Ideas/advice for pain-free family visits
September 29, 2016 4:02 AM   Subscribe

I live in a different country than my parents and in-laws, and my wife and kid are able to visit once a year. How can we restructure this annual trip home to maximize quality time without everyone going nuts/bananas? Details inside!

For the past several years, we have made the grandparent pilgrimage back to our home country to show off the little spud and spend time with our respective parents. We aren't wealthy, and so we typically stay in the guest room at both houses. Every visit starts off very nicely, but by the end we are drained, exhausted, and desperate for our own space. Mrs. Potato and I both have solid relationships with one another's parents, and they are on the whole easy to get along with... excepting my mother, from time to time.

Every year something seems to come up that leads to a low-grade explosion, tears, attempts on our part to comfort her or resolve the underlying issue, and then the whole thing gets dropped and forgotten like it didn't happen. This past visit was punctuated by a particularly uncomfortable confrontation that had me ready to pack our bags and seek out a motel until it was time to fly back. Gentle attempts to talk it through were met with defensive hostility, self-criticism, and finally silent treatment.

So, while resolving the emotional troubles is certainly a priority, here today I would like to explore alternative visiting possibilities that would allow us and the wee one to:
- See my end of the family without being cooped up in their house for weeks.
- Not give the impression that we are avoiding anyone.
- Avoid spending several paychecks in the process.
- Bonus points for frugality and/or creativity!
posted by elected_potato to Human Relations (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you live in a place where tourists would be interested in visiting? If so, and particularly if you're flexible on dates, you could sign up for one of those house-swapping websites. You could swap with someone in your hometown and they would stay at your place while you're at theirs. And voila, you'd have your own space. If you think people might be offended that you're not staying with them you could tell a little white lie and say that friends of your wife asked you to house-sit. I think the sites cost a couple of hundred dollars a year so not a fortune, and you could use them for other holidays too.
posted by hazyjane at 4:24 AM on September 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

If every time you see your mother there is a drama with tears and ignoring I would suggest that she is NOT easy to get on with at all!

And I would be honest and let your mother know that the drama/hostility/ignoring is too much for your wee family to cope with on top of the travelling.

Do you have a vacation in addition to this trip home? We invite grandparents along on vacation, so that they're seeing us and sharing time with the littlies, but on neutral territory. Could you do that? Move your vacation budget in with the fly home budget, book a fortnight somewhere vacationy mid-way between families and invite each set to come for a few days?
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 4:27 AM on September 29, 2016 [20 favorites]

Another idea - unless you're dealing with major flights and jet lag, I would suggest a shorter trip is a frugal way to deal with a lot of this issue. 'Weeks' is a really long time.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:01 AM on September 29, 2016 [8 favorites]

Maybe your mom is picking fights and causing drama due to the strain of an upcoming long separation.

Young people who are about to move out to go to college also start picking fights with their family because they want to ease the pain of the upcoming separation.

I wonder if you should just tell your mom that you suspect the conflicts are due to this and if she's aware, she'll be able to stop it before it happens.
posted by Coffeetyme at 6:07 AM on September 29, 2016

As an outsider, the solution seems extremely simple: Just have a shorter trip.
posted by TinWhistle at 6:15 AM on September 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

And with the money you save by having a shorter trip (even if you were staying with family there's presumably some kind of daily cost from spending money) pay for a cheap guest house/AirBnB. Tell them that as little spud is getting bigger you need your own space.
posted by penguin pie at 6:19 AM on September 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh, my. My mother lives on the other side of the world from me and my family and we max out at 4-5 days spent with her at any given time.

When we are in her hometown, we rent an apartment with enough room for her to come along and stay as well. ("mom, that way you don't have to *host* us") so it's neutral territory, and mixes things up a bit for her.
posted by gaspode at 6:31 AM on September 29, 2016

My in-laws live in a different country, and we tend to visit for every other Christmas, and sometimes in the off summers as well. Since it's a transatlantic trip, we usually stay for about 3 weeks. We stay at their house.

A couple observations: When you are home visiting your parents, you tend to slide back into teenager mode. I do this; my husband does this. If you had conflicts with your parents when you were a teenager (and who didn't?) you will find yourself replaying those dynamics. Once I gently reminded my husband that just because we were staying in his teenage bedroom with all the comic book posters, he didn't have to act like he was sixteen, things got a little better. We both try to be aware of and vigilant against this dynamic, and as a result are actually enjoying getting to know our parents and relate to them as adults.

Secondly, we have hit upon the solution of moving around a lot when we go overseas to visit. The kids are of an age where we can leave them with the grandparents for a week while we jet off to Italy or somewhere for a quick vacation just the two of us. Even a weekend or a night at a fancy hotel downtown might do the trick. If you plan that in the middle of your trip, it breaks up the long stretches of time at the house and gives you something to look forward to. We also will rent a beach or vacation house with the inlaws and extended family, and something about all being in neutral territory makes things a little less tense in some ways.

When we visit my family, the solution is to take a shorter trip, for self-preservation reasons, and we tend to stay only 5-6 days maximum. You know you will be eventually going back, so it's okay to leave feeling you haven't done everything.
posted by Liesl at 6:35 AM on September 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

My sister lives overseas and stays with my parents when she visits; they go through the same thing. Weeks is a long time to spend with anyone, even if you love them, especially when there's pressure to make every minute count. What worked really well for us last time was they took over my house for a few days, and I went back to my parents' place. Could you do something like this, if either of you have siblings in the area?

Other things that have helped: having a day out as a couple, while grandparents babysat; having a daily coffee break together with the babies at a coffeeshop nearby; lots of walks and naps.
posted by punchtothehead at 6:46 AM on September 29, 2016

Jeepers, if I had company staying with me for "weeks" I might end up having a low-grade explosion and tears before the end of it, too. Even if I loved those people to bits. Sounds like that arrangement is just a bit too long for everyone.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:48 AM on September 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

"Weeks" is too long to live with in-laws. For their sake, not just yours. They may think they want you for longer, but you've see the reality. 5 days is about the max.

I do know that feeling of "we've traveled so long to get here to [family's country]; we can't just stay a week, it's not worth the flight." What we've done is divide it up. Say for a two week trip, maybe week 1 is you and the family traveling around nearby (are there hostels where you'll be going?), see some other relatives and be tourists; then stay a week with in-laws. Or, if you have grandparents that can host the kids alone, even better - that way you and your wife have time to travel on your own. Then you stay 5 days with the family. And even then you have stuff planned that takes you out of the house, with or without the in-laws, even if it's just for walks. What you don't want is lengthy unstructured hang-out-at-home time that makes everyone crazy.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:00 AM on September 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Can you stay with them during the weekdays and book a motel for the weekends?

Then you both get to spend LOTS of time with each other but you know you get to escape at the weekends. You can unpack the majority of your clothes at the house and just take an overnight bag to the motel / hotel.

It might be a relief for BOTH parties if you know you at least have your weekends to yourself.
posted by JenThePro at 2:30 PM on September 29, 2016

You need a vacation from your vacation.

There's a few different convenient excuses for this.

If you are from the area, perhaps there's a place you went on trips to as a child yourself. You can go there with wife and kid only because you "want to give kid the experience you had as a child". You can pick a place to visit or activity to do that the relatives dislike or aren't physically able to participate in (canyoneering, yodeling competition, whatever). If you are comfortable leaving kid with the relatives, you can offer to give them "special grandparent time" while wife and you take a special weekend trip without the kid. Maybe camping or visiting an old friend if that works better for your budget.

You can also say "Hey, we need a break from staying in someone else's home so we will be away this weekend", but I'm assuming if that's possible for you that you wouldn't have asked this question. Do consider it though -- it's possible that your hosts would like a break as well.
posted by yohko at 1:07 PM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

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