My in-laws have never been very involved in our lives because they refuse to meet us halfway when it comes to visits. We live out of state from them and they always expect us to travel to get together. Since my husband and I are both professionals with busy careers, and it’s not easy for us to take the kids away from school and their activities, it’s hard for us to make time to travel. That, plus when we do take vacation time off from our jobs, we don’t always want to have to spend all our time and money traveling to see family.
My husband’s parents have been retired for many years. We would have loved to have them come and stay for extended visits but they never would make the effort. They seem to be able to take long trips out of state to see other family members, but never to come see us. Since they won’t travel to come see us, we only see them in person about twice a year.
The problem is that their age is starting to catch up with them and they are having some health problems. It seems that because of this, my mother-in-law has started to guilt my husband in to making extra trips to visit. He’s been giving in to her demands to visit frequently and he’s also been making our young teen children go with him to see the grandparents. They’re not happy to be away from home and their friends and activities and I’m not happy to have them leave me alone to work and take care of the house and pets. I’m getting resentful of these trips and so are the kids. What can we do?
This scenario screams of family meeting to me. With older children it can work well for everyone to sit down and air their concerns. The trick will be to keep things civil, especially as it sounds like there are some intense emotions surrounding this situation.
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It will be up to you and your husband to set the ground rules for how the family meeting will be conducted. Rules to set beforehand might be about how, when one person is talking, no one can interrupt. There will need to be an understanding that everyone should be courteous and respectful to each other. If things start to go awry, either you or your husband will need to be the respectability police and bring things back around to being civil and sensitive to each other’s feelings.
Decide early on what you want to accomplish with the meeting. Do you want to air feelings or make a plan for how many visits you should make, or both? Keep in mind that this issue will probably need several meetings to come to resolution. A family meeting is just one strategy for resolving this issue. Others may be to negotiate for your husband to visit his parents on his own, or you could make an effort as a family to call or Skype them more often.
There may also be some factors at play with your husband feeling guiltier now that his parents are becoming frail with age. Try to get him to open up to you about his feelings. He may be carrying guilt over not having seen them more often when they were healthier. Getting him to open up and share his feelings will help him feel cared for as this may be a more difficult emotional time for him than you and the children realize.
Meeting the needs of aging parents takes compromise and negotiation on the part of all involved family members. Keep the lines of communication open and you should, as a family, be able to make changes that will calm your resentment and show care and concern for each other during this life transition.
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• What do you most need from your husband right now?
• What does he need from you?
• What do your children need?
• How will you and your husband, together as the heads of your family, work toward getting the needs of all your family members met?