Ever wondered how to have the most successful visit with your adult children, their spouses and your grandkids? Especially when living a long distance away from them prevents short and frequent visits?
My first brilliant bit of hard won insight was, “Keep your visit short, stupid.” This is true even when long distance is a factor. I took Jerry Seinfeld’s advice, “Always leave them wanting more.”
What works for me now? A maximum of four days and three nights in each of my kids’ homes. Tops.
‘The land of the yearning’ is what I had called the area of the country where three of my five sons live – along with their wives and children.
Whenever I visited ‘the land of the yearning,’ I went with great anticipation and impossibly high expectations – and invariably returned home depressed and riddled with unfulfilled longings. Here are 10 helpful tips on how to make some modest changes.
I would lower my expectations to conform with reality. And cease to be so self-absorbed and needy.
I would allow myself some ‘down time’ to partake in activities endemic to New York City, which is in commuting distance to where they all reside. In the past, I cast off the idea of buying a ticket to a Broadway matinee, walking the High Line or re-visiting the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
Sure, I longed to steal a few hours away – even indulge in some shopping at Bloomingdale’s – but how could I justify time away from my darling grandchildren?
This was until I realized that my darling grandchildren weren’t overly invested in spending 24 hours per day with grandma anyway. Nor were my kids.
Breaking out of my self-imposed silo, I bought a single ticket to Dear Evan Hansen – took the time to listen to the music beforehand – and strolled Times Square after the show, shamelessly people watching. And no one begrudged me my indulgence.
I abandoned my rigid, at-home walking routine. I realized fitting it in while traveling prevented me from being present for the unstructured magical moments that just happen when you are in the same room as your grandkids.
I began viewing situations through a different lens. Two of my grandchildren were sitting on each side of me – all of us engrossed in our own iPads.
Rather than looking at our individual technological preoccupations in a negative way, I snuggled closer to each of them and they snuggled closer to me. The outcome? We all enjoyed sheer mutual proximity. I coined it ‘companionable silence.’
All throughout my visit, I kept in mind my own parenting experience, repeating the following mantra as often as needed:
Kids get cranky.
Parents get tired.
Raising kids is a tough job.
So everyone deserves some slack.
How annoyed did I get when my in-laws or parents would interfere with my disciplining my kids? Plenty. So I did try and confine my remarks to matters I deemed critical to my grandkids’ health and safety.
Of course, what’s critical to a grandparent versus what’s critical to a parent is open to broad interpretation, but you do get my drift.
I stopped reaching for my iPhone to record videos and snap pictures of my family – every time they drew a breath, snored in the family room or noshed incessantly. The result: more memorable moments saturated with enjoyment; less iPhone fatigue.
I stopped personalizing everything. Instead, I tried meeting my family members where they are, not where I wish them to be. I tried seeing things from their perspective. Not mine.
For instance, I finally – at age 70 – accepted that some family members welcome you less dramatically and with less fanfare than others. I learned that it has little to do with their feelings and more to do with their innate personalities.
It is great when you don’t need to worry about being the one to set limits. I gave lots of focused time to my grandkids when asked.
I didn’t worry that they’d suffer from malnutrition if they indulged in a second bowl of peanut butter caramel crunch ice cream even though they left four string beans on their plate. I had fun and made sure they had fun, too.
I enjoyed each grandchild and appreciated them as separate individuals. I enjoyed the stage of life each of them was in.
My kindergartener couldn’t get enough of drawing and magic marker time with me. And what was most enlightening about that craft-filled interlude?
I found my tense neck muscles relaxing too, as she and I concentrated on creating original works of art we proudly displayed to all interested family members.
One grandson challenged me to a checker tournament – proving to me his well developed strategic skills. Another taught me the proper way to throw a football – proving to me he had definitely mastered that feat.
Another grandson – at four months, the youngest of the brood – simply reminded me yet again how precious and delicious babies can be.
And my oldest granddaughter? Ah, she made me realize all over again how quickly our grandchildren mature and bloom – allowing me to glimpse a snippet of the caring and curious adult she will one day become.
I flew back home with a happy heart and spirit to match. I felt like I had achieved a new level of wisdom: I let them all be when they needed space and welcomed them with open arms when they were ready to seek me out.
And I left early on the fourth day.
Please share with me some tips and tidbits on how you have made visiting your children and grandchildren memorable, enjoyable and as stress free as possible.