Grandfamilies: Help, Don’t Harp–How to Make Your Visit a Win

CharlestonSawyer, Rob, Cadence, Daphne, Elaine, Me, Rich. Charleston. September 4, 2016.

At the beginning of this month, we were privileged to be the houseguests of daughter Elaine and her husband, Rob. I cherish this privilege because I know that having houseguests for ten days is no small thing, no matter how much love flows between hosts and guests. And in families where bonds are more, shall we say, fragile, the prospect of goof-ups, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings looms large.

So today, I’m offering suggestions to further win-win relationships with your kids and grandkids during visits to their homes.

But first, is a house visit really your best choice? If you know that your children’s household is up-and-at-em at five every morning, while you prefer to watch movies until three a.m. and roll out of bed at the crack of noon, then book a hotel. If the guest accommodations in your children’s home aren’t comfortable to you, in terms of sleep quality or privacy or anything else, then book a hotel. If your relationship is under strain, then book a hotel. If you think the invitation to stay with them is duty-driven, then book a hotel. Consider the expense an investment in your relationship with them.

If you’ve cleared that hurdle and you are all set to stay with your kids, here are some tips to make the stay a positive experience for everyone.

  • Confirm dates before you book travel. Even if they have told you, “you’re always welcome here,”–and mean it–schedules can clog up at times. Asking them about preferred dates and durations can help everyone make the most of your time together.
    • You make scheduling the visit a win when you graciously adhere to their response.
  • Remember that just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean they are. The odds are good that things like Scout meetings and soccer practice will impact daily schedules. Your kids may or may not have to go to work each day while you’re there. They did not arrange these activities to snub you; it’s just life.
    • You make this situation a win by proposing to cook dinner on Scout night, offering to drive to soccer practice, and happily planning to amuse yourselves during their busy times.
  • Help, don’t harp. I once came home from a quick grocery store run to discover my (then) mother-in-law mopping my kitchen floor “to help me out.” The only trouble was she had watched me mop that floor two hours before my trip to the store. Her “helpfulness” felt more like a statement on my housekeeping.
    • You make your willingness to help a win by asking how you can help instead of assuming a certain task needs your meticulous attention. “What can I do to help today?” or “Is it my turn to set the table?” or even “Would you like me to unload the dishwasher?” are all good starts.
  • Chip in. Two extra mouths to feed for ten days (to use our recent trip as an example) impacts the grocery bill. Whatever your assessment of your hosts’ ability to cover the extra expense, you should at least offer to contribute. Hopefully a simple, “Here’s some money to help with the groceries,” will be accepted with no fuss, no muss. If that won’t fly, you could try, “Can we be the boss of dinner tomorrow night?” Then you can buy groceries and cook, provide take-out, or host the family at a restaurant. You can cover admission fees at attractions they take you to see or fill up the car with gas if they’re ferrying you around town.
    • You make your generosity a win by offering with humility and never acting like some ostentatious bestower of small fortunes. Humility does not say, “I know the zoo admission is too expensive for you, but we want to go, so we’ll pay your way.” It says, “We hear your local zoo is amazing. We’d love to treat you all to a visit. Will tomorrow work for you?”

Of course, how carefully, or whether, you need to consider these suggestions depends on the relationship you have with your kids and their spouses. Your past visit history comes into play, too. Finally, if you all assume good faith from the start, the odds of hurting or insulting one another shrink.

If you have a question or tip for great family visits, share it in the comments, won’t you?

rabbit conga

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Galatians 6:9-10 (ESV)

rabbit conga


On Tuesdays, we’re talking about families and the joys and challenges that arise when we stretch across three (or more?) generations (child, parent, grandparent). Everyone is welcome, and I hope to hear each generation’s perspective.  Being family is by turns effortless, impossible, blessed, challenging, hurtful, joyous . . . . Let’s talk about it.
Please join us.


  1. I hereby anoint you Goddess of Grandparenting.

  2. All great advise! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom. I’ve missed these posts!

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