“Guests, Like Fish Began To Smell After Three Days.” Benjamin Franklin
Dear Hap LeCrone:
My wife’s family members — which include three undisciplined children, two dogs, a cat — visit us every summer. And they have a rather unorthodox and “primitive” lifestyle.
They have no table manners, leave their dirty clothes all over our house, constantly try to control the TV remote, never offer to buy any food or beverages during their stay, and completely ignore their pets.
I admit to being somewhat of a control freak and perfectionist, and I need coping skills to endure this yearly nightmare. Do you have any tips that can help me?
— A reader in Texas
My first suggestion is for you and your wife to agree on the parameters of her relatives’ stay.
A quote from Benjamin Franklin comes to mind: “ Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”
Unfortunately, it sounds like the odor begins to emerge much earlier.
In accordance with this sage advice, perhaps, your wife needs to set some firm boundaries before their arrival about how long her relatives will stay.
Their pets should also not be allowed to foul or damage your home and furniture. If their pets are not housebroken or are bothersome, your wife needs to ask that they not bring their pets or be prepared to leave them outside.
If their children are likely to break or damage items such as vases, glassware and porcelain figures, put them away during your visitors’ stay.
Although it may be difficult, you should strive to quiet your own need for perfection and control, at least during their stay with you. Certainly you don’t want them to burn the house down, but you may need to put up with their unique lifestyle and habits for a brief period.
Put your wife’s desire to host her family before your needs. Try to find compassion and empathy for her family’s foibles, which may be caused by lack of education about manners.
At times, you may find quiet humor in some of their more unusual behaviors.
During challenges with “difficult” visiting family members you may remember the comic strip character Roscoe Sweeney. Roscoe and his sister, Lucille, lived in rural Florida and had to periodically put up with their deadbeat cousins, who came to sponge off them during unwelcome visits. Tell yourself that if Roscoe and Lucille could live through these experiences you can, too.
Remember that your wife’s relatives are not moving in with you, and “this, too, shall pass.”
Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D. Copyright ©2010