"To Grandmother's House We Go..."
Whether "Grandma and Grandpa" live in the city or in a different state altogether, some people find that visiting them is a relaxing and positive experience. Maybe you get that much needed 1/2 hour of extra sleep while Grandma feeds the kids breakfast. Or Grandpa takes the kids for a walk and you have the opportunity to begin that novel you've been dying to read all winter. On the other hand, many people find that visiting their parents causes an unexplained emotional return to adolescence, wherein they become 12 years old, tongue tied, exasperated and sometimes angry. This shift can often be frustrating to the adults, not to mention confusing to the children.
In order to thrive (not just survive) during a visit to the grandparents' house you must prepare, prepare and prepare some more. This doesn't just mean preparing your child, but yourself as well. Here are a few helpful tips which can turn visiting Grandma and Grandpa (whether they are your parents or in-laws) into a special and enjoyable experience.
Prepare your child for the visit:
* Tell her in advance that you're going to visit Grandma. This should be done regardless of whether they live close-by or far away. Children need time to process transitions and feel comfortable with change.
* If his grandparents live far away, show him photos of Grandma and Grandpa so that their faces become familiar. Tell him stories about them, including things you did on your last visit to them. Do this even if you're sure your child remembers them. It will reacquaint your child with their personalities and help him bring up memories of his own.
* If the visit will be an extended one, obtain or make a calendar with the visit clearly marked (special stickers for each day that you're there work well), then let the child "X" off the days preceding the visit as they pass. Be sure to take the calendar with you so the child can also prepare for the return home. This also works well for the child who will be visiting his grandparents alone.
* If there are going to be different rules at Grandma's house, be sure to explain them to your child thoroughly and more than once. When you're visiting and prior to your return home, re explain that the rules are different at home. This will lessen the feeling of disruption and consequently the chance of rebellion when you return.
* Think through how things are different at your parents' or in-laws home. Do the rules change? What is likely to "push your buttons?" Does Grandma insist on giving chocolate to your children as snacks? Does Grandpa take the children's side when they beg to stay awake "just ten more minutes?" What are the issues you feel the most strongly about? Which issues have you struggled with in your home and are the most likely to create the biggest problem? One mother I know had struggled for weeks to establish a comfortable nighttime routine for her three year old. She had finally achieved success: not only would her son go to sleep when it was time, but he wouldn't get out of bed with a million excuses. He was now comfortably sleeping through the night as well. However, she was taking him to visit his Grandfather in a few weeks, whom she knew from previous visits had adamantly taken her son's side on this issue. She felt nervous and uncomfortable bringing this issue up with her father. I urged her first to write down how she might present this dilemma to her father, then to anticipate his reactions and write down responses to those reactions as well. When she'd done that, a friend helped her role play by acting out the part of her father. Once she felt comfortable, she called him in advance of the visit and communicated her concern to him, reading much of what she said from her "script". Much to her surprise, he was thoughtful and concerned, and the conversation ended with his promise to support her on the issue of bedtime.
* Choose your battles. If you know that certain things are likely to be "issues" at your parents' or in-laws house, think through in advance what rules you can be flexible with. After all, this IS a vacation, and the rules should be a little more relaxed. If you walk into the situation knowing that you're going to be flexible, and you know which issues are and are not negotiable, you're less likely to feel anxious and stressed once you're there.
* Loosely schedule a daily activity for each day during the visit. ("After the baby's nap on Tuesday, we'll go to the zoo.") Sometimes free time becomes "stress time". If you have something scheduled, you can always change the plans if you're having a good time. But scheduling an activity gives you an "out" should you need it. Of course, be sure to discuss this with Grandma and Grandpa beforehand so potential conflict is avoided once you're there.
* If your parents (or in-laws) are likely to be extremely oppositional about certain issues, determine in advance how you're going to handle the things which are likely to come up. "Scripting" yourself (that is writing down possible responses to what they might say about certain issues is helpful and takes some of the pressure off.)
* Develop an attitude which will help you to step back and allow your child to forge their own relationship with your parents (or in-laws). Remember that their perceptions of one another, their history, and the dynamics of their relationship are BY NATURE different than yours. Your issues are not their issues, and (in all likelihood) never will be. Do remember, however, that YOU are the parent and advocate of your child, and that's worth standing up for if the need arises.