you get to see your sibling every day now! If the sibling lives with your other family, have them carry the computer around after the tutoring so that everyone in the household can say hi, and so that you can chat a bit.
- if possible, try and visit at least the close family on work nights. My assumption is that if you arrive after work, join for a meal, and then have to go home at a reasonable hour to drive safely and be fresh for work, you will have natural cut off points that family will understand better.
- parental guilt expands to fit the space it's given. Decide how much time you're going to spend, feel good about it, and then just try and let the guilt go.
- have friends meet you near where your family lives for drinks/decompression after!
- give you and your partner a little treat/ritual after each family visit that you can look forward to as well
- remember (and I know this is hard when they're driving you crazy) that family who loves you and craves your time is one of the better relationships people have.
posted by synapse at 6:05 AM on June 10, 2015 [10 favorites]

Best answer: We do enjoy the actual time spent with the families, but it feels overwhelming to constantly be scheduling it and then driving there.

It looks like you have it pretty good. You're happily married and you have close relationships with both sides of the family. You are wanted and needed. You mainly don't like living so far away and therefore spending so much time in the car. Car culture sucks.

If you don't want to move closer to them (or even in with them) and you don't want to move to BC, consider this: they really mainly want to see their own children.

So you visit your parents a couple of times a month, he visits his parents a couple of times a month, maybe on the same days (unless you each want some home alone time a couple times a month), and then you all (his family and yours) reserve a certain day of every month (second Sunday? third Thursday? fourth Friday? Floyd Thursby?) to go have a big monthly dinner at a family restaurant (neutral ground, so no one has to shop or cook or clean up).
posted by pracowity at 6:15 AM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh boy, we have this exact same problem, except that we have to split visits between my husband's divorced parents and we have a toddler, which really trips that guilt switch (i.e. They always say "Look how big he is, we haven't seen him in sooooo looooong!" even if it was, like, three weeks ago).

Two things have worked for us. First is giving ourselves permission to be selfish. It took a really long time to feel ok about that, because it goes against instinct, especially for my husband, who comes from a very large, close family in a family-centric culture. But giving ourselves permission to put ourselves first made us cut down on visits, because it really was a lot of stress, and it took a lot of time that we needed to do other thing like recharge our batteries or clean the house and shop for groceries. Your family is very important, but your individual wellbeing is even more important than that. I think you should decide how many visits are ok for YOUR mental health/wallet/non-familial relationships and cut down to that.

The second thing is thinking about US as a FAMILY. And we are! Family doesn't just mean huge groups of parents and siblings and aunts and grandfathers and cousins. We are also a family, just the three of us. You and your partner are a family, too. Spending time with family is important, but just like you wouldn't cut down on visits with your partner's family in order to accomodate yours, you shouldn't be spending so much time with your extended families that you're neglecting your own little family of two.

None of this will make your family understand why you want to see them less (at least it didn't in our case), but maybe it will help you feel better about it. Dealing with the guilt is hard, and everyone has a different way of doing it, but if it helps my particular method is to picture Judy Garland singing "I don't caaaaare! I don't caaaaaaare!" In The Good Old Summertime.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 6:18 AM on June 10, 2015 [7 favorites]

As I see it, the main problem is that you are always driving to see them. They don't come to visit you or meet halfway. Are you the only people in your family with cars? Skype and FaceTime, etc. are great solutions for part of the time, but when the family wants to meet in person, it's not fair that one person or couple has to do all the driving. Tell the parents that they have to come see you for some of the visits.

I think it will be a big help if you can figure out how to see your respective parents and families without having to climb into your car and drive.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:27 AM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

.Very scheduled, very responsible, not fun and free, not spontaneous and unstructured like other young people/newlyweds.

Stop thinking like this. I know plenty of newlywed couples with no kids and no family within ten states who are very scheduled and very responsible, with hobbies, friends, work and exercise. Your family is not the cause of this and assigning all the blame to them is childish and means that if you do cut down on seeing them, you will just be more irritated when the spontaneous unplanned life you hoped for doesn't happen.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 6:45 AM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Remember that guilt is just a feeling. Feeling guilty does not automatically mean you are doing something wrong.
posted by jaguar at 7:14 AM on June 10, 2015 [9 favorites]

This seems more and more like a classic late-20's learning that you are a Real Adult and not Your Parent's Kid anymore, by which I mean you are now equal to your parent's decisions and wants. I say classic because I am 30 and have struggled with these exact feelings of guilt the past few years. I think it can be harder if you don't have kids, because that is one of the biggest Real Adult markers in our culture, and both you and your parents may still think of you as "The Kids" because of it.

(eg, my mom will call my wife and I "my girls", which is cute and I know it's not meant this way, but it is kind of infantilizing)

Anyway, I have talked (tangentially) in therapy about my feelings of guilt about how often I contact and visit my family, and how I feel like they always want MOAR. It's been very helpful to separate the ideas of whether you ACTUALLY feel guilty or if you feel like you SHOULD feel guilty. Do you actually feel guilty because YOU want to see them more? It doesn't sound like it - you see them a lot and even if you cut back it'd still be a lot. Do you feel like you SHOULD feel guilty? Yep - you feel like you're pulling away and letting your parents down by doing the difficult, but normal process of "centering" your adult life instead of your childhood roles. Letting go of the "should" is the hard part.

They never think it's enough no matter how often we go-- they are always inviting us to the next thing, or saying "See you on the weekend?"

And here is also a big piece - learning to live with this fact and let it go. It won't ever be enough. It's not that your parents are life-sucking jerks, of course they love you and want to see you and it's hard to see your kid grow up and build their own life. It's hard for everybody. I moved far away from my family and felt really guilty for years that I didn't visit "enough", and am just now finally "getting" that it's never enough. My family loves me and wishes I were closer to them. I can accept that without feeling guilt, or "should" guilt, for living the life I want.

The biggest step is learning that it's OK to say no. It's OK to disappoint them. It's OK for your wants to be different from theirs. If they feel sad or upset that you're seeing them less... that's not something you can directly control. Certainly not by just saying "OK, we'll see you all the time then" and letting your own feelings fester.

So after all my emotional advice, my practical advice is to learn the phrase "that doesn't work for us" and embrace it over time. Because you also don't need to justify or defend every occasion that you're not available. Sitting on your couch eating chips because you're an Adult and that's what you want to do is OK.
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:46 AM on June 10, 2015 [9 favorites]

I think, even if you are from a conservative family oriented culture, you can reframe this to yourself.

Parents from conservative cultures want two things, primarily, for their children: that their children be near them and accessible; and that their children have stable, happy family lives (and careers; but that's not as important here.) So, they've already scored a big win here by having you live nearby; you can pat yourself on the back for this.

Now consider that by reserving more time for yourselves as a couple, you are helping achieve the second one. (And believe it: shifting primary attachment from parents to spouses is a primary predictor of long term marital success.) When you use your weekend time to bond with each other and be happy, you actually are working towards your parents' second goal, as well as your own.

And drop the yard work, that's ridiculous. Just tell them you don't have time. It's not your job to do yard work. That is why landscaping services exist. If it's a hardship for them to pay for one, then consider helping them pay for it and finding them one.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:03 AM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

When you reduce the time you spend going to Every. Single. Family. Event. and you reduce the amount of time with the parents, the backlash will be worst at the beginning, so hang tough. Maybe one or both of you could have a very important project at work that consumes a lot of time, or car trouble, or whatever it takes to begin the new pattern. Then, when you are at a family event, make sure you emphasize how much you love being with family, how great it is to see them, how much you love them. Take a cue from politicians at a debate - no matter what the question is, speak about your own agenda. Q: Why weren't you at 2nd Cousin Lee's Kindergarten Graduation? A: Gosh, it's so terrific to see you, Great-Auntie Sue, you look lovely today. (hug)
posted by theora55 at 8:05 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

It sounds like a lot of driving; that schedule would definitely wear me out. If you can't even keep up with your own place, claim your Sundays. Can you say it's for that? Parents, we love you, but we do not have time to vacuum our living room? We love you, but we both work and are tired from the driving and need time to recuperate and get ourselves and our house together for the week?

Alternate weekends for the parents (you'll see them at events anyway), Skype with the sibs, let the older one do the yard work. (I can imagine paying would be out of the question [we have to pay! When we have children!], but if your sib can drive a car, s/he can push a lawn mower around.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:17 AM on June 10, 2015

Or yeah, your parents' on a weeknight, your partners' on the weekend.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:20 AM on June 10, 2015

Best answer: We do decline some invitations -- we say we are busy with work or we're sick. Because it would not go over well to just say "no, thanks" or "I'm seeing friends instead that day."

My family is from two cultures that, while Western, have similar values to the ones you describe, so I totally get this! There's a lot more tied up in it than just unexamined assumptions. I hear "set boundaries" so much and I think a lot of people don't get that people with bad boundaries will double down when you try to set them. I also get that you both love your family very much and want to maintain a good relationship, and that doing something that poisons your relationship with them, or at the most extreme cutting them off, is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Boundary setting is only step 1. I think what you have to do is not only learn ways to set boundaries, but learn ways to weather the storm of your family's reactions when you set boundaries. There is a technique around this that I learned in therapy. When you tell them you can't do what they ask, they will respond by giving you a burden of guilt (and if it's literally the whole cliche "we spent ## years raising you so can't you just do this one little thing" then boy do I get you). My therapist told me to literally visualize this as the person handing you a bowling ball or another heavy object, then you take it and acknowledge what it is and put it away in a closet. It's going to give you a language to talk to your partner too, "aw man, mom just handed me the guilt bowling ball again".

The other thing that I do is I don't give reasons anymore, because my family also doesn't set good boundaries around privacy. If I said "I'm not feeling well" that would cascade into "oh no, what's wrong? Did you take XYZ medicine? How many times a day? You should take it at least three times a day. Call me and let me know when you're feeling better." If it's "seeing friends": "Which friends? How do you know them? You should bring friends to our house more! No, it's okay if no one has cars, we can pick them up at the train station". So nope, just "we're busy that day. How about DATE at TIME? We can come by for NUMBER OF HOURS."
posted by capricorn at 8:20 AM on June 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

Host a regular weekly family dinner at your house and invite both sets to attend. Turn down invitations to go visit them except on special occasions.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:38 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

When we skip a visit with our parents or try to put them on a biweekly schedule, we feel bad as well, but because we are subtly guilted.

Because your family doesn't accept boundaries.

At some point you have to decide what you value more, your free time or the opinion of your family. Both are important, but you can't have them at the same time. You will inevitably sacrifice one or the other.

We can't give you a solution for changing your family. You need to decide that living your life the way you want is worth having your family giving you grief about not being around. And if you make that affirmative decision, based on your values, then it might decrease the guilt and allow you to acknowledge that your values are different from your parents' but no less valid.
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:09 AM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

They never think it's enough no matter how often we go-- they are always inviting us to the next thing, or saying "See you on the weekend?"

I think you are right - this is coming from an emotional level - "I love you, I feel happy, safe and comforted when you are close. I feel a part of me is missing when you are gone." So instead of responding to it as an objective demand on your time, respond to the emotional need for connection at the same time you provide factual information about your availability. "I love you too. Looking forward to our next visit - we can't come next weekend but we will be here for sure the week after. It will be so nice to see you then." or "I'm not sure about our plans but I will call you before Thursday and let you know. I really want to back soon so I can have some good home cooking/help sis with her homework/watch the game with Dad"

When they try to guilt you, agree with the idea that you want to see them but stand firm on what you will actually do. "It would be great to come to Susie's husband's cousin's kids first birthday, you know how important family is to me. I so sorry that it just won't work this time. But I will see you the following Sunday and you can tell me all about it" (You certainly don't need to explain why, you know it is a good enough reason for you to make the choice even if they wouldn't agree if they knew)
posted by metahawk at 10:20 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think that part of this is our parents not understanding how different the demands on our time are compared to when they were raising children and scheduling family visits, and compared to when they themselves were children, when their expectations of spending time with family were formed.

I don't come from the same type of culture that you do, but I can say that now that my parents are retired their own expectations around visiting definitely mimic what they did as kids, which was Everyone Shows Up at Grandma's House on Sundays. In other words, Grandma never came to their house. So without ever discussing it with us, they just expect us to turn up.

We have made it clear time and again that we are happy to visit from time to time, but we are the ones who are working while they sit on their butts all week, that we have way less free time on weekends (imagine your current time constraints, plus having kids with homework and sports schedules and classmates' birthday parties), and that if they want to be involved in our kids' lives that they are going to have to give a little bit too. They don't, and they still try to lay the guilt trip (openly crying about how big the kids are and how long it's been, etc, etc), but since we've made our boundaries clear, my attitude is that they've made the choice not to see us, not the other way around.
posted by vignettist at 12:49 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't have any new suggestions to add. The ones above are good. I am just writing to commend you on taking action on this before it causes marital issues. It's so very important for you two to have relaxed couple time, at least once a week, and fun friend time too. Good luck
posted by leslievictoria at 4:53 PM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you, MeFi! Thank you, thank you, thank you. So, so many great answers. So many to mark as favourites.

I actually read these out loud to my husband as we were driving to visit our families one hectic weekend day, and just feeling totally put-upon and exhausted. We laughed and laughed.

Since then, we have revisited this thread and discussed the issue at length, and taken into account many of the suggestions--- for example, it's strengthened our resolve to put our families on a more-or-less biweekly schedule. Visiting his parents on weekends, and mine on weeknights has helped. Splitting up for every other visit has helped. Inviting them over here instead has helped.

But most importantly, letting go of the guilt is what has helped the most. Since then, we've turned down 2 invitations for things that we did not deem important enough to let go of a weekend day for: 1) his mom's sister's husband's relative's wedding reception, and 2) my parents' family friend's memorial service. We still said we were sick for one (which was true) and "busy with a work thing" for the other ("on a Saturday?", "yes, on a Saturday"), but the point is we did it entirely without guilt this time. :)
posted by spicytunaroll at 11:40 AM on August 6, 2015

That's awesome, spicytunaroll! Thanks for the update. Congrats and enjoy all of your new free time!
posted by LuckySeven~ at 7:41 PM on August 16, 2015

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