I’m currently counting the seconds—as I take deep yoga breaths—to the end of my in-laws’ two week visit. They’re in from Eastern Europe to spend time with our three-year-old, their only grandchild, who they see once a year, so they mean business. They don’t speak a lick of English, are fairly conservative and blame me for stealing their eldest son away from the life he was meant to live in his literal motherland. But whatever—this is not my first rodeo with these folks. I know that while they don’t like me, they pretend to, because I am the gatekeeper. And I know I have to keep up the show too, because: Family. We are a cliché come to life, it’s true, and I know there are many more of us out there. That’s why I want to share with you the coping skills I’ve devised over the last six years. They won’t make invisible the woman clucking around my kitchen or mute the unsolicited, passive-aggressive advice, but they may help make it all a bit more bearable.
1. Get your partner on your side. The. Whole. Time. You don’t have to agree on everything in real life, but for the duration of the in-laws’ stay, you must present a united front. Bicker later, smile knowingly and clutch hands now. In-laws—especially ones who resent you—love nothing better than to stir stuff up between you (villain) and your partner (hero). Establish your united front at least a week before their arrival. Maybe do some practice drills—your kids are probably pretty good at stirring things up too, right?
2. Swallow your disdain and let your kid eat what your in-laws offer. Hot dogs in the AM for two weeks—it’s happening. But guess what? Fine with me. White bread with paté at every meal: No problem. I have not seen these people offer my child a fruit or vegetable in 12 days, but I’m coping. I’m on wiener watch, but I’m keeping it together. It has taken me almost three years to get here, but I try to remind myself of my occasional slips (hello, birthday cake for breakfast). My poor child may suffer deli meat withdrawal (they brought a suitcase full of shrink-wrapped cured items) at best, gout at worst. It’s awful, slimy and salty—but it’s temporary.
3. Enjoy the free pass. These people don’t want to spend time with you, so get the hell out of dodge. During my in-laws’ stay, I’ve updated my wardrobe, gotten a pedicure and brunched with friends. These outings are limited to the hours my daughter is in preschool or my husband is home—no free babysitting for us—because our girl will not let us out of her sight when grandma and grandpa are lurking about (though she’ll happily accept their hot dogs). PS: She’s fine with other sitters.
4. Take comfort in your kid’s clinginess. Kids, too, can sense the overbearing (needy) energy of grandparents. My kid gets the intrusion and—for once—is choosing me over others. I’m kind of soaking it up. Perhaps this experience will offer her young mind a little window into what it feels like to have someone constantly hanging on you, chasing you around the house, accompanying you to the bathroom (though she doesn’t cheer for me the way the grandparents do for her) and calling your name repeatedly throughout the day.
5. Benefit from the language barrier. I thank my lucky stars that they don’t speak English, because I can’t possibly bite my tongue all of the time. This is key: Talk as much shit about the in-laws as you like, but in a tone that suggests you’re commenting on the weather. Try looking out the window when you do this. It makes it more believable.
6. Take secret language classes so you understand what they’re saying about you. Straight up, I have not done this, but am seriously considering. If you’re craftier and more proactive than me, be sure to continue to ask your partner (who doesn’t know you’re like, totally fluent) to translate for you from time to time to keep up the ruse. You can then bust your partner when they omit the particularly harsh stuff.
7. Remember that you’re #blessed if they only visit once a year. Spending time with people you don’t like (and who don’t like you) is no holiday. It’s more like an intense game of Risk, Life and probably eventually Clue (kidding). Try to remind yourself they’re in your life because they love your kid and want to force an entire year’s worth of love, hugs, kisses and unwanted advice into two weeks under your roof. So try to suck it up, yoga breathe and revisit steps one through six as needed.
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