We love you. We value you as people who are a part of our lives and our children’s lives. We want you around. We want you to visit. We want our children to grow up to have a relationship with you. All these things are important to us, just as you’re important to us.
However, we need to set some ground rules for interacting with us and with the kids. Not onerous rules. Not rules you’re necessarily already breaking. This isn’t a passive-aggressive way to criticize last year’s Christmas presents. Instead, it’s a proactive way for us to have the best relationship we possibly can and have the best interactions we possibly can.
We’re not mad. We’re asking for your help.
DO NOT expect us to make our kids hug you, or make them feel guilty when they don’t (“Oh, I’m a poor sad aunt who needs a hug”). To you, a hug from the kids shows politeness and immediate affection. But our kids might not feel immediate affection toward you, especially if they don’t see you often. We teach our kids that they don’t have to hug or kiss anyone they don’t want to — even relatives. This isn’t rudeness — it’s teaching bodily autonomy and helps prevent abuse. You can be an important part of that teaching when you accept a high-five or a “Hi” instead of a bone-crushing hug.
DO NOT go nuts on the Christmas presents. Obviously, it’s your decision what to give our kids, and we’re grateful that you think of them. However, there are some things they — and we — will enjoy more than others. Experiences, rather than items, rule the day: An annual pass to the zoo or the local children’s museum is a present the whole family can enjoy. Building toys are wonderful; so are books. But please don’t spend too much on things, especially plastic things that beep. We have a lot of things already, and they’re taking over our house.
DO offer to take the kids out one at a time. They will remember a trip to the ice cream parlor with you for far longer than you’d believe. Anything is fine: an excursion to the park, the zoo, the children’s museum — anything you can do to have one-on-one fun with a kid. This will really help build your relationship together, and make their siblings wildly jealous.
DO ask them more than “How’s school?” or “When does school start?” Care about their interests and passions. Even a 3-year-old has interests — it may just be Doc McStuffins, but that interest is important to them. Ask to see their Doc McS. toys, maybe watch an episode or two with them. If they’re into Legos, do some building together. Talk about Barbies. Brush their hair. Your genuine interest in what a child cares about will pay off huge later in life. They won’t forget you let them brush your hair and stick bows in it.
DO NOT undermine our parenting in front of them. If we tell them it’s time to go to bed, then it’s time to go to bed — even when our relatives are visiting. We don’t need you saying, “Oh, they can stay up a little bit longer.” This undermines either our authority or yours — and we’re going to make sure it’s yours. Instead, draw us aside and ask if the kids can stay up later. Because we’re not on-the-spot in front of the kids, we just might see your reasoning and say yes.
DO build up our parenting choices. If we tell one kid to stop hitting another, feel free to chime in with a “You had better listen to your mommy.” This is embarrassing to the kid — they don’t want anyone else to see them misbehave — and may help them to listen and be good. But if we’re in the room, please wait to discipline them until we do. Otherwise, we feel like an idiot for not catching it, and it seems like you’re trying to parent underneath us — uncool.
DO discipline our kids in our absence in the way you know we would do it. For example, if you know we use words and separation to deal with hitting, do that. If we make the kids sit on the couch and talk out their behavior, please do that. Don’t haul off and spank our kids when you know we disapprove of it. That’s the easiest way to get us to leave and not come back.
DO realize they’re kids, and base your expectations on that. If we’re waiting for a table for 20 minutes, the kids are going to start to misbehave or need to go for a walk. Somewhere around 3 to 4 p.m., everything’s going to go to hell, and it’ll stay that way until around 5 p.m. They will occasionally do horrid things, like poop on the floor, or smear pudding across their face, or attempt to ride the dog. This is all normal childhood behavior. That doesn’t mean they don’t get reprimanded, but it means they aren’t particularly satanic, so don’t judge us.
Following all these will help us all — parents, kids, and relatives — to have a good relationship with each other. Again, we love you. We want to have the best time possible with you. Help us to help you do that. Then we can all feel the love.