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Over the River and Through the Woods…

Oct08

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesDear Amy,

First off, I love your column(s). I know we’d totally be mommy friends if we met (I mean that in the least weird, non-stalkerish way possible). I have a problem that I just know you can help with. I have a rambunctious 3 1/2 year old and a sweet 1 1/2 year old partner in crime. My parents spend part of the year in a house about 4 hours from us and have offered to take the kids for the weekend numerous times including the weekend of my milestone birthday that is coming up. I appreciate the offer, but there is NO way I would agree to that. The house is in a more rural area, it has steep staircases and isn’t childproofed. Not to mention, my kids are running, spinning, screaming nutballs!

I know their feelings are hurt when I politely decline, but they keep asking and it’s putting a wedge between us. Considering I’ll be a full on adult shortly (see milestone birthday reference above)…how do I say no when I know what’s best for my kids without looking like a psycho control freak?

-Mother Hen

In my experience, there are really only two ways to deal with situations like this. The first is to simply continue to politely decline, as you’ve been doing, sticking by your guns in spite of the less-than-ideal consequences (i.e. hurt feelings, anger, etc.) because you know you are simply doing what’s best for your children and can only apologize so much for being the “bad guy.” Then you sit back and sort of hope they’ll eventually give up on asking, before things get truly ugly and uncomfortable, or that the whole matter will fade into the background after your milestone birthday has come and gone.

But I think this is less about your birthday and more about the kind of relationship they’ve dreamed of having with their grandchildren — the kind full of weekends spent at Grandma and Grandpa’s country house, maybe like they had? Or you had? Or they wished you’d had?

The second option, then, is to find a compromise. If they’re unhappy with your hard-line approach, and you’re unhappy with the fact that they’re unhappy, well…is it at ALL possible to find a middle ground here? Trust me, grandparents who babysit during overnight trips and weekends away are worth their weight in GOLD-COATED PLATINUM, so I’d hate to see a potentially great thing for you (and your kids!) get ruled as out of the question simply because of some missing baby gates. There are definitely times when I’m in favor of limiting extended-family access to children because there’s genuinely a non-negotiable red flag somewhere — alcohol/smoking/drug problems, abuse potential, a consistent track record of ignoring your wishes, etc. — but I gotta tell you, a big old farmhouse out in the country doesn’t strike me as one.


Option One:
Help them childproof. Explain your concerns about the stairs and the knick-knacks and your children’s activity levels. Help them pick up some inexpensive, temporary baby gates (the tension kind, or anything that won’t require them to drill holes into their banister) and set them up. Help them box up the breakables and come up with a list of ground rules about the great, untamed outdoors. (Bug spray, sun screen, daily tick checks.) Yeah, they might think you are a little control-freak-y (after all, they managed to see YOU raised alive and well to adulthood), but if you sense that’s happening, just toss up your hands and reiterate that your kids are nutso, and if this visit is happening, these are the things and rules that need to be in place for you to be comfortable.

Option Two: Spend the weekend at the country house as a family, if you haven’t already, and be as hands-off as possible. View it as a supervised test run. See if your parents can handle your kids, and how good of a job they so keeping an eye on them. (Remember, it’s entirely possible that your munchkins will behave BETTER for Grandma and Grandpa than they do for you — particularly if you’re not around. Most kids do, because they are out to destroy us and take our sanity with them.) Maybe combine this visit with Option One so they can actually SEE everything that needs to be locked up, put away, or otherwise childproofed, and why.

Option Three: Ask them to watch the kids for the weekend of your birthday…at YOUR house. We’ve done this, too, with my in-laws. (Usually when the trip spills into the week and Noah needs to get to school or camp.) Perhaps having them all on your home turf will ease your anxiety about possible dangers or your kids’ rambunctiousness turning destructive? It might not be the weekend visit THEY wanted, but if they do indeed want to help you out on your birthday, there’s no harm in asking them to compromise a bit too.

Obviously these options are moot if there’s something you didn’t put in your letter about your parents’ competence or trustworthiness around your children. I can only go by what I’m reading, and what I could see myself personally becoming comfortable with, if I were in your situation. I’m not saying you need to reverse your opinion on the matter overnight, but…maybe try to reframe your thinking on this. It really doesn’t sound like a bad thing. Maybe your children are a little young for it right now, and you should just ask your parents to table the visit idea until they’re a bit older.

But I think a tradition of one or two weekends at Grandma and Grandpa’s big house out in the country sounds like a really nice part of a magical childhood. You might see steep, un-childproofed staircases, but your children might see them as secret passageways to a castle of make-believe. You might see a rural area full of ticks and pests, but they might one day thrill at the memory of all that wide open space to run and spin and scream and BE total nutballs to their little hearts’ content.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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18 Responses to “Over the River and Through the Woods…”

  1. Amy in StL Oct 08 at 12:16 pm Reply

    I’m wondering if she’s left something out of the email because I too thought the kids being able to spend time at the grandparents house in the country seemed like something they’ll reminisce about later as awesome. Were her parents horrible to her and she barely survived childhood? Are her parents so hardcore lazy that they aren’t willing to childproof the house and watch the kids? This just smacks of “I want to helicopter parent my kids at all time” instead of I want whats best for my kids.

  2. Olivia Oct 08 at 12:29 pm Reply

    I just love your advice, Amy. I wish I had had more opportunity to have overnight visits with my grandmother. Alas, we lived too far away. But, this is exaclty why we (I) have non-negotiable plans to move back closer to my parents (his are deceased) in the next two years. I want my children to really know their grandparents and to be comfortable spending a weekend or longer with them on their rural property. I want them to go fishing and camping with them since I’m not to keen on it.

    My parents are visiting now, and they are spending all of today with my 1.5 yr old daughter without my husband or myself around. I’m a little nervous, but I’m so happy to make them happy.

  3. s Oct 08 at 1:02 pm Reply

    Mother Hen, Amy’s given you great advice. Additionally, why not talk to your folks about your concerns and then figure out what ages your kids would have to be for you to feel comfortable enough to let them overnight in the country house without you there?

  4. liz Oct 08 at 1:15 pm Reply

    I love this advice. LOVE. IT.

  5. Karishma Oct 08 at 1:34 pm Reply

    Excellent advice, Amy. A rural farmhouse DOES sound like a magical experience for two kids to have with their grandparents. I was kind of wondering the same thing as the first person… is something being left out here? B/c any house can be sufficiently childproofed, people have lived in rural areas since the beginning of time, and like Amy said, the only non-negotiable no-nos are things like drugs and alcohol and abuse. If none of that is going on here… what’s the problem? The kids shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to spend time with their grandparents.

  6. B Oct 08 at 1:35 pm Reply

    I totally agree with Amy on this one- unless there is abuse or putting the childrens in danger- talk with your parents about childproofing, and do a test run!
    My sister watched my daughter for a night- and while she doesn’t have all the babyproofing we do- she was overly vigilant (even more so than I am) in keeping my daughter safe. She did everything I asked, down to the letter. The time with her aunt was great for my daughter- and it was a fantastic mini-break for my husband and I.

  7. Clare Oct 08 at 1:50 pm Reply

    I understand your reluctance to let your toddlers spend a weekend at the country with your parents.  I would be nervous too!  Perhaps, combine Amy’s excellent suggestions with the promise that they could start this wonderful tradition when your kids are a tiny bit older, say 4 & 6, or whatever.  I would totally let them take the kids over night at your place, if only to get everyone used to the idea, and visit the farmhouse as a family to get used to the place.  And maybe you’ll be ready for overnights there in a couple of years.

  8. Laurie Oct 08 at 2:19 pm Reply

    I would go insane if my parents weren’t close enough to take my kid (just turned 3) overnight every once in a while (like once or twice a month). It is so worth it to have that option!

  9. JCF Oct 08 at 4:11 pm Reply

    I, too, used to have some fears about my kids (now 3 and 1.5) spending time at my in-laws’ house without me or my husband. Most of my fear stems from a time when my MIL watched my oldest (then about 1.5) one day, during naptime. When I dropped him off, I told her not to put his Pack and Play too close to a bed because he could climb out if he had something to grab onto. Well, when I arrived, I found that she had placed the P and P right next to a bed, he had climbed out and found an empty syringe in a dresser drawer (used to give my BIL his totally legit medication, but still). She had no idea that he was awake, out of the bed, and playing with something extremely dangerous. Needless to say, I flipped right now, swore to my husband the kids were never going back there, and caused a huge fight between my husband and me.

    We ended up having a (very awkward, from my perspective) conversation with the in laws about the things that we were worried about and the need to childproof and supervise carefully. It wasn’t a fun conversation to have, but it was worth it in the end. I now feel much more confident in my in-laws’ ability to care for the kids, and my kids are able to have a good relationship with their grandparents. I would really encourage you to do the same, if your parents really are capable of caring for the kids in a safe environment.

  10. JCF Oct 08 at 4:12 pm Reply

    I, too, used to have some fears about my kids (now 3 and 1.5) spending time at my in-laws’ house without me or my husband. Most of my fear stems from a time when my MIL watched my oldest (then about 1.5) one day, during naptime. When I dropped him off, I told her not to put his Pack and Play too close to a bed because he could climb out if he had something to grab onto. Well, when I arrived, I found that she had placed the P and P right next to a bed, he had climbed out and found an empty syringe in a dresser drawer (used to give my BIL his totally legit medication, but still). She had no idea that he was awake, out of the bed, and playing with something extremely dangerous. Needless to say, I flipped right now, swore to my husband the kids were never going back there, and caused a huge fight between my husband and me.

    We ended up having a (very awkward, from my perspective) conversation with the in laws about the things that we were worried about and the need to childproof and supervise carefully. It wasn’t a fun conversation to have, but it was worth it in the end. I now feel much more confident in my in-laws’ ability to care for the kids, and my kids are able to have a good relationship with their grandparents. I would really encourage you to do the same, if your parents really are capable of caring for the kids in a safe environment.

    Another option would be to have your parents take just one kid at a time for a trial run. It is much easier to supervise a kid in a non-kid friendly house if there is only one kid to tail, rather than two running separate directions.

  11. Catherine Oct 08 at 4:13 pm Reply

    I’m right there with her in the not letting the kiddos stay overnight just yet with either set of grandparents.  My kids are 3 and 1 and we are just now ready to let go a bit.  The grandparents, both sides, haven’t proven that they are attuned to the kids needs- um, hello! kids eat at least 3 times a day, usually 5; and they are pulling the “let them do whatever they want cause we’re the grandparents this time” approach so bedtime seems to be nonexistent.  Crucial things in life, food and sleep.  And yes, I think the grandparents should put forth a little effort to kidproof the house if we kidproofed our house.  Not saying box up everything, but outlet protectors would be nice!  We are trying the “sleep over at our house” next month and are hoping it goes well.  It’s the best scenario for the grandparents to be successful- all the toys, books, and familiar beds the kids are used to but they’ll still have the grandparents to make cookies with or pretend fort wars so the spoiling will happen no matter what.

  12. RAS Oct 08 at 5:53 pm Reply

    I’m with everyone else on thinking Amy’s right on the money. Time spent with grandparents is priceless, for pretty much everyone involved. If I could add one additional bit of encouragement, I’d say that not only are such trips fun and important for bonding, but they can also make things much, much easier if you ever NEED the grandparents to watch the kids.

    The first time my older daughter went with my in-laws overnight, I was kind of a wreck. I trust them completely, but I was worried she’d be lonely or I’d be lonely or I don’t even know what I was worried about. But she had a great time, and when I had a medical emergency and really needed her to stay with her grandparents for a night, we were all calm about it because it had gone well before. It made a kind of rough time much easier, not having to worry about child care. (and have I mentioned that I have the world’s best in-laws, who would drop everything without a thought to help out if we need them?)

  13. Jenny Oct 08 at 6:43 pm Reply

    I’m of the camp that you might want to try and make it happen. Maybe just for overnight and not hte whole weekend, if you are really worried. If your parents aren’t elderly, they will likely be able to keep up with your kids for a day or two. And sometimes kids get into stuff, that’s part of being a kid. Bring a baby gate or two to grandmas and enjoy your birthday.

  14. Dani Oct 08 at 7:30 pm Reply

    My mom has NEVER babyproofed her house since we grew up. Not for her own nieces and nephews, who she watched a lot, and not even for her grandaughter (my niece) who has had sleepovers with my parents since she was a baby, and she’s six now.
    They have two staircases and breakable stuff and outlets and live out in the country with quads and water and dangerous stuff and you know what? They just watch the kids more carefully. They know how to watch kids, they raised two of their own. Your kids are missing out, your parents are missing out, and you are missing out.

  15. Jaymee Oct 08 at 9:12 pm Reply

    I’m confused about why a house in the country is not safe enough for your children? Are you aware that country life is safer than city life?!?! My guess is you aren’t aware of that FACT. Well it’s true. Living in the country is safer than living in the city. So put some baby gates up, stick some outlet covers on and send your kids for a weekend at Grandma and Grandpas!!!!!!!

  16. Katie Oct 08 at 10:22 pm Reply

    Baby proofing might not be such a big deal… in my experience, grandparents are much more likely to stay within 2 feet of the littles ones at all times! Every gradnparent is different, of course, but I find that my baby’s grandparents are so excited to watch her every move and play with her constantly (which is possible when it’s just an overnight… not so easy when you’re the mama 24-7!), there’s really no chance for her to get into anything like she might at home.

  17. J Oct 08 at 11:24 pm Reply

    Great adive as always Amy! And Dani, you’re right on too. Cleary our parents have SOME sort of idea on how to deal with 3 and 1.5 year olds without a house full of childproofing products because we’re all here alive and well today right? I did so much stuff as a child with my parents, ie. forts, arts & crafts, make believe, that I’d hate to deny my children those kinds of memories that my parents could give them too. Unless there’s more to the story, such as a history of substance abuse/physical abuse/mental instability, than any “full on adult” would never foolishly pass up an opportunity for some kid free time when it’s offered, especially from your own parents!

  18. Mother Hen Oct 09 at 12:09 am Reply

    I appreciate Amy’s answer and everyone’s comments.  There are reasons I chose to say no that go beyond what I mentioned above.  I didn’t get into that because I’m hoping to focus on how to get my point across kindly (and firmly).  My decision has already been made and it is a wise one.  I’m not “foolish” or “helicopter parenting.”  I’m a rational woman interested in advice on how to get her point across.  I would never deny my children pleasurable experiences with family.  I care deeply for everyone involved and that’s why I’m hoping to lay this issue to rest.

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