How much time should I be expected to visit with my boyfriend's family?

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-14-2013
How much time should I be expected to visit with my boyfriend's family?
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Tue, 05-14-2013 - 4:22pm

To give some more context, my boyfriend and I both grew up in the same city in another province, and have since relocated to our current city for our careers. My boyfriend's parents, brother, sister-in-law and their 2 children also live in our current city - so my first concern when I met him was that his parents packed up and relocated here after retiring to be closer to their two sons. My majority of my immediate family still lives in my home province - just me and my sister live in my current city.

My boyfriend and I started dating late last year, and his family was very kind in inviting me to join them for Christmas and his SIL's birthday party. At the time, I was also preparing to move into a new house and was in a very stressful job, so had a lot on my plate and really valued my free time. After Christmas, I did tell my boyfriend that I needed to focus on my move and not take up my whole weekend with social events (with family or friends). I also said that moving forward, I felt a family event once a month for me personally was enough, but that he was welcome to spend time with them whenever he wants. His parents fortunately went to the US for about 2 months, so I have not had to spend time with them until this month. I should also note that my parents have visited twice, so he has had limited interactions with them. Being in different cities, there is the obvious imbalance between our two families - but my boyfriend did have the audacity to say he has been doing more things with my family than his own (and stood corrected!).

Pre-move, I was frustrated in feeling that we always had to go to them. His parents live in a suburb about 45 minutes away from me, and like to eat at a specific time to accommodate the two grandkids. For me, it feels very rushed and like I have to pack everything in on my weekends to get out to their house for a 5pm dinner. We have been invited on a few occassions to go out for Sunday dinners, and I have declined as it cuts into my weekend and takes up a lot of time with the drive. My boyfriend and I do not want children and I have no understanding of what it's like to have kids, so I struggle to understand why there can't be some flexibility to accommodate others (ie. Can we not eat at 5:30 or 6pm?) and it feels like there is an assumption that we are always available and have nothing else to do because we don't have kids.

Now that they are back from the US, I immediately have anxiety about the frequency of their requests to spend time with us. Recent example was Mother's Day. I agreed to go to brunch with his family - they left their planning to the last minute, so ended up with (what I thought) was a very early brunch time at a location quite far from my house (I actually live at the opposite end of the city to my boyfriend and his family, but he spends the weekends at my house). What shoud have been a 20-30 minute drive took 40, so we arrived 10 minutes late to find that the rest of the family had already started eating and the excuse of, "You know, there's kids...so we can't wait." The meal was quite frankly disgusting, and the two kids spent most of the meal playing with their food (so I struggle to understand why the need to eat on time when the kids barely eat anything!). When we were leaving, MIL thanked us and said we should come out for dinner next weekend. AND that BIL was having MIL and FIL over for dinner that night. AND come back again for FIL's birthday dinner in two weeks! Once we got in the car, I told my boyfriend that it was one weekend or the other, and that I was not willing to go to family events for 3 weekends in a row. To expect us to drive 40 minutes each way for brunch, go home for 4 hours, and then drive all the way back for dinner is a bit ridiculous. I feel like you give them an inch in accepting one invitation, and they take a mile.

I don't dislike his family, but I also feel like we have limited common interests other than my boyfriend, and I don't like people being forced on me. His mother does slightly annoy me (she is a former special needs teacher, so speaks to everyone like they are special needs children - I'm 33, you can speak to me like an adult!) - but I recognize that at least they are being nice and I could have it a lot worse! At this point, I am trying to figure out how to manage:

- "Weaning" my boyfriend off the family teat so to speak - he brings up his parents on a daily basis and relies on them for what I think are simple tasks (ie. I wanted to help him with some gardening, and was told to wait so he could see if this was something FIL wanted to do. I told him he's 35 years old, and Daddy doesn't need to do his gardening anymore!)

- Establishing appropriate boundaries for the amount of time I am expected to spend with his family.

- How to ask them to accommodate our schedules and be more flexible to meet us in the middle? ie. Being flexible with the times that we meet, and where we meet - neither of us want to spend our weekends driving all over the city. Why can't we occassionally meet in a more central location? I know that even my boyfriend has his own frustrations with this. How can I help him to say No and stand up for himself?

I would welcome any advice! I really do care about this guy and want things to work out for us. I am trying to be respectful of the differences in our families - I guess I am just more independent and not as family-oriented as some people. We have been talking about moving in together at some point later this year, and this really is the only concern I have with him. I don't want to have him move in with me if we aren't clear with each other on what our expectations are of one another when it comes to family.

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iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999

I think this is going to be a major issue between the 2 of you and unless you can come to a compromise, it's going to mean that you aren't compatible.  As you said you are different--you are more of an independent person and he likes to spend more time with his family.  Neither one of you is right or wrong, it's just different.  Going forward, you really have to discuss hwo much time you are comfortable spending with his family and whether it's ok with him if you dont' spend as much time as he does with them--I will warn you though that since right now you are BF & GF & live in different houses, it's probably a lot easier.  I think if you move in together and esp. if you get married, considering his family does like to spend a lot of time together, they are probably not going to be too happy that you're not going along with the program that everybody else does and will be talking about you behind your back about why you don't like them or something--kidding, but not that much.

first of all, you said you don't have kids & don't understand what it's like, so I will tell you--when people have little kids, which these kids seem to be, to a certain extent things do have to revolve around the kids until they grow up a bit.  If kids get taken to a restaurant they do not want to sit there for 1/2 hour waiting for people who are late (even inadvertently) to get there to eat--that's why parents are bring Cheerios, games, etc. to amuse them.  Little kids also get cranky when they are used to eating at a certain time & it's pushed later--no one in the restaurant is going to be happy sitting next to crying, whiny kids who want to get up & run around, so you do have to deal with that.  I don't see why you always have to go visit the parents though unless they are very elderly & can't get out--if you live 45 mins. away and are going to a restaurant, it's reasonable to ask them to meet you half way sometimes or to come to your area--by the way, do you ever invite them to your house or BF's house for dinner?  Maybe they would like that.

I think your goal to wean your BF from his family is never going to work--he's 35 & apparently his family is important to him & he likes spending time with them.  If you try to come between them, you are probably going to be the one to go.  I don't consider it a chore to have to see my family and I'm 55!  I live an hour from my mother & see her every other weekend--if she lived closer, I'd probably spend more time with her.  I enjoy her company.  It has nothing to do with being independent--I've been independent, married, owning my own home since my 20's--you can be independent and still like your family.  However, I liked my exH's family or should I say parents, considerably less--they were very unlike my own parents.  Where my parents both worked and had interests outside the home, by the time I met ex's parents (and we were only in our 20's--his parents had kid later) they were both retired and basically never did anything interesting.  His father smoked horrible smelling cigars, watched TV in the living room in his bathrobe (I hardly saw my own father in his PJs) and I really didn't enjoy spending time with them that much.  But we ended up having to go to their house at least every 2 weeks for dinner which was another horror since my MIL was a terrible cook--whcih even my ex admits.  So you kind of have to take the family with the guy.

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-19-2008

I agree with musiclover - you are in for a lot of issues if you continue with possibly marriage.  Your bf is very close to his parents and he is already showing you that this is important to him - seeing them regularly at hours that he doesn't seem to have an issue with etc.  I guess I don't think it is fair to expect him to change anymore than it would be for him to expect you to change.  Unless, he wants to for the sake of having you in his life.  He should know up front exactly what you are willing and are not willing to do.

You should be really up front with him and discuss now what you are expecting from the relationship as it progresses.  I agree with you that you shouldn't be expected to visit every weekend.  But, what does your bf want and expect?  Does he also not want kids?  

Your inlaws shouldn't be expected to change their lives to suit you either.  And, if invited at the time that they determine you either say okay - I want to go or you say okay I don't.  

As for the kids - well, I get your point but it also sounds like it is coming from someone who doesn't know what it is really like to sit for 10, 15 or 20 minutes in a restaurant with kids.  I think more than anything the issue comes down to tolerance.  Are you tolerant of other peoples needs as well?  Their need to eat at 5:00 and on time?

Ultimately, you could come to a middle ground on all of these issues is you are both willing to work at it.  But, an invite to someone's house is given just like a gift.  It isn't something you get to decide - you simply get to accept it or decline.  

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-14-2013

Thank-you Summergirl123 and musiclover12 for your advice!

My boyfriend and I actually had a good talk about this today, and I think we have come to a better understanding.  I should start by saying that I do enjoy spending time with my family - I am very close with my parents, however they are a 7 hour drive from me, so don't get to see them as often as I would like.  When we are together, it doesn't feel like a chore to be with them...as it sometimes has with my BF's family. And for me, there isn't the balance of being able to spend some special occasions with my family as well.

i should also note that I am sensitive to engulfing in-laws from my last relationship. I had never encountered a family like this before, and didn't know to establish appropriate boundaries.  It was a constant struggle, and a major factor in my last break-up. My current BF's family is not at all like my ex's, but I have been very upfront with him about my last experience, and why it's important for me to come to an agreement on how much family time I am comfortable with.

i think we have come to a good compromise that I am comfortable attending one family event a month - my boyfriend can pick whatever that get-together is, and he has agreed that I am being more than fair.  I know he does enjoy being with his family, but even he agreed today that seeing his family once a month is enough for him, and that was how often he saw them before meeting me.  I guess with the amount of time he talks about them, I assumed he wanted to spend a lot more time with them than I do myself.

Regarding the time/location of our get-togethers, I think I have come to the realization that if I want a compromise, my boyfriend and I are going to have to take on some of the planning.  For example, his birthday is approaching, and we've planned a (kid-free) dinner at a nice restaurant, and have invited friends and family, and have given them lots of notice to give them time to find a sitter.  My boyfriend isn't much of a cook, and I've just moved into a new house - not landscaped for summer BBQ's yet and decorated the way I want. Once it is, I wouldn't feel uncomfortable having his parents over for dinner (I probably would not have a 15 month old and 3 year old over with new floors and furniture though...I am clearly not a kid person!). Do you think this is a fair approach?

To answer your other questions...we both agree that we don't want kids.  I am willing and trying to be tolerant...with the goal of working towards a compromise at times on the location/times that we meet.  I think that us taking the initiative together to plan a dinner is a good step towards that goal. I do agree that this is something we will have to keep working on, and will have to re-visit when we move in together. This really is the only point of contention between us, and we are compatible in every other way, so I think this is something we can work through.

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-19-2008

I think you are doing a great job at setting boundaries etc.  My only comment is more of a personal opinion regarding your issue with floors and kids and parties without kids etc.  First, you have the right to live your life as you choose, but you must know that by taking this stance that no kids at your home and no kids at a birthday party etc.  you are setting yourself up for failure with regards to having a relationship with all those people in any aspect of your life that have children.  And, that will be so very many as you age and progress in life.  I personally, don't understand the approach.  Kids are part of most people's families and your choice to not have them is fine but to exclude them as though they are a pet is just "immature" in my opinion.

Sorry - but I can't understand this.  Why would it bother you if the kids come to an event or to your home if they are not your responsibility?  At what point in your life do you think you'll feel comfortable with having kids at your home? 

I'm sure that others may have a differing opinion, but a family is just that - a group of people that you are close to and want to share your life with.  These are his family - just like your family is your family.  Maybe an adult party or some people choose a wedding with no kids - okay I can see that at certain times kids are to be excluded.  But I hope that you will realize that parents will take offense at this and will distance themselves from you and quite honestly, probably start excluding you as well.  No one wants to feel that their family (kids and adults) are excluded from family events.

Sorry - but I think you are on the wrong path here.

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-16-2008

Sorry - but I can't understand this.  Why would it bother you if the kids come to an event or to your home if they are not your responsibility?  At what point in your life do you think you'll feel comfortable with having kids at your home?

I beg to differ.  It is the OP's home and castle - she rules.  It has nothing to do with "at what point in life" she feels comfotable having kids at her home, as the answer could be: NEVER.  And it is perfectly acceptable.  I, too, has made it very clear to friends and family that kids are not welcomed in my loft, although in a slightly more diplomatic manner.  Instead of saying not wanting kids to leave greasy hand prints and step on my furniture with dirty shoes, I simply told them (which is the truth) my place is not safe for kids.  It is an industrial-style loft, with lots of sharp corners, concrete and stone floors, lots of glass and steel, and a balcony with easily-scaled railings.

At the same time, just to keep peace with the in-laws, it may be a good idea to organize a few events per year that include kids, such a picnic at the park, a short-outing to the children's museum, etc.

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-20-2009

You need a new boyfriend!  He's close to his family, and you don't want to be close to them......your relationship is doomed!  He's not going to give up his family, or if he does, he will soon resent you for it.  You're anti-social, he's not, and never the twain shall meet!

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-14-2013

Wow! OK...a few comments and replies.

a) I am not an antisocial person. I am actually quite social, but I also work hard and have outside interests...and have the right to determine how I spend my free time. I am actually very interested in getting to know my boyfriend's family. All I want is some balance in our lives, and time to get to know one another without the distraction of kids all of the time.

b) It was my boyfriend's choice to have an adult-only dinner for his birthday. And everyone has accepted that invitation without complaint. A perfect example would be last night, when we went to the IL's to celebrate FIL's birthday. IL's kitchen and sitting room are on the small side, so packing in 6 adults and 2 kids was loud, hot and just not enjoyable. My boyfriend left irritated and said he wanted to discuss it with his parents - he felt that MIL's time was totally consumed by the grandkids, we didn't get to talk to her at all. 

Do I accept that most of the time kids are going to be included in gatherings? Yes, and I am not proposing to exclude anyone. However, it's also important to my boyfriend to spend some one-on-one time with his parents, and it's important to both of us to develop a relationship with his parents. Why is that taken as a bad thing? My boyfriend and I have gone to a number of family events and dinners with our friends where children were welcome. For his birthday, he chose a restaurant that is not family-friendly (As his SIL also did for her last birthday!). Again, the point being that we would like to do SOME things as adults on occasion...as do our friends so they were happy for book sitters for the night.

c) I think you're missing a major fact that my boyfriend and I have only been together for 6 months, and we do not live together. I own my home, and at this early point in our relationship, it's my choice who I do or do not invite into my home. At this point, I don't even have a front lawn or backyard, so my last priority is making it family-friendly when my focus is getting settled into my new home.

When we are living together, and I have a landscaped yard where we can actually host a BBQ, I would be happy to have his family over. No one has even proposed that I host an event, and I've never openly said that kids aren't welcome in my home...which is not the case. It's just the case right now as I'm living in the middle of a construction zone!

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-14-2013

I would also add that for people with kids to expect their friends and family to adapt every event to accommodate children, when we don't have or want them, is quite selfish on the parents' part in my opinion. No one is saying to leave them out of everything, but there are times when it is not appropriate to bring small children...for example, to a classy, expensive steakhouse. It's his day and his choice on who he wants to include. There are plenty of events where kids are present, and times when we want a break from the kids and to just enjoy ourselves as adults.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-2001

It sounds like you guys are doing a pretty good job of dealing with the family.  I'm happy you were able to talk openly about it and find some resolution.

I wanted to add, that I am one of four siblings and the only one who ever had children (grown now).  I think families can learn to work with each other to accomodate everyone.  For example, in my family I hosted Christmas Eve (since it meant our children could be in their own home, opening presents under their own tree). I certainly didn't assume that I would always get to host Christmas, but I was very grateful that my siblings were understanding and in encouraging for me to do so.  I truly appreciated it.  And I still host the holiday now even though our children are grown and living on their own.

I have to say, however, I always also tried to be accomodating to my siblings with their choices to not have children . . . and I tried never to step on their toes by pushing my children onto them - or their celebrations or activities.  Your example of the family eating without waiting ten minutes for you comes to mind.  I think your boyfriends family was out of line.  Having children with you doesn't mean you are absolved from practicing good manners.  In fact, this is a teaching exercise for the children.  They should be encouraged to behave and wait for everyone to be seated (at least wait an acceptable amount of time - say at least 20 minutes).  It isn't good for children to be so catered to that they aren't expected to learn good manners.  Even a child as young as two should be taught this.  If the child is younger than two, it's the parents responsibility to have them on a schedule that won't interfere with everyone's elses schedule, or to bring some crackers along to hold them over until everyone arrives.

That being said, you aren't in any position to "correct" your bf's family on how they handle things.  The only thing you can do is accept how they behave and make your choices around these expectations.  It is perfectly reasonable to have an "adult only" dinner if you choose.  I do think that if a celebration is going to be held at a home though, you do have an obligation to invite the ENTIRE family (of a nuclear family) and not just certain members.  So if you don't want children in your home, perhaps only invite bf's parents for a more intimate meal.  I think it would be rude to invite your bf's sister and husband and ask them to leave the children at home (but it doesn't sound like you would do this anyway).

I also suspect that your bf's parents aren't taking your bf's decision to not have children seriously at this point.  I may be wrong, but it seems like they might just be waiting for bf to have children of his own.  I don't think bf is going to get around the FACT that grandparents LOVE their grandchildren - usually to a fault.  It's just the way it is.  I would encourage you both not to take this personally and not to expect the same amount of attention from bf's parents that they give their grandchildren.  That doesn't mean that the parents should favor bf's sister.  But they naturally will favor her children.

My siblings were always understanding of this.  I was lucky.  And I have to say, it really worked out well for us all.   My dd's are now 25 and 27 yrs old, and my siblings and my parents have strong relationships with them - relationships that are independent of my relationships with them.  It's nice to see.

I wish you much luck!  If you get to feeling like your bf's family is irritating with their obession with their grandchildren, then you certainly have the right to take a step back and give yourself some room from them.  It's in everyone's best interest not to let resentments build.


 

Avatar for mahopac
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-1997

You have brought up interesting memories for me.  When I started dating my DH, I was kind of horrified at the amount of time his family spent together.  His brothers and sister all lived in the same town as his parents, and every single Sunday night they had dinner at his parents' house.  "Dinner" meant sitting at the table for up to a couple of hours, which made me just about insane! 

Nowadays, dinner in my own house, with three kids ranging from 13 to 21, may last well over an hour, just on a weeknight.  It shows us that the most important thing in the world to us is being a family.  If we enjoy each other's company, why *wouldn't* we spend so much time together?

I think you may be confusing family affection with family obligation.  You said that after brunch on Mother's Day, your MIL thanked you and invited you back for dinner that night, and for events the following two weekends.  Sounds to me like she is making sure you feel welcomed as a family member, not obligating you.  She probably has no idea that it makes you feel rushed to make a 5pm dinner - she's offering you a place in the family, not saying, "Do all this for us!"  It's possible you're reading a good deal of negativity into a positive thing.  You can say no without feeling defensive about it.  It's easy.  Just, "Thanks so much, we have other plans for that time," or "I have other plans, but maybe BF will be there without me." 

You seem to be aggregating a whole bunch of things you don't like about your BF's family as part of the general complaint about having to spend too much time with them, such as your MIL's way of talking to everyone as though they're special ed students, the fact that for a MOTHER'S day brunch (which is not for your convenience, it's to honor your MIL and SIL) you had to drive 30 mins and eat at a restaurant with terrible food, and that people with small children get to have a greater say in when things take place than you do. 

I've done the same thing:  lumped together a bunch of things I don't like to justify feeling aggrieved over something I don't want to do.  Unfortunately, that doesn't make it right.  It doesn't relieve me of the obligation to set clear, respectful boundaries, nor of the obligation to be understanding of others and to not let people's quirks irritate me too much.

Your MIL talks the way she does - she's not going to change at this point. Grandparents will do almost anything for grandchildren - fact of life. You're entering this family at a stage in life where there are small children, and everything has already changed to accommodate them.  You need to accept that.  It doesn't mean you can't plan nice dinners that are adults-only, or request that more things happen in your neck of the woods, but you do need to accept the family dynamic as it is.  Once you start to accept what already exists, instead of trying to fight it, you can decide what you're comfortable with and share that with your BF.  If you're going to make a life together, then you can set boundaries starting now. If you set boundaries respectfully, with love, and with self-knowledge and WITHOUT guilt, you will be fine. 

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