There's an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Ray tries to convince his wife that they need to find a house that's too far from his parents for daily visits, but not far enough for overnights. My husband and I have employed Ray's ingenious logic when we chose to live just under an hour away from his high-maintenance parents. Unfortunately for us, it turns out that 50 minutes by car does justify an overnight stay from their perspective. When we invite them over for a visit, they always ask to stay the night. My husband gently explains that we have other things to take care of on the weekend and that we just can't manage having them stay the night. The conversation eventually ends with his parents declining the invite, but requesting that next time we choose a date when we can have them spend the night.
The thing is, we just don't want to spend that much time with them. A few hours with my in-laws can be pleasant, but having them sleep over is stressful and exhausting - my husband is tense, I'm annoyed, and the kids are bored. What do you suggest?
Me, I'm a Seinfeld man, but I get the gist.
And I think I understand where you're coming from. I had a sad realization recently. (Please bear with me, as I believe it will help shed light on your case.)
It was that, these days, I, a man with three children, living in a two-career household with a dog that apparently requires four walks a day (not to mention various other chores, burdens, duties and obligations), tend to view everything through a filter of: "How much work is this going to cost me?"
So let's say: Friends, whom I love, are coming over for drinks. Or: Wife wants to throw dinner party. One of our kids' birthdays is around the corner. Kid wants to learn new instrument. Visitors from out of town want to pop by.
Each of these events should, and in fact does, fill me with joy and happiness - once I brush aside the invariable thought: "Ugh, more work for me."
There's an it-never-stops quality to it all. With two kids in hockey, one in volleyball, weekends are, if anything, busier than the week. Saturday and Sunday mornings we get up and go, go, go.
If I had to deal with overnight guests on top of everything else, I think I might burst into tears.
Could you not explain something along those lines to your in-laws?
"Listen, it's not personal, we love seeing you, but we're up to our eye teeth in obligations. My duty-roster is as long as Charles Manson's rap sheet, la la la, and the bottom line is we just can't handle overnight guests."
Surely they could cast their minds back to the days when they were in the trenches of child-rearing, bullets pinging off their helmets, and decide to cut you a break: either go home after their apple pie and brandies, or book a room at a local hotel or B&B?
There are several other easy, practical solutions for this impasse. For example, you could invite them for brunch, explaining that you have dinner plans, thus a) putting a best-before date on their visit, and b) giving them plenty of daylight travel time.
Or you could suggest gathering at a neutral location equidistant from your respective domiciles, 25 minutes each way for each party, no biggie. Have dinner at a diner or other roadside boîte. Then get the cheque, and both hit the road, heading home. Totally surgical.
Then again, why not suggest taking your family to your in-laws' house? Why not "table" that option?
Then they would have to do all the cooking, cleaning, and everything else. All you have to do is drive an hour there, an hour back. A cinch!
And if, like Ray Barone, you have several kids (or even better if, like me, you have not only three kids but also a yappy, annoying furball of a dog), it may be they who wind up checking their watches and wondering when you're going to hit the road; happy they had you over, and relieved to see your tail-lights.
And in that fashion, balance will be achieved, the proper order of the universe restored, i.e. everyone a combination of happy and miser- able, exhilarated and exhausted.
Oh, and, uh, merry Xmas, and happy Hanukkah, everyone. Take tomorrow morning off, Cratchits of Canada. Heck, take the whole three-day weekend, if you must.
But I want to see you all back at work, ticking off items on your to-do lists and duty rosters, bright and early Monday morning.
David Eddie is the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad. Damage Control,
the book, will be published in
the spring of 2010.
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