When my parents come to visit, they don’t understand how hard it is. How can I get them to help more?
Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): I think this is a real problem that a lot of moms of young kids face. I’m not quite sure why it’s like that, but parents of young kids can end up feeling quite overwhelmed when the grandparents visit and hosting relatives is added on to their regular parental responsibilities.
On the other side of the coin, it’s likely that the grandparents may feel unequipped for dealing with young children and may not realize how harried this mom may be feeling.
Perhaps what she can do is say to the grandparents that this is really hard and maybe they could give her a hand. She may even want to suggest ways of lightening her load through helping with the children themselves or maybe by preparing dinner, ordering pizza delivery, or tiding up the kitchen or the living room.
Some new grandparents intuitively understand this pressure and will already be jumping in to help out; others may seem to want to be waited upon themselves. The child of those grandparents, whether it is her or her husband, is going to have to actually talk to them in a gentle way and encourage them to lend a hand to the household during their stay. They likely would appreciate some direction about what would be helpful as well.
MOLLY: I think these situations can be hard for everyone because a lot of new grandparents aren’t around young children all that often so they are not entirely comfortable feeding them or taking care of them on their own. They simply are not used to being around kids of that age so they’re a little shy or scared about taking that on. I understand that. But it makes it really hard if someone is sitting on the couch while you’re making dinner, cleaning the kitchen, feeding the kids, and everything else that the parenting marathon requires every night, and and then you still need to feed your guests, too. It’s exhausting just to list it all out.
MOM: Absolutely. I think it’s too much to ask of a Mom of young children to do all of that because they’re exhausted anyway, especially if she has a child that’s not sleeping through the night yet. I think that to solve this problem she has to learn to be more direct with the grandparents about how they could help that would be in their comfort zone. If they’re uncomfortable about having responsibility for the kids, which a lot of seniors are, then perhaps they could lend a hand with some of the work around the house. Chores like cooking a meal or tidying up might sound like acceptable ideas to her parents. If they have the means, they could open their wallets and take the family out to dinner, order in, or even pay for a cleaning service to come after they leave.
MOLLY: Or even doing the laundry.
MOM: Sometimes grandparents are much more comfortable doing that kind of household work that really has to be done rather than to have a hands-on experience with a young child.
MOLLY: I think the clear message needs to be that this is not a complete vacation for the grandparents.
MOM: Right, and it might be best to be upfront about that before the grandparents actually arrive.
MOLLY: I guess it just doesn’t feel fair for them to come and be on vacation while you’re working so hard to take care of everyone, including them.
MOM: Yes, but also a lot has to do with expectations. If you’re talking on the phone with your parents before they come, you’ll need to say to them something like, “Things are so crazy around here with the kids being so young… We’d love to have you visit and have another pair of hands to help out! Would you mind?”
Hopefully, these new grandparents will respond with, “Of course, darling. Just let us know how we can help you while we’re there.”
Even better if you can get them actively involved in how to help that would feel okay for their comfort level. They might suggest, “Why don’t I make dinner? Or, why don’t I order out dinner? Or, why don’t I clean up the kitchen?” Generally, grandparents want to be helpful, but need direction.
MOLLY: What should she do if these grandparents are her in-laws? This can make it trickier in terms of talking to them directly about things because she doesn’t want to offend them.
MOM: I think it can be very, very tricky. You’re right; she doesn’t want to offend them. In the case of in-laws, depending on what her relationship is with them, she might want her husband to talk to them before they actually arrive in the house. If her husband is uncomfortable doing that, which is possible, then she will have to do it herself. She can write it in an email or letter or talk to them on the phone, whichever mode of communication feels the most comfortable for her. The key is that somebody has to talk to them beforehand so that the expectation is clear for everyone. Then, when the parents actually arrive, they will know what’s expected of them.
If they persist in not helping out, she’ll have to limit how often they visit or how long they stay until the kids get older. This kind of living situation can be incredibly stressful for everyone.
MOLLY: I know. It’s the kind of “vacation” that after your guests leave, you feel like you now need a vacation to recover.
MOM: Right, and then you’ll feel resentful towards them. Things always run more smoothly when people feel prepared for what’s going to happen.
Experience this? Comment below if you’ve had success getting your parents or in-laws to help more. Or Contact US if you have other parenting questions you’d like to see addressed.