My wife and I have never lived in the same city as our in-laws. Both sets of parents live thousands of kilometres away, which means we only see them a couple of times each year. If airlines offered reward points for guilt trips, we would probably see them more often.
There are definitely days when we wish they lived closer. When a big concert rolls into town, we’d love to be able to count on a set of grandparents to take our kids for a few hours (or even overnight). We’re always scrambling to find a neighbourhood teen to babysit our two daughters, and we’re jealous of our friends whose parents live around the corner. Our conversations usually go like this:
Them: “We’re all set for the U2 show on Friday. Our kids are going to Nana and Pop-Pops for the night. What about your girls?”
Us: “Our babysitter just took a part-time job at Swiss Chalet, so we’re out of luck. You guys go ahead without us.”
Unfortunately, the only time we get to catch a concert is when The Wiggles tour lands in our city—and the mosh pit at that show is actually more disgusting than one at a heavy metal concert.
Free babysitting is probably the biggest benefit to having your parents live in the same city. But let’s be honest: It does come with a price. Sometimes, paying the 14-year-old down the street $8 an hour (plus Popsicles) is more appealing because she won’t make passive-aggressive comments about the way you’re raising your children. Who am I kidding? There’s nothing passive about it (“I think your kids have far too many choices.” “Your girls are messy.” “Do they ever eat any vegetables?”).
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We also don’t have to deal with dreaded drop-in visits. We’re kind of a pants-optional household on the weekends, and I would hate to have to always be ready in case my in-laws decide to pop by to see what we’re up to. Sometimes, a guy just wants to play Wii in his boxer shorts. And our house often looks like a scene from Sharknado, so if Grandma saw the mountain of shoes that usually occupies the doorway when we aren’t in “expecting guests” mode, she might go into cardiac distress.
Some people think it’s a nice tradition to have big family dinners on Sunday nights, but I’d find that too restrictive. I could see myself telling my wife, “But the Cowboys and Eagles are playing a huge game on Sunday night. Do we really have to go to your parents’ house?” Then she’d say, “Maybe the NFL should think twice about scheduling games on Sundays. That’s family time.” Who could live like that?
But there are definitely some drawbacks to having your kids’ grandparents living far away. You spend a lot of time trying to video chat with them, growing frustrated as you watch a pair of senior citizens fumble with controls on a touch-screen tablet. And you have to deal with having them as house guests for extended periods of time, which usually goes something like this:
Day 1: I’m so happy your parents are staying with us.
Day 4: Your mom just rearranged our silverware drawer to make it more efficient.
Day 7: This is the longest week of my life.
Day 10: Let’s set all the alarm clocks to make sure they don’t miss their flight.
You also end up having to spend a significant amount of your own vacation time and money visiting them. It can be a little deflating for the kids when you announce, “I know we were talking about going to Disney World, but we’re going to visit Oma and Opa in Edmonton instead.”
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So which is better: Having your in-laws in the same city or far away? I’ve come up with a mathematical equation to solve this long-standing problem: (nagging x distance) - drop-in visits/free babysitting = 100 km.
One hundred kilometres is the perfect distance to be separated from your in-laws. They’re close enough to come over and help when you need them—but too far away to meddle with your daily life (not to mention that trip to Disney).
A version of this article appeared in our October 2014 issue with the headline, "In-laws or outlaws?", p. 62.
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