Dear Annie: I have been married to my husband for 11 years. He has three grown children, all gainfully employed, who live in distant cities. We live in the large house his children grew up in. Two of the children are married with young kids.
The problem is that at least twice a year, his kids decide to coordinate a visit home, all coming into town at the same time to stay in our house. While here, they expect us to care for their kids, all under age 7, while they sleep in in the mornings and stay out late at night. They are not good about keeping us informed of their plans, so I never know whether to prepare meals for five or 15, plus they don't offer to do any of the cooking themselves. When we go out to dinner, they never offer to pay the check.
They expect us to pick them up and return them to the airport at all hours, and they also expect to borrow our cars when they need to go out.
While they're here, the rooms the kids inhabit are totally wrecked, with clothing and toys strewn everywhere, but as long as they keep their doors closed, I turn a blind eye. Afterward, I am stunned to find empty toilet roll dispensers and toothpaste smeared on the sink and other things you would expect of lazy, slovenly teenagers, not grown adults with homes of their own. When they are packing for home, they do remove the bed and bathroom linens and leave them in a pile in each room, but that leaves me with a mountain of laundry to do.
It has gotten to a point that I dread these visits. I have asked my husband to speak to his kids about being more responsible and considerate or to at least limit the duration of their visits, but he is afraid that if he did that, they would get offended and stop coming altogether. I have even threatened to leave town for my own vacation when they are coming, but I would hate to miss the grandkids and shudder to think what condition the house would be in upon my return. We do love spending time with the grandkids (up to a point), but at our age — and as we are still working — we end up totally exhausted and frequently get sick right after they leave, probably from the stress and fatigue. What can I do? — At Wits' End
Dear At Wits' End: Walking on eggshells will get you nowhere. Tell your husband that this is a time to be kind and direct with your stepchildren. It is your house and your rules, and cleaning up after oneself is a perfectly reasonable expectation. You could have fun about it and make an art canvas, perhaps with your grandchildren, listing the rules of your house.
As for borrowing the car, picking them up at the airport and treating them to dinner — well, if your husband likes to do that for his children, he sounds like a very kind man. I would try not to nitpick every little nice thing that you and your husband do for his children. Do your best to focus on the love of your grandkids and all of the joy and liveliness that having a full house brings. It's only twice a year, and with your new direct message that they must clean up after themselves, I'm sure that the visits will be more enjoyable. If they don't follow your house rules, that's another story. Keep me posted.
Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected] To find out more about Annie Lane and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.