When it comes to extended family, I can’t live with them (for too long) and I can’t live without them (because God saw fit to bind us by blood, marriage, and pinky promises).
‘Tis the season of family reunions, and in the past six weeks my husband and I hosted and entertained four different sets of relatives consisting of grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins from both our sides. I would venture to say that the Kodak moments outnumbered the cringe-worthy ones; but I will also say this: it was a long six weeks. The in-laws started seeming more like outlaws, and our hospitality was growing a little sterile.
But before you call me out on the assumption that I’m about to launch into a family bashing session, hold your judgy phone and hear me out.
Perhaps your own family consists of delightful, always-helpful, angelic beings and you get along with every single one of them. That’s cool. I’m really happy for you!
For those of us who are not as fortunate in this regard, I’m sharing the seven kinds of kinsfolk I’ve identified as potentially negative influencers because 1) it’s our responsibility as parents to be mindful of the kinds of company we keep in our homes; and 2) we need to familiarize ourselves with their pet-peeving practices if we are to avoid adopting them, as well.
- The Paparazzi. I absolutely adore family photos, and what better time to whisk out the camera than while making memories with those closest to you? However, when trigger-happy relatives follow the kids around relentlessly, ordering them to “cheese” then change into the new outfit Grandma bought them for more pictures—that’s overkill. Children have personal space that needs to be respected, too. Even if they don’t mind being in the lens and limelight, do we really want to encourage so much focus on outward appearances that they become blinded to the real cheese on their faces?
- The Drones. You’re probably familiar with the term “helicopter parent.” “Drones” denote the similarly hovering grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in our lives: the ones that excessively coddle the kiddos to ensure their safety, come to the rescue when they’re being disciplined, or follow them from room to room because—Heaven forbid—Mom and Dad aren’t scrutinizing their every move (and they might get hurt or actually become more independent while learning about natural consequences). “Drone” also describes the whining that persists long after the company leaves, because the kids are now without personal assistants and public defenders.
- The Off-Season Santas. I get that relatives love to dote on the littles, but spoiling them is NOT an initiation requirement to join the Cool Kin Club. A small surprise or two is fine; a Christmastime reenactment complete with a suitcase (that might as well be a sleigh) full of presents, in my opinion, is not. As a friend articulated in her insightful article, “There’s no need to buy their love.” When it comes to family time, presence trumps presents.
- The Skunks. These are the high-maintenance, drama queens and kings that raise a stink about everything. From your humble abode to the kid-friendly commode, it’s just never enough.
- The Routine-Wreckers. The kiddos had a great sleep schedule going and you were actually starting to enjoy some decent shut-eye! That is, until the visitors arrived. Sure, you don’t want to be a schedule Nazi and might even allow for some deviations in order to make the most of every moment during their stay; but you also don’t want those precious moments consumed with overly tired kids and zombie moms. (Post-visit exhaustion isn’t fun either.)
- The Parrots. “Parrots” are the family gabbers. They talk to you, about you, and over you. Trading tales of days gone by can certainly be time well-spent. Gossiping about others and repeating stories you’d rather not hear, on the other hand, is not.
- The Gangstas. These refer to the family rebels. Gotta love ‘em, right? But we don’t have to love what they do. They, as we all, are free to take on or reject whatever lifestyle vices they choose. Habits such as drinking, cussing, and smoking around my kids, however, are not A-OK in this mama’s book.
So exactly how should we handle these familiar personalities when they come calling?
With care. With clear communication. With hard conversations, if necessary. With an extra measure of grace for those branches of the family tree that are especially cumbersome or broken.
We can plan ahead. Schedule wholesome activities the entire family can enjoy together. Be flexible when able. Coordinate a themed family photo shoot and encourage candid shots for the duration. Make our family’s rules and bedtime hours known in advance. Help arrange alternate accommodations if a family member voices concerns about what we have to offer.
And, if ultimately we find ourselves still butting heads to the point of wanting to break off those unwieldy “branches” altogether, we can choose to embrace the nuttiness or dig deep enough to find connection and stability in the roots we share.