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The Dreaded Grandparent Pop-In & Camp-Out Visit

The Dreaded Grandparent Pop-In & Camp-Out Visit

By Amalah

Hi Amalah!

Long time reader here. I’m one of those weirdos that read your column (all the columns!) before I ever had a child. I need some perspective now regarding Grandparents.

Some background first: I have a wonderful three month old son. He’s the first grandchild on either side. My husband is an only child (not by choice, he’s Chinese so one child law), so we are his parent’s only hope for grandchildren, so to speak. I should also mention there’s a language barrier between his parents and me. They only speak Mandarin. While they don’t live in the same town, they do live a couple suburbs over. We visit their house every other Sunday for lunch and playtime with the baby. I had naively thought they’d be satisfied with seeing their grandson for a couple of hours every other week, but I was wrong.

My issue is that for the past several weekends, they’ve essentially shown up at our house unannounced (they give us a call that they’re on their way). They bring their slippers and their tea and their laptops and basically hang out for five or six hours. They wait for my son to wake up from his nap, for me to nurse him, and then they want to hold him and play with him until I step in and tell them that it’s time for his next nap. Wash and repeat. They do this even when we visited their house the day before.

Now I know I should be thankful that they love him so much and want to be a part of his life. I want to encourage their relationship. My son will learn Mandarin so that he won’t have the same language barrier with them that I do. I want all that. I’m thankful for all that.

My problem is that I don’t really like this arrangement that they’re getting into. I don’t like having them in my house for several hours every Sunday (I’m one of those people that just can’t really relax while guests are in the house). It drives me crazy because they want to hold him the entire time he’s awake and they’re literally all up in his face, kissing him and trying to force him to smile. (Forget about putting him down for some quieter playtime or tummy time – they immediately scoop him up.) And if I’m holding him, or letting him practice sitting, they do this thing where they put their hands out towards him (international sign for give him to me) non stop until I pass him over. I can usually get my husband to intervene at least once and he’ll tell them that I want to hold him. That lasts until the next awake time. This bums me out because (a) I want to hang out with him too (I work full-time and don’t get to see him a lot during the week), (b) he doesn’t get any time to just be, and (c) he doesn’t get a chance to practice skills like holding his head up or sitting up or stretching out. And last thing, I feel like it’s also becoming expected, that they’re going to come over, so I feel like we can’t schedule anything or go do anything during that time.

So I need perspective. Am I being petty and selfish? Should I just grin and bear it and hope that his newness wears off eventually? I highly doubt they’d continue this tradition they’ve got going on forever (they’d only visited our house once or twice before he was born – they don’t like to drive). I feel bad trying to curtail them because they obviously adore him and just want to play with him. But, you know, I adore him and want to play with him too. And I also want to be able to do my laundry in peace.

Last thing, I’m sure my husband would support me if I decided to put my foot down, that’s not the problem. I haven’t brought it up yet because I don’t want to start issues if I am indeed being ridiculous.

Thoughts?

“Hi Mom and Dad, going forward we need you to clear these visits ahead of time, rather than waiting to call until you’re already in the car. We have a lot of busy weekends coming up and won’t always be around! We’ll continue with the every other Sunday lunch tradition but any other visits need to be more formally discussed and scheduled. Thanks!”

You are so not being ridiculous. This is some basic common courtesy level stuff.  Of course it is lovely to have loving, involved grandparents, but so are BOUNDARIES! Sure, they are family, but they are also unannounced guests who are intruding on your limited time with your family. Obviously, they don’t have any sinister motives and are probably just clueless at how inconvenient and annoying they’re being, but just because they’re loving and otherwise wonderful people doesn’t mean you have to give them a pass on ignoring completely reasonable boundary etiquette. (And hell yeah, I’d be super annoyed too, as I’m also the type who can’t ever fully relax or get out of hostess mode when there are people in my house, and people overstaying their welcome after I’ve dropped the clues and cues that the visit is over drives me crazzzzzzzy. And I’ve never met a new mom who isn’t irked by super-grabby people who feel entitled to monopolize someone else’s baby. This whole situation is giving me hives.) It is not at ALL unreasonable to ask them to hey, give us a little more heads up going forward; we have other things to do on the weekends than sit at home all day.

(But by all means, spend your weekends sitting at home all day, if that’s what you want. You can still say “no” to a visit from them!)

So bring it up with your husband. Ask him to enforce a (perfectly reasonable!) rule that they absolutely 100% need to call BEFORE they get in the car, and also let them know that these Sunday visits aren’t going to be a given or regular standing “thing” going forward.

That said, since they ARE otherwise lovely people who clearly want more time with their grandson, try to come up with some alternative (and more enjoyable) ways they CAN spend more time with him. Like they can spend time with you on the weekends, but it’ll be on your terms. They can tag along on activities you choose, or have to agree to end the visit at a set time. “Yes, you can visit this Sunday but instead of staying home let’s all go to the farmer’s market. Also we have other friends coming over at X time so you’ll probably want to head home by Y.”

Maybe you and your husband can plan a dinner/movie date in their suburb and let them babysit for a few hours, or they even could take over for his daycare one day or afternoon a week? I know you’re concerned about the developmental impact their constant holding/in-his-face interaction style might have, but that will likely end on its own over the next few months…a baby that wants to move or be put down so he can explore/play can LET HIS WILL BE KNOWN in more forceful terms than a brand-new three-month-old.

What likely WON’T end on its own, however, is the unannounced pop-in visits, unless they are specifically told that’s no longer okay or a regular expected thing. Truly loving, doting grandparents don’t often just lose interest once the grandchild isn’t so “new” — if anything their desire to be a regular, important influence in the child’s life becomes even stronger. Which is great! But still comes with boundaries and a need to respect your parental wishes and decisions. You know, because in the end, it is your kid and not theirs. That doesn’t need to be harsh or adversarial or anything, just a fact that grandparents everywhere need to acknowledge and respect, because otherwise they risk straining the relationship.

Editor: I encourage you to please read the great advice and insight from our readers.  Please just scroll a little bit below.  As always, they have really furthered the conversation here.

Photo source: Depositphotos/nonmim

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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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Comments

  • Traci Parmer

    I completely get the letter writer’s feelings, but there is something more going on here. This is a culture clash. LW is now a part of a Chinese family, just as the Chinese grandparents are now a part of a Western family. It would be a very good idea for LW to learn more about the culture of her spouse. It is customary for Chinese grandparents to care for their grandchildren (as in provide childcare) and to spoil them. If anything, they are being incredibly respectful (from Thier POV)by only coming by on Sundays. LW will need to talk to her husband and find a middle ground that works. It sounds like they are very nice and will be understanding and helpful. Figure it out before resentment grows.

    As for the development concerns. Holding a baby actually helps in those areas. When they are being held they are practicing and strengthening the same muscles that get strengthened during tummy time. Same goes for baby wearing! You can never hold a baby too much!

    It sounds like this baby is very lucky to have loving parents and grandparents. With a little cultural understanding and communication you’ll figure it all out! Good luck!

    • C

      Agreed will all, Traci! In Chinese culture, grandparents often believe that they have rights to (their child and) the baby, expect that they will be caring for the baby at least part of the time, and that their wishes and opinions on child-rearing are the final say. This makes navigating relationships between raised-in-Asia and raised-in the West (let alone a true East-West family, like the OP has) family members really tricky, especially if there hasn’t been serious boundary issues before this moment. My parents, for example, felt that requests to call ahead for visits were unreasonable and offensive, because that level of coordination is not necessary within a family and is disrespectful towards their wishes (it took quite a few visits where I wasn’t home for them to get the message, and that really didn’t go well). So yes, these particular Chinese grandparents sounds like they are on the understanding side of the spectrum in terms of their perceived rights to their child and grandchild, and lots of up-front communication about expectations and boundaries from their son is the way to go.

      Hopefully this wouldn’t backfire for the OP and have them blame her, but in our family, explaining how my (Caucasian) husband’s culture and cultural expectations of privacy and visit coordination differed from theirs helped a lot – they were still upset and disappointed, but understood the framework a lot better (and I think gave them a reason they couldn’t really push back or over, since their own point was based on cultural expectations). Please try to remember this is all coming from a place of love and cultural expectations, and good luck with getting compromises on both sides that will result in one big happy family!!!

      • Cac

        As another Caucasian married to an Asian man, I feel your pain with regards to boundaries. My MIL and I have finally reached a sort of truce but it wasn’t pretty. As the others have said- it is more of a cultural issue than anything else. They do not see themselves as guests and, in my experience, will not respond well to being treated as an imposition. Family is so important and the western boundaries we have don’t fit with their culture. I would urge you to flip the script and both use the time of their visit to run errands/take a nap/etc and try to stop seeing them as guests and just work around them- it’ll be so much easier. I know it’s hard when they are in your house, speaking a language you don’t understand and you just want peace and quiet but try to find something good in it.
        Involving them in other aspects of the baby’s care is also a good idea especially as he gets a little older and they can babysit or take him places alone. I promise that you’ll start appreciating them more as he grows.
        Putting your husband in the middle of the cultural gap is very hard on him and I would urge you only to do it when it really matters (I speak from experience here- it’s expected in Asian culture that the younger generation resepects their elders so it’s hard both for your husband to go against them and it will be obvious that it’s coming from you). I wish you the best of luck- kids was really the first time we had a real cultural reckoning and it’s survivable, just pick your battles!

  • Becky

    I double checked to make sure I didn’t write this letter. Same situation here with first grandchild, language/culture differences, & loving loving grandparents. We also have regular Sunday visits, & I ulilize the eager babysitters for date night or running errands. They get extra baby cuddles without me hovering, & I get stuff done. I decided if baby wasn’t uncomfortable or in danger to let them do their thing, even if it isn’t my style. I also text them pictures Throughout the week. Kudos for you for trying to be kind in this situation. It’s new territory for everyone.

  • Meg Murry-ish

    In addition to the other good advice you’ve received, I would also add that my in-laws tend to do a lot more “pop in” visits when we haven’t explicitly scheduled time with them and the grandkids. But when we make an effort to plan out specific days and times to spend with them, they are less likely to randomly pop in. So next time they pop in, before they leave could you ask your husband to discuss the next time they’ll see you and schedule it?

    Have you asked your husband if there is any chance they think they are being “helpful” by coming to you instead of you driving to them on Sundays, saving you the drive? Perhaps your husband mentioned that it’s a pain to pack up the baby stuff, or that the baby doesn’t like the carseat, or something similar that they interpreted as “oh, we’ll be helping by coming to them instead!”

    What is the current childcare situation, and are the grandparents working full time, or are they retired or otherwise available during the week? If the baby is home with a nanny and the grandparents aren’t working, perhaps they could come over one afternoon a week instead, so they could get a couple hours of baby time without interfering with OP’s limited time with the baby?

    Or if you are resigned to them coming over on Sundays, could you plan to do something just for yourself then? So when they call, your husband can say “ok, that’s fine, but Jane was planning to run errands/go to the gym/etc at 2:00, so it will be just me and kiddo for a while”. After all, they can’t expect you to drop your plans when you didn’t know they were coming. Heck, just put on some “gym clothes” and go read a book by yourself for an hour and then come home and shower, they don’t need to know you weren’t actually running 🙂

    Last, since there is the language barrier and all communication is going through your husband, is there any chance that they *did* tell your husband they’d be coming on Sunday afternoons (or that he said something like “sure, stop by anytime!”) but he is forgetting to tell you that until they call and say they are on their way? Either honestly forgetting, or “oops, I forgot” on purpose because he doesn’t want to make you mad but he can’t tell them no?

    • Karen

      My husband is Chinese, you will open a giant can of worms and hurt if you approach this as simply a boundary thing. Chinese families have traditionally lived in multi-generational households where there is almost no delineation between parents and grandparents. It’s all one set of adults raising the child and there are no “our values and their values”, because they are the same values (I’m speaking generally). Your MIL is telling her friends back home about how she isn’t under the same roof as her grandkid and they cant even comprehend that. That’s why your in-laws are parking on the couch, because they don’t know any other way to be. My MIL wants to be helpful so badly and regrettably I spent the first few years of parenthood constantly declining what I saw as her imposition in my space. Now she cooks stir fries and freezes them for my husband to use for lunch. They take my kids for walks to the park and through the neighborhood. It was hard at first and I also had that feeling of my MIL usurping my role. It took me a long time and a second kid to get past it. It’s so much better now. Great advice above.

  • Caroline

    I think that, given the whole cultural thing and the obvious desire to not hurt anyone unduly, the OP needs to decide, with her husband, now, what is not reasonable and what is. I like the idea, if it’s even slightly feasible, to have them look after the baby one day a week, or one afternoon… or morning, whatever, and when this is set up, say ”I’m so glad to have your wonderful experience and kindness because our weekends do get quite busy, especially with little guy getting bigger so it’s probably best to call ahead BEFORE coming over, I’d hate you to waste your time and petrol”. Be very gentle, but remember that you also have a valid culture, and it’s the culture in which you all live, so it’s totally okay to not be up for all-Sunday-every-Sunday-forever, especially since you work full time. Maybe suggest that you will visit them for a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon sometimes, save them the journey etcetera, but even if it’s unpleasant, certain boundaries must be drawn firmly, or you will be the total bottom of the pile and get mightily peeved as time goes on.

    If you can get them involved during the week on an ongoing basis *when they could actually be useful and not involve you feeling like a hostess* that would definitely resolve a lot of problems! Best of luck!

    • Lisa

      I agree with this, especially the part about the OP having a culture too. With all respect to the in-laws, the OP is supposed to let them run roughshod over her because *shrug* culture? There’s no middle ground? I think one day a week care, or a weekly “date night” is a great idea.

      • bookworm81

        I think the point many of the commenters are making is that coming over only on Sundays is already a compromise for the grandparents because is their culture they’d be there almost every day. Doesn’t mean that the OP can’t set her own stricter boundaries but I agree that it’s important for her to understand where they’re coming from.

  • S

    I love, LOVE, the comments below. I am on the other side of this – my family is all up in our business all the time. We aren’t Chinese, but my parents and my grandparents are extremely close – like they live next door to each other, and we live 2 minutes away from all of them. We have a standing Sunday dinner, and often see them other times during the week. We vacation together (not all vacations, but definitely once a year at least). All this to say – it took my husband awhile to help me understand where he needed more space. And it took him awhile to see my parents are helpful – and it got much easier with time! Now we are grateful to have eager babysitters, love that vacations come with built in sitters/help planning, overall there are a lot of benefits. Our son is extremely close to his grandparents and great grandparents, and it really is “all the adults raising our son” type of a thing. Now – occasionally I lay down the law on stuff, but 99% of the time they respect my word/opinion as final – but it always has to come from me. But it is a cultural thing – they have opinions and wants for our son, just like they had with their own children, down to his care during the week and school. It’s tricky to navigate if you didn’t grow up with it, but I encourage you to talk to your husband. Talk about culture, family history (yours and his). Explore the idea of you stretching to include them more on your terms, and hopefully your husband can help find a balance too. But like others have said, in this, you might have to be the more flexible/creative one – pick your battles, remember it’s coming from a place of love and support, and maybe take a Mandarin class 🙂

  • BK

    Hello, I grew up in an Asian family and my husband is Caucasian therefore I can relate to the surprise visits. As long as they’re being helpful and actually listening to you as well regardless of culture. This I realized was not necessarily cultural, but fell upon the individuals after observing other Asian family members as well the dynamics. Ensure that you’re communicating as clear as possible. If the communication was discussed several times and they’re not being helpful and creating more stress for your family by being overly critical/complaining over petty things, then consider scheduled middle distance locations which will allow your family to leave anytime and minimize them staying over. Again your priority will be the well being of your family first.

  • Reader

    Switch that Sunday afternoon visit to early Saturday evening and have yourself a weekly date night with hubby! My in-laws come over every Saturday, and have so since our first was one week old. They watch the kids for 2-3 hours, and it has been a blessing for all of us. My kids look forward to this special time when they get their grandparents undivided attention, my in-laws get a weekly visit, and my husband and I get much needed quality time together. Our friends always comment on how lucky we are to have a regular date night with free babysitting. When we come home, that signals end of visit / kids’ bedtime.