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The Relatives Are Coming! : 'Having in-laws stay over is like an Olympic competition,' says one hostess. 'I wish I only had to endure this grueling event every four years.'

August 03, 1993|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The call comes: Mom, Dad, Aunt Mildred and Uncle Joe are coming to visit.

"We'll have so much fun, honey," Mom says over the phone. "We can all go to Disneyland and the beach! Even Fido's coming along so the kids will have someone to play with."

Although you manage to say, "That's great, Mom," your head is already aching. Relatives, here, for a week. The house is a wreck, the kids are whining about being bored and you've got tons of work at the office.

Many guests are very welcome, but some are easier to accommodate than others. Even in the best of circumstances, having visitors in the house makes life more hectic.

For the parent of young children who is already busy with work and running a household, having guests can seem like one more responsibility; for the grandparent used to coming and going without taking into account a child's needs, the tears, toys and general chaos that accompany children in the house can be nerve-racking; for the newlywed trying to get acquainted with the in-laws, having guests can feel a lot like being on trial.

Whatever your circumstances and whomever is visiting, how well you handle having visitors depends a lot on your personality.

"The more easygoing you are, the easier it is to have guests," says Alexandra Rosenberg, a Newport Beach clinical social worker in private practice. "If you are, on the other hand, more perfectionistic and controlling, it's harder to have your routine broken and your space invaded."

Even if you're a laid-back personality, there are some inherent stresses in visits from relatives. In some cases, relationships with in-laws create havoc. In others, individuals have problems with their own families, says Ron Hirz, a psychiatrist with offices in Tustin and Lake Forest who has been working with individuals and families for 20 years.

Wendy Vallier, an Anaheim property manager and student, is becoming experienced in having in-laws as guests. She and her husband are visited twice a year by his mother, now 73, who usually stays a week; her husband's siblings also sometimes visit.

"Having in-laws stay over is like an Olympic competition," she says. "A great deal of preparation is required to attempt to execute a flawless performance, and through it all you pray for good marks from the judges--your in-laws. I only I only had to endure this grueling event every four years."

Vallier, who recently became a mother, said that her mother-in-law expects a lot of attention, which has become increasingly difficult to provide.

"My mother-in-law loves Chinese checkers and no one else will play them with her, so I indulge her," Vallier says. "The problem is, she can sit for hours playing checkers, when I've really had enough after about 20 minutes. The last time she was here, she just kept on playing, and I couldn't put my daughter to bed. I had to sit there and nurse the baby while we played."

The hardest part for Vallier of having her in-laws visit, however, is not having the familiarity she has with her own family, including an understanding of the family code of behavior.

"There are ongoing family grievances that existed long before you came into the picture you may not know about," she says. "For instance, I said something about my husband's sister in front of my mother-in-law, and she looked at me as if I had lost my mind. I found out later that the rest of the family never tells his mother about the things his sister does."

Many people find it especially difficult when in-laws visit because of how courteous they must be to the visitors.

Jeff McMillan, a college professor who lives in Santa Ana, has tried to avoid visits from his future in-laws but says his time is almost up.

"My girlfriend's parents have threatened to visit and they probably will next summer," he says. "Although I like her family, I'm not excited about their coming to stay. It's hard to be on your best behavior for extended periods of time. We also come from completely different worlds, and once we get through the usual chitchat, I have no idea what we'll talk about."

Even if it's your own family that's staying, problems will no doubt arise.

"When our parents and siblings visit, we tend to revert to our childhood roles," Rosenberg says. "Recently on a visit to my older sister's, I turned into a 6-year-old and she became a 10-year-old when I asked to borrow her car and she refused. Underneath we're all children, and situations with relatives can readily bring the kid in us out."

Whether it's your parents or your spouse's family coming to visit, you can do many things to ensure that they and you have a good time.

Sharon Whatley, a writer in Tustin, has relatives from both sides of the family visit from out of state on a regular basis. After years of entertaining guests, she finally feels she has found the secret to everyone having a good time.

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