Even royal family gatherings are complicated by traditions, emotional baggage and, when adult children host parents, by the role reversal of “my house, my rules.” But that makes it even more important to make things work, and as adults we should be up to the challenge.
“We get to choose what kind of relationships we have,” says Gottsman, who has adult children and a 6-year-old grandchild. “If we want positive, strong relationships, sometimes we need to know when to bite our tongue. And other times we need to know that we need to be responsible for our body language and our tone of voice.”
So how do you meld the roles of parent and guest?
The first step is to “tame your ego,” says Jane Isay, author of four books about family issues, including Unconditional Love: A Guide to Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Being a Grandparent Today.
Isay, who has four grandchildren, ages 9 to 16, warns that entitlement can be poisonous. “If you think of yourself as somehow entitled to what you think [your children] should do for you,” she says, “it’s going to be more problematic because they have their own needs and challenges.”
Once children have established their own families and households, parents need to honor the boundaries of their decisions “in the same way we didn’t want to be told how to cook the brisket by our parents,” she says. “I think it’s really important that we understand today’s culture and don’t apply how we behaved as the sole standard.”
Open communication is key
The first step might be a chat before the holiday so you understand all the rules at your child’s home, says S. Bear Bergman, a writer, storyteller and advice columnist based in Toronto.
He has three children ages 5, 10 and 25, and the household divides rules into “doing” rules and “saying” rules. For example, one “doing” rule is turning out the light when you leave the bathroom. In the context of family gatherings, any infractions of “doing” rules tend to be minor or temporarily forgivable. A “saying” rule focuses on how people interact, such as not saying “shut up” to each other or not telling ethnic jokes or using homophobic or gender slurs. It’s up to guests to recognize those boundaries, he says.
“It’s important that people are able to assert the culture in their own house regardless of who their guest is,” he says.