Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hello, Carolyn! I am newly retired from a long corporate career, and committing the next year of my life to travel and family. I have a daughter, married to a nice man and with two beautiful children, on the other side of the country. I have another daughter, married to a rather grumpy and unpleasant man, here in my home state. They have no children.
I am finding it difficult to avoid hurting Daughter 2’s feelings when I visit Daughter 1. Yes, it is partly about my grandkids, who change so much in between visits. This alone hurts Daughter 2’s feelings; she thinks I care more about her sister because of the babies, which isn’t true.
But it is also very much about the general atmosphere at each of their homes. At Daughter 1’s, home, I feel welcomed and embraced, and can make myself useful by helping with the kids. At Daughter 2’s home, I feel like a guest who is getting in my son-in-law’s way, and they are very strictly routinized, so I can’t make myself meaningfully helpful.
Should I split these visits down the middle anyway? I don’t love this idea, but neither do I like the idea of perpetually hurting Daughter 2’s feelings.
— Southern California
Southern California: Make more, shorter visits to 2, and fewer, longer visits to 1. This is reasonable given the distances, and has the benefit of being harder to bean-count.
Plus it neatly disperses that icky “guest” feeling you have in 2’s house, giving you more hours where you’ve just arrived, which I imagine are more pleasant than those toward the end.
It’s also time for you to be blunt about the baby thing. No, it doesn’t mean you care more about Daughter 1, but the babies are two more fully realized people to care about and whose childhoods you don’t want to miss. Daughter 2 would have to be stubborn or obtuse to deny this.
In fact, I hope you make a gentle effort to draw out 2 on possible pain beneath the surface. It’s hard to imagine she’s happy paired off to a “rather grumpy and unpleasant man,” whose presence in the home is undiluted. When she complains to you: “Is this about something else?” and, “I sense [something about her mood/emotional state you find concerning].” Then let her respond. People who feel good about what they have don’t make comparisons, much less feel hurt by them.
Re: SoCal: Now that you have extra time with retirement, find out an activity you can do with Daughter 2 that gets you out of the house and gives her grumpy husband some space. Sometimes it’s nicer to visit people when there’s a planned activity you both enjoy.
— Sounds Like My Family
Sounds Like My Family: Great idea, thank you. Plus the rhythm of a shared diversion, and the absence of pressure, can get people talking over time. Oddly enough, the chances of that increase if your shared activity involves movement, like hiking.
Re: Visiting: At Daughter 2’s house, stop looking for ways to help. That’s not their thing, and if that’s your way of trying to bond, you’ll need something else. Showing you value her as an individual and enjoy time with her is the important part.
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