It is vacation time again, the time when we start having a long parade of visitors from abroad. Mostly we enjoy this time out from daily life and it is fun to catch up with people who did not make aliyah as we did. However, every summer and fall, our family experiences quite a lot of tension as well, due to the need to cater to different people’s needs.
The most emotionally difficult for us are the visits of close family -- my own and my wife’s parents and siblings. While the visits are usually in July, August or the chagim, the tensions start to mount in the spring. The first problem is the need to coordinate the visits. Last year for example, my family and my in-laws both wanted to visit in September and each had valid reasons for this. The negotiations started early on and last year they went on through the summer. Stress mounted, when we couldn’t find a way to put up everyone at the same time, and we had to decide which side of the family would have to compromise.
Another problem is the desire of all involved to really spend quality time with us. That means trying to juggle work and children-related events with our mutual family’s desire to be with us. Each family might spend only two or three weeks with us, once a year. But this means that in total, we have the family over a period of months. Each family group wants our full attention. By the chagim we are exhausted, from both the hot Israeli summer and the steady influx of visitors. Try explaining this to a grandmother who has only sees her grandchildren once a year. She wants quality time with her family. We are stretching ourselves to include everyone’s needs.
These kinds of issues can lead to an explosive atmosphere in which my wife and I fight about how to fit in with everyone. Sometimes it is as if we are fighting about whose family is more important. But really they are all important, to both of us. Any ideas?
As in so many family problems, everything comes down to how you communicate about it. In a family, there is no such thing as “not communicating”. If you and your wife don’t discuss how to make the many people involved satisfied, that itself is a form of communication. This lack of conversations itself has its own messages, such as “I am afraid of you about this issue” or “I don’t know what I really want here”. Openly fighting about these visits is no better than pushing the issues under the rug.
I would suggest having a summary talk after each visit. In these conversations, you and your wife will discuss what worked and what didn’t. You can then make some decisions about the visits, even a year away. You might see that one of the visits worked particularly well because the children were out of school. Then this insight could be the basis for decisions about when to invite and when not to invite visiting. You can then start planning very early and you can proactively try to schedule everyone’s visits in a way that takes your needs into account as well.
The reason I suggest having these talks after visits rather than right before them is that this way there is time to make plans and also to learn from mistakes. For example, one family consistently suffered from the parents of the father demanding hotel vacations with the entire group during their trip. These vacations were stressful for the family which was consulting with me. They had to face that they really did not enjoy all the fuss that went into planning and carrying-out of trips to hotels. After having the post trip conversations, they decided to be assertive and tell the extended family that they wanted to stay home with them next time. They did this way in advance, so that there was plenty of time for negotiations.
The dynamic, so common in family visits, is that the extended family is trying to cram a year of missing and longing into two-weeks. This is doomed from the start. To make sure that these visits are a success, we need to remember that two weeks cannot make up for lack of daily or weekly contact. We need to carry on doing our own routines to some extent, because otherwise we find ourselves having to spend the rest of the year making up for work and other obligations we neglected.
What families really need is quality time. This means that it is far more important to enjoy the weeks together than to spend the time trying to please everyone. You and your wife can think of what quality time means to you. Is it having deep discussions? Is it just hanging out in a relaxed way at home? While we all want to make our families happy, it is better to start by realizing what you and your immediate family enjoy, and then work from there. When the extended family sees and feels the lack of stress and appreciates the smiles, they will be far more content, no matter what you wind up doing.