The Ins and Outs of Staying With the In-laws

Nurture family relationships without going insane.

My husband and I often took weekend jaunts here and there when we were dating, and even after we were married we traveled frequently—weekends to Toronto and New York City, and a trip to London every summer to visit my in-laws, who were expatriates for four years.

Then our daughter was born, and we both decided to quit our jobs and pursue our dreams: he left his public-school teaching job to pursue a doctorate, and I ditched my corporate gig for a career as a freelance writer.

Because, after all, who wants to have all that pesky money lying around when you are raising a kid?

Not I! No, sir!

So these days, our travels are limited somewhat by budget, and even more so by the fact that our extended family is spread out over multiple states—the closest of which is more than 400 miles from our home base in Central Illinois.

It’s important to us that we nurture the close relationship between Emmeline and her grandparents. We want to maintain our own ties, as well, and that means traveling to spend time with the people we hold dear. 

Gone are the days of a hotel room for two. Hello to days of staying with great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, and aunts and uncles.

For days at a time. Sometimes, for weeks.

What’s that saying about guests and fish? They both stink after three days? Let’s just say that our stench could burn the hair out of your nose.

However, we are fortunate that our families are patient, and so eager to see the golden child that they go to great lengths to make it easy for us to stay in their homes.

Avoid Excess Baggage 

Both my mother and my mother-in-law purchased cribs and toddler beds for their grandchildren, and they each keep a small supply of “grandma toys” stashed away so that we don’t need to haul the entire toy box with us on every trip.

Yes, we’re spoiled. And we know it.

To be fair, we also put in plenty of effort to make these visits successful and low-stress.

We often stay at my husband’s grandparents’ house, and things got a little hairy when our kid decided that sleeping in a portable crib was the equivalent of having hot pokers stuck in her eyes.

So while my husband slept on the sofa, I snuggled up to our outrageously tall (98th percentile!) toddler in a single bed.

Good times, people, good times.

Deciding that sleep trumps frugality, I searched Google for “crib rental Cleveland” before our next visit and found a service that rents cribs and other baby and toddler necessities. I was amazed at the number of sites that came up, in cities all over the country. Who knew?

It cost us about $75 to rent a crib—plus the mattress, a sheet and bumpers—for three days, with delivery, set-up and pick-up included. I cannot recommend a service like this enough, even if you are staying in a hotel. A good night’s sleep, as all parents know, is rare and valuable.

Because we typically spend three weeklong stints a year in Cleveland, we did the math and decided it was in our best interest to buy an inexpensive crib to store at their home. That way, Emmeline always knows where she is going to sleep, making bedtime a lot less stressful.

And let’s face it—when we’re talking about spending time with family, the less extra stress the better.

Plan to Minimize Stress 

All families have their own emotional topography, and navigating that territory while you’re sharing a bathroom can exacerbate issues that might otherwise be easily managed from hundreds of miles away.

And no, I am not talking about my family. Nope. No way. Nada. Not. I love you, Mom!

Relationship expert, author and advice columnist Beatty Cohan says that time spent with the old gang doesn’t have to be an emotional minefield if you take care to set your boundaries.

Cohan, a nationally recognized psychotherapist, has over 30 years of clinical experience. In 2004, she was appointed to Florida’s Commission on Marriage and Family Support Initiatives by Governor Jeb Bush.

During her years in private practice, Cohan says she has seen hundreds of patients who struggle with familial relationships well into adulthood.

Her own visits to her late mother, she says, were always limited to three days or less.

“You always need to have a game plan,” Cohan advises. “In my own situation, my daughter and I would travel thousands of miles (to see my mother), and we knew, come the third day, we had to get the hell out.”

If the situation between you and your parents is strained, you could even consider allowing your child to stay the night with his or her grandparents while you stay in a hotel.

“You want to find a way to make it a win-win, and not a win-lose,” Cohan advises. “The important thing is finding a balance.”

That balance may mean having plans to go out and do something every day during your visit, having a time limit for your stay or making sure you aren’t suddenly regressing to a sullen 12-year-old.

Enlisting your partner’s support is also important, Cohan says. “Tell your partner, ‘if you see things start to go down the tubes, tell me.’ That can help you realize what is going on and get yourself out of the mess.”

Finally, Cohan points out that, as adults, we all have the right to exert our own boundaries, no matter who we are dealing with—parents, grandparents, children and spouses alike.

“You need to be aware of what is going on around you, and if things get dicey, give yourself a time-out,” she says.

Good advice, that. Now I need to go call my mother.

Themes: Family Travel

User Comments

What Crib Rental Place I saw this article while searching for crib rental Cleveland. I can't find anywhere! What was the company you found?

love this burnt nose hairs indeed! always enjoy your writing. it's a good topic, as families are such a balancing act. and just think, our kids could be published writing about us in 20 years or so...

Crib rentals Hey Bobby Lee - I suggest that you Google "crib rental" and the city or region that you are visiting. That's how I found the place where we rented our crib. - Amy Hatch

Great Advice!!! This article is very informative. What are some of the names for the crib rental places?