We Are Both Right

Our Two Cents: Advice for a Mom Wishing Beggars Could Be Choosy

©Benjipie/stock.xchng

Yes, back at home there's a meddling mother-in-law. But take heart -- at least you are here! ©Benjipie/stock.xchng

Dear Suzanne and Amanda:

In two months, my husband and I will be going on a much-needed vacation alone — a cruise to the Bahamas. We have three girls (ages 8, 4 and 2) and my in-laws have agreed to watch them for the week that we are gone.

While I’m so excited to have time alone to relax and reconnect with my spouse, I’m dreading the thought of leaving my kids. First off, just leaving them in general — I’ve never been away from them for that long before and second, with my mother-in-law, with whom I have a rocky relationship. She’s hypercritical of me to begin with, I can’t imagine what she’s going to think or say when she spends a week in my home, living in my house which will undoubtedly be not clean enough, unorganized and not filled with the right foods for her precious granddaughters and even more precious son.

Let me say that I’m grateful to them for doing us this favor. My father-in-law is retired, but my mother-in-law is taking a week off from work. They are coming to us at their own expense (they lives two states away). However, I know things won’t get done my way and it’s likely I’m going to have to undo a lot of my mother-in-law’s handiwork — she’s been known to arrange cabinets and clothing drawers to her standards and likings — when I get back.

This trip is supposed to help me relax but I don’t know if I am going to be able to knowing what will be going on while I’m not there to keep an eye on her.  Any advice?

– Bahama Mama

Amanda:

(Before you read my advice, you should know that I hate confrontation. I hate it more than when my TiFaux isn’t working and I have to watch commercials during my favorite television shows [what am I a barbarian?]. So that’s my bias.)

I think you should let it go.

I know. I hear you protesting. It’s your house and your kids and your way and your mother-in-law needs to deal with the fact that it’s your family not hers. I get it. Really, I do. I promise I’m not being insensitive to your situation and feelings.

But the reality is, given your tenuous past, your mother-in-law isn’t going to listen to you. Or she might say she is going to listen to you and smile and nod her head when you explain that you cut your 4-year-old’s apples into triangles and put the peanut butter on them by flicking your wrist to the left and then she’s going to do things her way anyway.

Let it go. Go on vacation and know that even though your medicine cabinet and your pantry will never look the same again, and your kids are going to stay up later than normal and maybe have an extra dessert after dinner, your little ones will still be well-cared for and kept clean and safe and loved. They will have stories read to them and they will be cuddled and they will have a wonderful time.

Let it go. At this point, there is nothing more you can do. Short of canceling your trip or finding someone else to watch your kids or bringing your little ones with you, this is what you agreed to. You asked her to come despite knowing how she is and how crazy she makes you and she said yes. Now, you protest — “but I didn’t want to ask her, my husband did!” — and that’s unfortunate (and a letter for another time), but still. You asked — or someone asked — and she said yes.

You are going away with your husband and going to have a wonderful time. And yes, you will miss your kids, but I promise, one step onto that boat, one sip of that first drink, one touch of that warm Caribbean breeze on your face and suddenly, your mother-in-law refolding every article of clothing in your house doesn’t seem so bad.

(And honestly, if your closet looks anything like mine, you should welcome the intrusion. Er, help.)

Suzanne:

Like Amanda said, it’s probably best to convince yourself to let it go. No matter how much of a meddler your mother-in-law is, or what her motives are, she is doing you a favor by providing the watchful eye and loving arms that your girls will need while you are away.

But since we’re not in the business of sticking to one side of an issue, and I can’t help but imagine how crazed she must make you when she starts dropping hints about the fact that your daughters head straight to the laundry room to find clean socks instead of looking in their drawers because “that’s where Mommy keeps them,” I’m going to suggest — if you can pull it off without sounding like a bratty, whiny kid — that you say something before you leave.

Now granted, your mother-in-law doesn’t actually need to be sorting through your expired make-up or offering critiques of your pantry, but at the same time you can’t just flat out tell her to stay out of your stuff.

First, she may think that she is being helpful by accomplishing something that you obviously don’t have the time to do, in which case your message would be hurtful to her. Or, worse yet, if her motive is to truly knock you down a notch from your post as Queen, you risk an all-out war that will be brewing the whole time you are gone (and if you like your father-in-law in the least, you’ll probably want to spare him from hearing that all week). (Besides, you risk finding that she *oops* erased the whole season of Mad Men that you were planning to catch up on when you returned.)

That said, if you still think it’s best to speak up, here’s my best advice:

1) Do it up front, and not when you come back. You are hoping for a better outcome — not for it to come across as a complaint after the fact.

2) Word your request with her best interests in mind, like: “It’s not often you get to spend this much time with the girls, just you and them, so I want you to enjoy every minute of it. I’ve done my best to leave you with everything you will need and if there’s anything that’s missing, I apologize because these last few days have been hectic. But do yourself a favor, and don’t worry about the bins of clothes in the laundry room, or making sense of that hall closet. Just enjoy yourselves, play games with them, go for a walk. Make it your week off too. You and Dad deserve it.”

3) Have your husband echo this sincere appeal (within earshot of his father), only with the type of loving, yet heavy-handed approach that only a son can pull off with his mom. You know, something along the lines of: “Ma, I’m 38 and if I find out that you went through my underwear drawer again, we may have to skip Thanksgiving at your house this year.”

4) And when you come home, well-rested, and realize that not only is your underwear color-coded (not his) but that she bought you ten new pairs two-sizes too big, you have to promise that you’ll summon up every bit of inner peace you amassed over the last seven days, as you glance over at your well-kept and happy daughters, and say “thank you” knowing that you just might be in her shoes some day too.

****************************************

What do you think? Should Bahama Mama have a chat with her mother-in-law or sail blissfully (and ignorantly) into the sunset? And if you’ve got a relative who brings you down or a child who won’t listen, we can help! Send an e-mail to advice@wearebothright.com.

By the way, this is our 100th post! Thanks to all of you who have helped We Are Both Right get this far. We hope you are having as much fun as we are.

A Vacation Without Kids Sounds Great! (Sniff) (Sniff) Really!

© rogewainer/stock.xchng

© rogewainer/stock.xchng

Forget disagreeing with Suzanne, when it comes to vacationing without the kids, I’m at odds with myself.

My base reaction? It’s a great idea. I’m all for it. In fact, I’ve gone away on vacation quite a few times without them and had a wonderful time. In the decade that we’ve become parents, T. and I have visited Las Vegas, gone on a cruise with friends, stayed in an adorable bed and breakfast while we took a cooking class and gone on a heavenly four-day trip to a beach to Jamaica where we spent our days doing nothing but sitting. All activities that our kids would want nothing to do with, I’m sure.

Each time I come back relaxed and recharged and happy. I shout less and I am definitely more patient and understanding.

And I love having time alone with my husband. We have complete conversations (yes, about the kids, but still), eat meals without being interrupted and just be together. We can do whatever we like — long car rides, sitting on the beach, coexist in silence — it’s heavenly.

So what’s to feel conflicted about?

Oh the guilt. I swear, there is a Jewish grandmother lurking inside of me somewhere.

In the days leading up to our trip, I just feel so bad. Guilty about leaving them while we are off going someplace fun, guilty about leaving them in general. What if something happens while we are gone? What if they miss us? What if we miss them?

Obviously we do a lot of advance planning. So far, each time that T. and I have gone away, they’ve been cared for by one set of grandparents or the other, either at our house or at one of theirs. Before we leave, I spend countless hours preparing a book of information about each child, their routines, their medical histories, their likes, their dislikes, and fun places they might like to go. I fill the fridge with meal and food and I make sure that every article of clothing that they own is washed, folded and put away. I anticipate any need or want they might have while I’m not there and try to take care of it, or at least provide instructions on how someone else could take care of it.

Basically I parent for the days we are gone ahead of time.

Thankfully, the second I step in the airport, my guilt dissipates. You know what is a vacation for parents in and of itself? Flying without your kids. Trust me.  And as someone who is always so incredibly sad when vacation is over (OK fine, I cry), nothing lifts my spirits more than knowing my kids are waiting for us when we get home.

And the kids? As far as I can tell, they could care less that we are gone. They miss us of course, but when you are spending your days with your grandparents and not your shrill of a mother, well that’s a vacation too.

Basically, we all end up just fine on the other side.

Have you ever vacationed without your kids? Suzanne has. But not without consulting her lawyer first. So happy to have a friend as neurotic as me!

*******************************

Mommy and Daddy Will Be Right Back — From Vacation

It took a while for me to be convinced that going on a parents-only vacation was a good idea. Seven and a half years to be exact. Plus some arm-twisting. And a visit with an attorney.

Yes, this is the same mom who has brought her children to day care since they were newborns. I can justify being away from them for work. To leave them behind so I can go on vacation, purely for my own enjoyment and indulgence — nope, that’s just plain selfish.

Or so I thought.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have always valued spending quality time with my husband. Going on a couples-only vacation is a glorious idea. Uninterrupted conversations. Eating wherever and whenever we want without considering the 8 o’clock witching hour and spills on white tablecloths. Wandering through a museum at our own pace. Sitting on a beach without chasing after Crocs being pulled out by the tide.

And then my mind would jump right to thoughts of my kids wondering why mommy and daddy have been gone for so long. I didn’t want to have to explain that we were ditching them for a weekend. I didn’t want them to miss the fun things we would do while exploring a new city.

I felt guilty — so guilty that I allowed the idea of a fun vacation with my husband to be cancelled out by the imagined disappointment of my children.

This had been tugging and pulling at me for years, until last December my husband made the decision for us. We were going away for a long weekend. Without the kids. By plane. Hours away. His surprise Christmas present to me. Non-refundable.

Behind my smile, my breath was caught in my throat. My mind was racing. We needed to make an appointment with an attorney. Sad to say, but that was my first thought — before thinking about what I would pack, where would be staying, when were we going.

I couldn’t get excited about the trip until we had each signed a Last Will and Testament, appointing guardians for our children. It’s something we should have done seven years earlier, but the thought of both of us getting on the same plane without them finally got me to the point where I had to make the difficult decision about who would care for our children in our (permanent) absence.

And then I joined the ranks of parents who go on vacation without children — and actually have fun. The kids didn’t seem to mind the idea of staying at grandma and grandpa’s house for a few days. We promised to bring home gifts, and call every day (and night).

©Fran Marie I. Flores/stock.xchng

The trip itself was great — and I expected nothing less. It was also nice to discover that my husband and I were naturally in sync about the balance between missing the kids and finding something else to talk about. We enjoyed a self-guided tour of historic homes; lingered over twenty-five cent martinis during a two-hour lunch; and stayed out late taking in the nightlife. In between were calls made to the kids, and talking about how we’d love to return with them to enjoy some of the area’s family-oriented activities.

The experience was so great in fact that we’re doing it again this winter. It’s about to be booked — a parents-only vacation to a warm beach destination with another couple who have buried enough of their guilt to leave their children for a few days.

Now if I could just come up with a good answer for my son who keeps asking: “Can I go wherever you’re going?”

Amanda’s always been right about the benefits of parents-only vacations — I just wish I had listened sooner.