Help! My Sister's Wild Kids Are Coming to Visit!

Filed under: Relatives, Holidays, Siblings, Single Parenting, Expert Advice: Just For You, Expert Advice: Home Base

Dear AdviceMama,

My sister, a single mom, is coming to visit this summer for 10 days, and her children are really a handful. They have awful table manners, don't clean up after themselves, and monopolize every dinner conversation. I love my sister, but she lets her kids get away with everything, and it wears me out just thinking about them being here!

Already Annoyed

Dear Already Annoyed,

Just because people are related doesn't mean they have the same parenting style, or that their children have similar temperaments. And with the baggage of old hurts and grievances that most of us drag around, it can be especially easy for a relative's behavior to get under our skin or rub us the wrong way.

One thing that defines a successful family is the ability to negotiate challenges in a way that preserves the love and affection between them. If you can discuss your concerns in advance with your sister without shaming, blaming or criticizing her parenting or her children, that would be ideal. In that scenario, the two of you could create house rules and give one another permission to remind each other's children if they cross the line.

However, she may not be receptive to this, in which case you have two choices:

The first would be to grin and bear it, keeping in mind that your sister isn't moving in, 10 days isn't forever, and, if nothing else, your children will learn the important lesson that different families sometimes have different rules.

The other option is to establish a few guidelines when your sister and her children arrive. Sit down and let the gang know how excited you are about their visit, and that you've set up some routines to make sure you all have fun. By letting everyone clearly know your expectations up front, there's a better chance they'll follow the game plan.

Be careful, however, not to show up with a foot-long list of rules and regulations; the information will go in one ear and out the other. Instead, figure out what your top three triggers are, and then say something like this:

"You all know how machines need oil to make them run smoothly? Families need "oil" too, so they can run well! While we're all staying together, this is what I have figured out will help me make sure we have a relaxing, enjoyable visit:

1. Everyone's responsible for clearing their own dishes from the table.
2. Each day, we'll spend 10 minutes before dinner tidying up the house.
3. At dinner, everyone gets a turn to talk, tell jokes, or share something about their day.

Does anyone have any questions?"

While your sister's kids still may slip up, hearing your rules in advance will let you refer to them (or "the oil") if they forget, which may produce some improvement. But regardless of how polite or cooperative they are -- or aren't -- don't let your nieces and nephews' behavior distract you from taking advantage of your time together, or rob you of what matters most: strengthening the bonds of family.

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.