With summer just around the corner, many of us are planning vacation rentals. This often means sharing a home with extended family or close friends. Many times, the result is a convivial, festive romp that produces fond memories and occasional hilarity. Unless it doesn’t.
There are several situations that may arise, particularly around other people’s children, which cause friction – or mortal combat – in even the most pacifistic among us.
As one who spends a sizable chunk of the summer at the family beach house with fourteen nieces and nephews and a steady stream of guests in and out for the duration of the season, now seemed a good time to share a six-pack of strategies for peaceful togetherness.
Train kids and dogs. Take care of them. Provide them with more than cursory surveillance. When both sets of species resort to foraging in cabinets at mealtimes and strewing trash, wet towels, banana peels, candy wrappers and other forms of waste on the floor, take notice and take action. Or better yet, don’t let it get that far before you offer some care and feeding.
Share. This means the workload, the goods and the costs. Writing your name on the Cheerios box is not a great way to cultivate a congenial atmosphere. Taking turns providing meals is. This doesn’t mean that every single person has to chop the equivalent number of onions. It means that everyone pulls some weight. Call me a Marxist, but I’m a proponent of “each according to his ability and each according to his needs.” To a point.
Just because you excel at reclining on the couch and hoisting Coors Light cans doesn’t make that your contribution.
- Buy the groceries.
- Walk the dog.
- Take out the trash.
- Cook breakfast.
- Swap babysitting shifts so adults can have a date night/girls’ night/guys’ night out.
- Do the dishes.
- Organize a family soccer game or shell hunt on the beach.
- Take the kids mini golfing.
- Lead the charge at putting kids to bed.
It doesn’t really matter what it is, but be sure to do something that makes the day run more smoothly.
Do not invite vast numbers of guests when the house is at capacity with its usual crew. Or at a minimum, clear it with your co-habitees. Comparing calendars is really not difficult in this day and age – iCal or Google calendar, anyone? Sure, go ahead and invite your therapy group, the mailman, your guru, fortune teller and dental hygienist – just do it when the usual crowd is elsewhere.
When the other people’s kids inevitably do something that violates your parenting rules, consider your response carefully.
- “Johnny ate a candy bar before dinner. Why can’t I have one?”
- “I don’t want to go to bed now. My cousins don’t have a bedtime ever.”
- “If Susie doesn’t have to eat vegetables I won’t either.”
- “I hate sunscreen and hats. Aunt Jane never makes her kids wear them.”
Tempting though it is to say:
- “That’s why Johnny has 17 cavities. Do you like the dentist’s drill?”
- “That’s why your cousins can’t sustain the attention sufficient to dress themselves.”
- “Susie buys her clothes in the ‘chubby’ section. Do you like her wardrobe?”
- “Aunt Jane obviously doesn’t care if her children die of melanoma, but I do.”
Don’t. Take a deep breath and say, “Different families have different rules.” (And carefully consider your guest list for next summer.)
Keep your parenting opinions to yourself. No one ever wants to hear criticism of his or her children, no matter how sociopathic they are. If they ask you specifically, “How did Damien behave at lunch today?” answer factually, but with no editorial commentary.
Say: “Well, since you asked… he told me that he hated quesadillas, spit chocolate milk at his sister, and hid his broccoli under the chair. He didn’t eat much.”
Don’t say: “The ungrateful little troll refused to eat the balanced, wholesome meal that I had generously and lovingly prepared for him, revealed the 666 imprint on his head when he leaned down to throw his vegetables on the floor, and showed his forked tongue when he spat milk across the table.”
Relax. Remember, you’re on vacation.
Keri White has been blogging about etiquette, parenting, food, and lots of other things since 2006. She has served as the Etiquette Correspondent for WTXF-TV inPhiladelphia and has written advice and parenting columnsforseveral newspapers and magazines. Prior to her career in writing and parenting, she was an award-winning seventh grade teacher, which provided her with significant experience correcting other people’s children and telling people what to do. She holds a Master’s Degree in Education and a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications. Keri lives in Philadelphia with her husband Matt, her two children, Cormick and Kelsey and their cat, Gershwin. Her book, The Mommy Code, a humorous and useful guide to parenting in the modern world, was released in January, 2014.
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