Should you move or be a perfect guest?
When we heard our 30-something daughter was pregnant with our first grandchild, my husband and I were ecstatic. Then came the bad news: Their family was moving to Portland, Oregon for her husband’s job.
Our daughter assumed we would move out there, too. But when we visited, the city’s hippie vibe didn’t seem to fit us. We don’t know anyone there, and the winters are rainy, damp and dreary.
Besides, our daughter would think nothing of picking up and moving again, leaving us stranded. We’ve all heard of parents moving to be near their children, only to have them move elsewhere.
Consider before moving
How do you know if it’s right to uproot yourselves to be near your children and grandchildren?
If it’s likely that they’ll stay put, it’s worth considering if their choice of locale is right for you. Will the weather affect you; is there good healthcare nearby?
And, since you need a life beyond the kids and grandkids, are there activities that you like, such as theater, museums or hiking? If you like to travel, is an airport nearby?
Find out if there are places to volunteer and see if there’s an over-55 community near them, so you can make friends.
And if everything seems perfect, consider a trial run, ideally a few weeks in the summer and a few in the winter. You may find that the solution is getting a summer or winter place there instead of making a complete move.
Tips for visiting grown kids
For now, we are staying in Maryland, especially since my husband is still working.
But with Portland being too far away for a long weekend, we’ve needed to focus on how to be the perfect guests when we stay for more than a couple days. After all, we all know the old saying about fish and company: After two or three days, they begin to stink.
The funny thing is that, 30 years ago, I wrote a how-to article for adult children titled “The Parents’ Visit: How to Survive and Even Enjoy the Ordeal.” Now that the shoe is on the other foot, hopefully I learned and remembered some things.
Here are a few bits of advice for being a good guest with your grown children:
Don’t shy away from staying at nearby hotel or Airbnb. If your grown children don’t have a separate guestroom or more than one bathroom, consider a hotel or Airbnb nearby.
If you do stay in their house, offer to cook a few meals. Before you leave, strip the bed, ask where they want the linens, offer to put clean ones on and wipe down your bathroom. Light housekeeping may ease the burden of your visit and elicit an offer for a return visit.
Open your wallet. If you can afford it, offer to pay for lunch, dinner or take-out. You might even pay for one grocery trip. If money is tight, maybe buy pizza or ice cream cones.
Or offer to babysit, so the young parents can get away. And try to look for some activities for yourselves — visit a museum or other place of interest on your own.
Break the visit up. A week-long visit just sitting around can be deadly; if possible, plan a mini-trip or long weekend together.
After visiting the Portland hot spots, we took our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter to Bend, Oregon — a walkable, fun town with a beer festival, delicious restaurants and cute shops.
Try not to take things too personally. I have to admit I’m overly sensitive, and have to work on this. When the baby was born, we did a lot of cooking for them. My son-in-law, whom I’m crazy about, kept asking if I washed my hands before starting food prep, when I touched the refrigerator, and so on.
I’ve been married 37 years, raised two children and never gave anyone food poisoning, so his caution annoyed me. But when you’re in their house, just play by their rules.
Be flexible. Try hard to fit into their schedule. One of my friend’s in-laws would get up late even though the best time to take the kids out for an activity was in the morning.
Remember, you’re only there for a few days, so don’t disrupt their routine.
Respect their sources of information. Things are different from when we brought up our kids. We had books by Dr. Spock and Dr. Brazelton; they have the internet.
Besides so much online info, there are apps to keep track of when the baby pooped, when they were last breastfed and when they napped and how long.
Don’t be controlling. Don’t criticize or offer unsolicited advice on their parenting skills or anything else, such as how to live a better life.
That includes the grandkids’ eating habits, even if their diet is bread and milk, as well as the amount of TV and other forms of screen time they are permitted. The only thing you’ll accomplish is annoying the parents.
Resist disciplining the kids unless it’s a safety issue. My in-laws thought it was their right as grandparents to tell their grandkids when they didn’t like their behavior or how they dressed. As grandparents, all we want is for the grandkids to love us. Disciplining is up to the parents, thank goodness.
Temper your expectations. Don’t think everything will be perfect. When my mother visited, she expected our kids to be obedient little dolls. I’d plead with them to behave, so Grandma would think I was a good mother.
But no, on one visit, a fight broke out, and my daughter gave my son a bloody nose. Try to remember that kids will be kids — even your grandchildren — so relax.
And if you remember only one thing, remember the wise words of Queen Elsa in Frozen: Let it go.
Alice Shapin is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C. area and a member of the Society of American Travel Writers.