Carolyn Hax: Gatherings with kids, away or at home, cause anxiety for parent

Carolyn Hax
Columnist July 28

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I know a number of parents of toddlers, preschoolers, babies, who travel frequently and entertain at home, and they use words like “fun” and “relaxing” to describe their experiences. I, on the other hand, end up feeling so stressed.

Entertaining at home, I’m conscious of how annoyed visitors can get sharing a dwelling with walking germ factories, having to observe nap-time quiet or curbing grown-up TV-watching. And at other people’s homes I feel so drained making the best of an environment that may be far from child-friendly. What am I going to do, tell folks they can’t navigate their own house?

I am so relieved when it’s over. But I don’t want to limit my kids’ worlds by never leaving our house or inviting overnight guests. So what’s the secret to these parents who travel, entertain, and host with such happy abandon?


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Kids in Tow

I think the answer is there in your question, if you sew the pieces together into a little quilt with crusty applesauce on it.

Hosting goes well when your guests buy in to the limitations (and joys) of staying among little kids. Visiting goes well when your hosts buy in to the limitations (and joys) of hosting little kids. Both go better when you’re game. And it can really, cosmically suck when you’ve got a guest or host who thinks everything should stay the way adults like it and little kids should need to be told “no” only once.

There are ways to make hostile environments less so that won’t leave you stressed (which, as you probably already know, only exacerbates any discomfort you or your guests feel). For hosting, I suggest you be as transparent as you can upfront: “Pookie gets overexcited when guests are here, so apologies in advance if there’s a scene”; or, “Pookie needs about a half-hour to fall into a good sleep, but after that we don’t need to tiptoe around.”

Setting realistic expectations actually accomplishes two things: It sets your guests’ expectations at a realistic level, and it also lets them know that you aren’t under the illusion that everyone should be overjoyed to be around small kids. I think that wears people down faster than anything — the idea that they, your inconvenienced guests/hosts, are supposed to be just as enchanted as you are by your Pookie. Letting them know you get that can soften people toward cooperating.

As for visiting child-unfriendly places, I have basically a two-tiered suggestion: 1. When the environment is welcoming but not child-ready, BYO coping strategies: favorite foods, toys, media, safety gear (playpen, baby gates . . .). 2. When the environment is not welcoming, stay in a hotel — locale and finances permitting, of course. They’re largely kid-proof, plus they allow you and your host to take a deep breath between rounds of togetherness.

When in doubt, communicate: Ask what people expect and be clear about what you provide.

Re: Kids:

I think this deserves an additional “don’t judge yourself by other people.” Maybe it is easy for them, or maybe they are putting up a good front. But you don’t have to like it if it doesn’t work for you.

Anonymous

So true, thanks. There are too many variables for comparisons to work.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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