Over the River and Through the Woods…
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?
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.