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How to Handle Kid-Hogging Grandparents

How to Handle Kid-Hogging Grandparents

By Amalah

Amy,

I need advice on how to handle my “competitive” parents. They may also be considered “meddling.” Maybe there’s another type that you didn’t list that may be more appropriate.
My parents are amazing, and so are my in-laws (both are 2 hours away). My sister (also 2 hours away) is also exceptional, earns a great living, and is attached only to her job and our parents. No problems right? Wrong. I feel so pressured and irritated by my family’s constant, CONSTANT, requesting to take the kids for a day or night. Even when we acquiesce to their requests, it seems like they amp it up and ask even more frequently.
We are on a tight budget due to our lifestyle choices (homeschooling) as we have one main income. Traveling on vacations etc. is costly and we limit the days my husband takes away from work. 
We also have a desire to keep our daily schedules as regular as possible. I don’t want to take-off random days from schooling because it DOES affect their ability/desire to focus on good work days. We should be done with this year’s formal homeschooling from May through mid-August. (We continue through the summer with plenty of “school,” but I don’t try to stick to a rigid routine.)
My in-laws never ask to keep the kids, but if we ask them to watch them, they bend over backwards to help out. We know the offer is always there and we take them up on it once every few months. We see them more frequently during visits that are often less than a few hours and occur once every 2 or 3 weeks during the school year. Summers are more frequent.
My parents/sister, however, never give us the opportunity to need to ask them for help. THEY ask to keep the kids or watch them EVERY SINGLE time we’re together, and usually at least once every couple weeks if we haven’t seen them for a day. They will drive (2 hours) to pick them up for the day, and then at the last minute ask if they can just keep them for the night (2 hours away) and can meet us half way. They were invited down for a family event on a Saturday, then ask if they can bring them home with them for the night. We frequently rearrange our schedule to accommodate their seeing the kids. We are even taking a vacation together that begins in 13 days, but it is as though it’s not even in the works. This vaca is actually the dialed-down vacation we COULD afford.
My sister has just spent a couple hours with my daughter this past Saturday on a trip intended to be just me alone. I brought my daughter because everyone who I was going to see wanted to see the kids, but of course that means taking them away from Dad for the day and he had planned to do stuff with them while I was away. We nixed that plan and I took our daughter to allow him time with our son, and appease my family at the same time.
Here’s the FIRST “planned” vacation: One Christmas they “gave” plane tickets to the kids and offered to pay our way to the beach for an entire week in the summer. We only had to decide on a date. No discussion was made before the “gifts” were mentioned. The kids were so little they didn’t understand what was being offered, so they didn’t feel the loss when ultimately we declined. Oh!! How horrible my sister and parents made us feel for not wanting to take them up on their offer. We have our reasons, but said we’d discuss and get back to them. As summer approached, and the next, we decided that we just can’t and don’t want make it work…. They immediately proposed a closer more reasonable vacation location for us to take as a family and we are following through with those plans. 
I have spoken directly with them about the constant requesting and told them it feels like nagging and makes me feel bad when we say no, which we only do about 1/2 the time. We never have a chance to ask for help, but even when we do we don’t “get credit” for it and it’s as though it’s been “forever” since they’ve seen them. 
My husband struggles with being irritated also. His family is SO different and would NEVER ask so frequently to take them from us. He has counted up the hours (2) a day he gets to spend with them before bed during the week, so I don’t blame him for being reluctant to give up his time with the kids. His relationship with his son (4) is strained because of this. He has a hard time letting Daddy be the caretaker if I’m home. I’m sure some of my irritation with my parents has to do with the effect I know it has on my husband as well. If he cared less, I’d care less, but it’s still annoying.
We do decline as often as we give in, but Heaven forbid if we decide to spend any time with the other grandparent even for a few hours or see anyone other than them. We are even afraid to plan any vacation to the beach because THEY wanted to go there FIRST and I know they will bring it up. Is it so bad to just want to take our own family somewhere without feeling guilty? How can I get through to them that they are crossing a boundary? ARE they crossing a boundary?
What do I do?  This seems to really strain the relationship I now have with my parents and sister. I know it’s a good problem to have, but geez! 
On the surface, sure, this could seem like a “good” problem to have — super involved and loving grandparents and aunt! free overnight babysitting and beach vacations! — but all the guilt tripping and pressure and weird passive aggressive behavior (you don’t “get credit” for being the one to initiate plans?) kinda knocks it out of that category. They’re not so much offering to watch your children anymore…it’s more like they’re demanding access, and yeah, that’s weird and off-putting. It’s not really a “favor” anymore if it feels more like something you have to do, more like you’re giving in or caving, lest you incur the wrath of the guilt trip. Keeping kids’ day-to-day routines in place, spending quality time with their father, going on trips/vacations as a nuclear family — none of these are unreasonable requests, but for whatever reason they see their time with your children as something that should take precedent over all that. That should be met with a firm but polite NOPE, and then a quick exit stage right (or hanging up of the phone) when the guilt tripping “but we never seeeeeee them it’s been forevvvvvver” begins.
Since you already spoke to them directly — and while you don’t give specifics, I’m assuming it fell on deaf ears and didn’t really do much good — the next step is for you and your husband to sit down and map out some very specific boundaries, and then communicate those to your family. How often are you okay with an overnight visit? Once a month? Once every other month? From now on those need to be planned in advance. No more impromptu “oh we picked up the kids for the day but now are going to keep them overnight” stuff. If they ask for an additional sleepover, hold firm, remind them of the upcoming date, and tell them you’ll see them then. Same with the constant extra requests — you will let them know when a day trip or short (non-overnight) visit will work. In between, offer to let the kids chat with them over Skype or something, or make “write/draw a letter for Grandma/Grandpa/Auntie” a weekly homeschool project.
You will also continue to say NO, and you will make plans independent of them without guilt or fear or retribution.
Obviously, I can’t promise that the requests will stop. And I DEFINITELY can’t promise that the guilt trips will either — when that’s someone’s go-to strategy for getting what they want, they tend to stick with it. But YOU can stop letting it effect you so much, especially once you see it for what it is: straight-up emotional manipulation. They’re guilting you until you cave, and the guilt/fear of “upsetting” them (aka being a Bad Daughter) is making you question your own reality/sanity and need for boundaries. And it’s keeping you from doing simple things like taking your own kids to the damn beach, or saying “sorry, no, my husband has plans with the kids that day, so let’s stick with the plan for this visit to be just us adults.” Don’t let it, anymore.
One last observation, and this may be COMPLETELY off-base, but there’s something kind of strange about how insistent they are about seeing “just” the kids and not you/your husband. The main goal/priority here seems to be having the kids all to themselves. I mean, besides the vacation stuff, they seem much more interested in taking the kids away from you guys for the day/night/weekend/etc. (Presumably under the guise of “helping” you, but I’m not buying that.) I’m projecting (from personal experience) a little bit here, but I wonder if there’s an element of parental undermining going on. Are they supportive of your decision to stay home and homeschool, or is there some judgment/mistrust under the surface? Do they follow your instructions re: bedtimes, food, religion or what TV/media the kids’ consume? Or is it more “the rules at Grandma’s house are completely different because Grandma doesn’t like the rules Mommy and Daddy have?” I mean, I get that lots of grandparents/extended family members really ARE just that jazzed about their grandkids and love the occasional sleepover (and at the end of long day the two-hour drive home is simply unappealing), but this constant begging/nagging to “keep the kids” for extended periods of time strikes me as little off. Either way, my advice doesn’t really change, other than you might want to reflect a little bit on whether the relationship you have with your parents is as “amazing” as you first stated, or if your actual parenting (and not just your desire for some privacy/family time) is being undermined for some reason.
Photo source: Depositphotos/Focusarg

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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 Ama...

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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