rhonaberens2Spending a family vacation at your in-laws’ home can be challenging. Yet if you prepare a little in advance, not only might you actually enjoy your trip, you might even want to go back again next year. Follow these few tips learned the hard way—by failing to consider them during our last family visit to grandma’s house.

As someone who grew up with a small extended family, I’ve loved my wife’s large, welcoming and fun clan from the start. While visiting my in-laws has become more exhausting since we had kids, I wouldn’t trade those trips for anything, especially if I start heeding my own advice and better prepare in advance. Here’s how:

1.      Make a conscious decision before traveling to let go of regular schedules and accept what happens. In the absence of doing that, my wife and I bickered about our kids’ and our own sleep-loss, and about whether to intervene in the plans (I wanted to, she didn’t).

2.      Another option is to let family know in advance what your kids’ sleep schedules are and request that plans accommodate those schedules.

3.      Rent your own car so you’re not at the mercy of family members who drive. Then warn everyone—your kids included—that you plan to depart by a particular time. If you’re having a blast and decide to stray from this strategy, make the decision with your spouse, so resentments don’t brew.


4.      Recognize that visiting “home” sometimes turns us back into the recalcitrant teen of our youth. Whether being around their parents/stepparents alters our spouses a lot or a little, in-law vacations benefit from a relationship “free pass.” Our spouses deserve a free pass for navigating the (sometimes) treacherous return to familial roots, and we deserve one for traveling there with them.

5.      If you’re a daughter-in-law who’d rather clean than hang out with your mother-in-law (a preference expressed by half of the respondents in a 2010 iVillage poll), how can you prepare for a visit? If staying elsewhere isn’t an option, consider shifting your perspective. A few days before departing, make a list of what drives you crazy about your mother-in-law (MIL) or father-in-law or both.

Then, take each item on your list and ask yourself this question: What’s the dream or yearning behind my complaint?

rhonaberens1For example, if you don’t like the tone of your MIL’s parenting advice, your dream might be to feel more supported by her, or bond more as moms. Write down your underlying desires. Consider sharing them with your spouse so he (or she) knows what you want to experience with his mom vs. the complaints he’s probably heard before.

If you’re feeling bold, talk to your MIL: “I’d love to bond with you as one mom to another but, intended or not, I feel criticized when you offer parenting advice. How can we connect more as moms?”

Who knows? Maybe her response will inspire you to want to spend more time with her and less cleaning!

For a list of all things author Rhona Berens did wrong on her last visit to her in-laws, click here.

Parent Advocate and Certified Individual & Relationship Coach, Rhona Berens, PhD, CPCC is dedicated to parents’ wellbeing. She’s the founder of Parent Alliance®, a great resource for parents and expecting couples. With more than 20 years’ experience as an educator and mentor, Rhona delivers dynamic talks and webinars to parents, teachers, expecting couples and doulas. She coaches individuals and couples across North America via phone and online video. Rhona serves on the Advisory Board of The Children’s Project, a non-profit devoted to raising emotionally healthy children. Write to rhona@parentalliance.com to inquire about her speaking at your parenting organization or kids’ school, or to book a complimentary strategy session. Follow Rhona on Twitter @AParentAlliance and join her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/parentalliance.