How to entertain my in-laws without going nuts
June 20, 2016 1:41 PM   Subscribe

My husband's parents are coming to visit us in Denver next week and due to physical and mental issues we are a little stumped on how to entertain them while they are here. This is not necessarily a question specific to the Denver region!

My mother-in-law is EXTREMELY anxious and possibly suffering from OCD, which manifests in her: 1. not really enjoying being away from home and 2. verbalizing everything that pops into her head, stream-of-consciousness style. Sitting in the car or around the house with her for long periods of time is simply not very pleasant.

Both of them are in poor physical health so hiking or lots of walking is out of the question. I took them to the zoo last time they were here and just 30 minutes of slow walking completely exhausted my mother-in-law.

They are not very interested in shopping, art, culture, craft beer or any of the go-to things I usually do with out-of-town guests. Restaurants we have taken them to on past visits are criticized for a variety of reasons (too expensive, serving sizes are too large, etc....).

When they are at home they spend their time watching TV, doing jigsaw puzzles, and surfing Facebook, but I will go nuts if we just sit around the house the whole time they are here. Any creative ideas of how we might entertain them?
posted by GoldenEel to Human Relations (35 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You need places to go to sit and watch things that are happening. Like a patio, sipping iced coffee, adjacent to a farmer's market (where you can go wander off for a few minutes to go check the produce at that one stand - you know the one, the one two blocks away from your MIL?). If they like dogs, find a dog park. Maybe go catch a movie - drive down to the Alamo Drafthouse if she can stop stream of consciousness narrating that long? If not, check out the local theater in the park options. Also live music, if there's anything everyone can mutually tolerate, genre-wise. Perhaps the combo of craft beer (or cider?) + live music would be better than just one or the other?

But for your part, you're going to have to compromise on the sitting. You should target out of the house activities that are predominantly seated, even if you'd otherwise be using walking around as a way to burn off some of your own discomfort with the in law visit thing.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:50 PM on June 20, 2016 [25 favorites]

I bought my in laws day passes for RTD, which include the new rail to the airport. We did a lot of sitting in nice, clean, air conditioned trains and just rode around the city. It was nice to walk around Union Station, they have ice cream and kids playing in fountains. Its not my speed or thing, but they enjoyed it. 16th Street Mall was way too overwhelming and taxing.

We drove to Red Rocks and they just looked over the top there and in the museum, so not much stressful walking. We drove them around Golden and up further into the mountains, but we really didn't do anything beyond eating lunch outside of the car. We went to mass...I mean, it could have been hard on all of us, but I just embraced the not moving around much ethos, then dropped them off at their hotel around 6:30 every night.

Lastly, ask THEM what they might want to do. I got a surprise answer they wanted to see Wyoming, so we drove up there.
posted by stormygrey at 1:53 PM on June 20, 2016 [10 favorites]

My in-laws play card games. There's always one that they've identified as the absolute best game ever that we must play multiple games of every night until I'm exhausted, and that changes out about once every three years. For a while I was pretty fed up with the card games, but now I'm on board again. It's not exactly fun. And everyone's personality quirks are on display. And there's a "doing it wrong" argument every night. But, it gives everybody something to talk about that isn't the same thing they've been complaining about all day, and it changes the focus, and it almost always creates a dump joke of the night (example last visit, we were refusing to say "trump" because of politics). So it's not a great solution, but it is definitely better than flailing around waiting for it to be bedtime.
posted by aimedwander at 1:53 PM on June 20, 2016 [10 favorites]

Oh yeah, and City Park Jazz! Its free and easy, take chairs not blankets for your older folks and bring plenty of cool beverages.
posted by stormygrey at 1:53 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

The pike's peak railroad - if the elevation change would be okay? The movies? The auto tour in the rocky mountain arsenal? Sitting at the outdoor cafe at the botanic gardens in the evening?
posted by umwhat at 1:54 PM on June 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

When they are at home they spend their time watching TV, doing jigsaw puzzles, and surfing Facebook

I can tell you that, with the exception of a couple of very specific types of shopping, this is what my mother likes to do and it is what she expects family visits to be, because that is how they have always been including all my life (including as a child who would have liked to go to the zoo more than once a year, but as a reading kid she just bought me 10-12 books and told me to read in the living room and ignore everyone else, so long as I was visible). In her own home, she has friends over just to watch a TV show and then go away, and that's a pleasant evening for her. The trick, for you, is to set them up to do that comfortably and then *busy yourself* into being seen but not quite so trapped while their actual child sits there and deals with it.

They don't want to do any of these creative ideas! For the most part your choice here is between you having a good time and them having a normal time, so you can either drag them around to stuff they will hate and she will constantly narrate her displeasure, or you sit them home and feel stifled but at least she's content.

If there are some sit-and-look-at-stuff tourist attractions you can choose from - some kind of train or lake boat or something - you could do one or two of those. Pay for them in advance and say you have a friend who works for the city who gets you free tickets. But if they are that easily exhausted, one of those outings will be 2-3 days' worth of sufficient activity for them.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:54 PM on June 20, 2016 [16 favorites]

Also, driving tours! Something to go see that is a good distance from your house, and a book on tape to listen to on the way there and back.
posted by aimedwander at 1:54 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Buy more puzzles and then offer to go buy the food and booze. Often. And leave your husband alone with his parents as often as you can so they can have "special time". While you do that thing you reaaaaaaaallly need to do.

I don't know Denver, but water often calms people. Looking at or swimming in or boating upon or sitting beside while eating. Animals often calm people too -zoo or farm?

But ultimately ... If your parents in law were in wheelchairs you'd have to manage that. Reframe their disabilities differently. Accept they're not going to be around (or alive) for ever and make a break for daylight as often as you politely can. But don't be obvious about it. Introduce them to podcasts for when you're doing the puzzles at home.
posted by taff at 1:58 PM on June 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

Anything that's out of their comfort zone is going to be doubly uncomfortable during a visit. You know they like to hang out and watch TV, so let them do that. If you need to "step out" for a bit to "run some errands" while they're sitting around, that's ok! It'll be a lot less uncomfortable for everyone than if you are manufacturing entertainment for them that they don't really want. You can always put a sweet spin on it by asking if there's anything you can get them while you're out.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:58 PM on June 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

Seconding deludingmyself's response above. I've come to realize that I'm the one who thinks that entertaining guests should consist of "going out and doing interesting things." For people of my mother's generation, the best thing is to go somewhere where there are benches and sit and people watch - places like parks, children's playgrounds, etc.

Honest to god, the best time I've had with an elderly relative in Denver was the time we went to Costco. I was shopping and she went to sit in the eating area, waiting for me. After I finished shopping, I joined her, and all we did was just sit there watching people going through the checkstand and commenting on them and what they bought! At first, it drove me crazy, but then I got into it. We started dishing on people ("ooh, look at all that vodka!" "Why does *she* need all that diet stuff?") and it was hilarious. Now, whenever I visit these people in Denver, forget the museum or going to see movies. We just head over to Costco.
posted by jasper411 at 1:58 PM on June 20, 2016 [25 favorites]

Oh, the book on tape thing reminds me: over Christmas I was slowly going crazy from lack of activity at a family member's house and I hooked my phone up to the speakers and put on a podcast, which broke things up pretty nicely. (Ask Me Another, which was extra nice because it's a gameshow, so people can guess answers out loud.)
posted by deludingmyself at 1:59 PM on June 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

I wonder if your MIL would be willing to allow you to rent a mobility scooter? They're not super expensive and are designed to lift in and out of the trunk of the car easily. My MIL tires easily and renting a scooter at her destination has opened up her vacation options somewhat.

I agree, though, that they key here is sit and watch things. Long drives, maybe a drive on the scenic byway. I also noticed there is this historic train that you can ride. These sorts of things fall squarely in the "sit and watch things" genre while also getting you out of the house.
posted by anastasiav at 2:02 PM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

If they are interested in the mountain experience, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway is pretty great and doesn't require significant walking (but if altitude and ability to get off the train at any time are problems, it would be right out.) There's a guide who provides a pretty good patter, so you're not stuck entertaining yourselves with all the nature stuff.

If you want a loaner jigsaw puzzle, MeMail me; I've got at least one or two I've finished and haven't gotten around to trading away; can promise the pieces are all there and haven't been touched by jam-hands or smoke-hands.
posted by asperity at 2:04 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

To supplement the excellent advice above, is there a project in your house you could get your mother's input on, and work your way through it together while they're there? Painting a bathroom, planting a flowerbed, reorganizing/restocking your kitchen cabinets, assembling photo albums (or Snapfish books), making a quilt, canning summer produce... anything along those lines. Ideally it'd mean multiple trips to Home Depot/Ikea/other, poring through paint swatch cards or seed catalogues, researching techniques online, her keeping you company while you do Step X, yadda yadda. You'll end up with something to show for the visit (heh!) and she may really respond well to having her opinions sought and valued. Heck, even if it turns out that she doesn't really want to participate, it'd be something to keep you busy--and provide something new to talk about--during all the time they're just relaxing with a puzzle etc.. Good luck. :)
posted by argonauta at 2:11 PM on June 20, 2016 [14 favorites]

Go watch the Rockies play. Buy the food and try not to let them see the prices (which will be too expensive for them).
posted by soelo at 2:12 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am not exaggerating even in the slightest when I say that the Jackbox games saved my family this Christmas. EVERY time there stopped being an active thing to do we immediately went back in and turned the games on to play. We stopped arguing with each other, had something to laugh about, all got to be entertained and engaged--very, very good solution to the too many people with too little to do situation, especially when leaving the house isn't something people can easily do.

Here are the games. You should get the Jackbox Party Pack. You can get it on a number of platforms--personally I used Steam running on a computer hooked up to the big TV with an HDMI cable. That worked great for us. (Everyone plays from their phones/tablets.) The games my family liked best were Fibbage and Drawful. If you end up liking that and playing it for a week straight (as my family did), the Jackbox Party Pack 2 brings QuipLash to the table, which is also very fun.

Seriously, it saved my family. There are usually way more tears during holidays and this time I think grandma only had one tantrum the whole time.
posted by phunniemee at 2:15 PM on June 20, 2016 [12 favorites]

I know you'd like to entertain them but I think one thing you should do is things they like (in addition to trying a few things).
Why don't you buy a couple jigsaw puzzles and clear a table. Spending money might make her anxious so you could plan a few nice meals in. Rent a couple easy-to-like movies.
Expecting her to be willing to all of a sudden use a mobility scooter etc seems very unlikely. (Oh my gosh, what does this button do? or I'm not an invalid!!, etc)
Let them know you have a dinner date with a friend you can't get out of or something and make sure you get out a few times to keep yourself sane.

If you can get dozen or so brochures of local things and let them choose. She will likely be WAY less resistant if she feels more in control of what they are doing.

Also, go to a couple restaurants. Get gift cards. Then say you got theses as gifts and been meaning to use them. Cheap people like free food way better. This is a trick I use with my mom.

The hundred fifty dollar good walking shoes I buy her get a WAY better reception when I say "look what I found at the Salvation Army".

Have fun and know that sometimes just like to critique everything. It doesn't mean they don't like it or they aren't grateful. They just can't help themselves. They *might* be go home and talk about what lovely hosts you are.
posted by ReluctantViking at 2:17 PM on June 20, 2016 [21 favorites]

As my mother's health has declined, we've done more scenic drives. Basically, we just drive out either to and through a local beauty spot (a national park, a historic neighborhood) or we plan a pleasant drive to a specialty shop. So once we drove out to this place where there was a historically significant candy store, for instance. Then we get out, get a snack or a trinket and go home.

Also, what about getting a couple of new! special! DVDs to watch together? My family does this - sometimes I pick out something I think they'd like, sometimes we pick something together. It's a little fancier than just watching a random season of a TV show or something. (I often get rare or old animated movies.)
posted by Frowner at 2:21 PM on June 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

How long is the visit? If what they really want to do is watch TV and do puzzles and surf the Internet...maybe break out that really long novel you've been wanting to read? And tag team out with your husband so you can each get some fresh air/exercise each day.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:37 PM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is there a reason you can't just let them watch TV, surf the Internet, and do puzzles while you do your own thing some of the time? If they expect a constant presence at their side because that's how visits are supposed to work, then your husband should take a big chunk of that burden since they're his parents. You can come in and give him a break sometimes, and you can all have meals/watch a special TV show/work on the puzzle together every day for full family togetherness.
posted by Mavri at 2:43 PM on June 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I knew you guys would have some great ideas and perspectives! Train riding is an awesome idea - we can take them to check out Union Station on the light rail. And I just remembered we have a couple of gift cards for restaurants that aren't exactly our style languishing in our junk drawer. :-)

My MIL isn't very crafty or into gardening, but I will try to think of a simple project that might pique her interest.

I always forget that they are not offended if we all just sit around staring at our phones/the TV and not talking, so I can use this time to work on my goal of reading every Stephen King book that I haven't read before.
posted by GoldenEel at 2:49 PM on June 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

Maybe an IMAX film or a planetarium show at the Science and Nature Museum? Maybe the 16th street mall & the shuttle bus -- lots of restaurants around there, make them pick out where they want to eat.

Other than that, there's no problem with going with the flow and letting them watch TV or scroll through FB if that is what they are interested in doing.

Maybe pop into one of your local, large hotels beforehand and raid the stacks of tourist brochures in the lobby. Leave the brochures out and ask 'em if anything looks interesting.
posted by Ostara at 2:50 PM on June 20, 2016

As an older person with anxiety, I'd suggest not taking your MIL to an IMAX film. I find them almost impossible to tolerate, and it sounds like her anxiety is more debilitating than mine.
posted by FencingGal at 3:05 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ask your MIL to bring along a bunch of old family photos, particularly ones of your husband as a child and any other relatives of his. Go through them with her and make sure all are labeled with the names of the people in them and a good guess at the year they were taken. If you have a scanner (or can borrow one) scan them to JPG and show your MIL how to view them online (Flickr, etc.). Put all the photos in archival albums. This is something I wish I'd done with my MIL before she died.
posted by Joleta at 3:23 PM on June 20, 2016 [11 favorites]

A bus tour around Denver might be fun. Here's one that looks like it's just being driven around and told about the city.
posted by jabes at 3:44 PM on June 20, 2016

I bet that together you could have some fun shopping for another jig-saw puzzle.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 3:48 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I will go nuts if we just sit around the house the whole time they are here. Any creative ideas of how we might entertain them?

I think people have given you pretty good advice about not worrying too much if you're around the house but I might also suggest if it's a longer visit that you have some sort of scheduled viewing going on... something like a mystery series or a mother-in-law appropriate tv series (maybe have a few in the wings "Oh we've been wanting to watch these...") that you can sort of watch together. The good news about joint focused TV watching is that people are less likely to talk over it.

My other advice is some tag-team stuff with your spouse where one of you goes away and does your own thing for a few hours and the other one stays with the relatives. This may seem like it's not supportive but sometimes just getting some of your own headspace can help you come back with some renewed energy.

Another place to look for good hangout activities is the public library. The downtown branch has some exhibits that are neat if you wanted to sort of bring them along on errands and "Oh let's stop by here" sort of thing.

Above all with anxious people the thing to remember is that you don't need to respond to them and it's not about you. I have an anxious parent and I know the constant critiquing of everything is annoying, but it's also sort of their thing to manage (or not) and you can work on tuning it out if possible or just debriefing with your husband later and trying to let it roll off your back. It's a nice thing you're doing, hosting them, even if you might not hear it from them.
posted by jessamyn at 3:59 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wizard's Chest has a good selection of puzzles.
posted by asperity at 4:01 PM on June 20, 2016

Everyone has great suggestions. My only addition would be to remember to get your wiggles out. Running or weights are great because they tire you out pretty fast- you won't be gone that long. You'll feel more relaxed and not as pent up to adjust to their schedule and desires.

Also sometimes sleep schedules can be tricky - my inlaws love their afternoon naps.
posted by mrzz at 4:47 PM on June 20, 2016

Mostly what my parents want to do when they visit is "visit" which means just sitting around talking. But we talk so often by email and phone that there's not a lot of catching up to be done. So I was thinking along the lines of what Joleta suggested. Does your husband have any interest in his family's history? I've done the family interview stuff with my folks and it's pretty interesting. It would provide the staying in environment but give everyone something to do.
posted by Beti at 5:37 PM on June 20, 2016

Music from their teen/young adult years tends to go over well for older adults. Do you have any local places that have cover bands?
posted by saucysault at 6:22 PM on June 20, 2016

We always pick a tv show they haven't seen but might possibly like and just marathon while everyone goes about their business. Sometimes this show is something we actually like, sometimes it's Property Brothers or House Hunters but it doesn't really matter.
posted by betsybetsy at 6:22 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

This thread is incredibly helpful for me. Thanks for asking this question, OP. My in-laws visit at least once a year and since they travel quite a distance and we're all typically on a budget, they stay for 2-3 weeks and they stay with us. I suspect my MIL also has anxiety and I didn't even know the "constant commentary" was a symptom of that until I read this question. Whoooo boy, do I empathize! I'm actually envious of these families that will do puzzles or play cards together.
As others have said, the hardest thing for me is to remember they truly don't want to do much. They consider the trip to our place to be the "travel" portion of the visit, and then they just want to sit around. We've had some luck with the beach, which I love and my MIL seems to enjoy sitting in a chair under an umbrella watching the surf. FIL refuses to go, which is fine. This did entail finding a beach that was easily accessible, but we've been able to do that in a few different cities we've lived in. We also have a few traditions now, such as MIL cooks one, big batch of lasagna on one of the last nights of the stay. There is much discussing and planning of the lasagna and it means I don't have to cook dinner that night and the leftovers fill our freezer. (Note: I eat low-carb and I really don't usually eat this style of Ragu or powdered cheese, etc, but it's fine for a meal and it makes everyone else happy). So if there's a job like that your MIL may enjoy, she may be glad to pitch in. We discovered the lasagna idea when she mentioned liking Olive Garden, but didn't want to go there. My FIL is a super handy guy and while he doesn't do a lot of construction labor anymore, we do take the opportunity to ask his advice about projects. Which he is very glad to provide :). Another tradition we have is that she likes to buy gifts for her friends and grandkids to take back with her, so I take her to a few local gift shop type places. I've discovered some really cute local shops this way. Or is there a great local coffee shop or chocolate shop in your area? You could take them there and tell them you insist they take some of this amazing stuff home with them. Then you all get to have chocolate.
Do they happen to be veterans? I don't know if Denver has a veterans museum or memorial, but that could be a good day trip too. That's one place my FIL always requests a return visit to.
For the next visit, I'm considering installing a bigger bird feeder outside my picture window. My idea is then we can watch birds or squirrels and talk about them rather than my neighbors. Wish me luck!
Oh, and if you're looking for a show to watch together, I suggest Longmire on Netflix. Great show and we found it safe for different generations and political types.
posted by areaperson at 6:31 PM on June 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

When my mother was failing, she couldn't read or pay attention well enough to converse. AMC (the All Movie Channel) was a godsend. Great films from the 40s. We'd sit and watch, and she'd talk about when she first saw that movie, or about the fashions.
Very low-key, but it meant we could sit together and be together.
posted by my-sharona at 10:12 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

There are 734 seasons of Midsomer Murders, the first 17 are on Netflix, and each episode is 93 minutes long. Murder mysteries are great for group watching.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:12 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

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