Well, as I said before, I had houseguests these last two weeks…
Sigh. I wish I could say I was always 100% cheerful and happy to have my in-laws visit. I wish I could say I was the epitome of hospitality and carried zero resentment that they take over our ground-floor master suite. I would be lying if I said I did not breathe a giant sigh of relief when their car finally turned out of our driveway this morning.
I feel like a terrible daughter-in-law, wife, and most of all, a terrible Christian because I really don’t relish the bi-yearly visits with my in-laws. I try to focus on the positive, like I mentioned before. I am glad they are interested in having a relationship with their grandchildren. I am glad they come all this way to show us they care about us. I am happy that Hubby gets to go fishing with his dad, something that both of them miss doing together because of the distance. But it is an insanely trying two-week period for me.
So, I decided to link up with Kelly this week by offering a few thoughts about having houseguests, being a houseguest, and what hospitality means to me:
The ancient American College Dictionary on my desk defines “hospitality” as “the reception and entertainment of guest or strangers with liberality and kindness” 1 Peter 4:9 says, “Be hospitable to one another without complaining” and one of the more famous, Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels”
Gaaaah. I always start to bristle at the thought of having my in-laws as houseguests, but when faced with these definitions and biblical exhortations about hospitality, I always wind up preparing for their visit with a giant buried heap of resentment and a side-order of SuperSize Guilt. Guilt because I don’t look forward to them coming; guilt because I can’t receive them with open-armed exhilaration; guilt because their visit creates a lot of work and stress for me, with very little return on the investment.
I think most of my feelings of resentment and guilt lead straight back to my lack of assertiveness. Particularly when it comes to my extended in-law relationship. Although our upbringings were similar in the values I believe matter most, many things about our backgrounds were different. The dynamic of our families of origin is very different. Hubby’s family just interacts with each other differently than mine does. That doesn’t mean it is bad, just different. Hubby’s family doesn’t think a thing of dropping in at a relative’s place with very little notice and then staying a week. My family is terrified they will wear out their welcome after 3 days. Hubby’s family is very focused on meals together. My family is very focused on intellectual conversation. Hubby’s family has a lot of physical limitations. My family has a lot of emotional limitations.
Instead of talking about these differences with my in-laws and Hubby, I tend to just clam up and not bring anything up. I hesitate to request help in the kitchen (they are the ones who love to cook and spend time around the table, not me!) because I think they expect me to be just like them in that regard. I don’t want to say, “Hey, could you change your visit to the beginning of August instead of the end because the kids are starting school?” because I don’t want to seem like I don’t want them here, it is just easier on me if it is on my terms. I don’t want to ask them to please not do laundry in our laundry room until I am completely done with my laundry (“could you please not take my laundry out of the dryer still wet so you can put your clothes in?”) but I am horribly afraid I will be viewed as being “inhospitable”. I don’t want them to not like me, even though I am seething with resentment inside. I also don’t want Hubby to think I am selfish (a mistake he made earlier in our marriage when referring to my attitude about his family that I have never been able to stop rewinding in my head).
Do I need a 12-Step program to learn to be more assertive?
So, what really are the responsibilities of a hostess? As far as I am concerned, it is to provide a comfortable, safe and not unpleasant environment in which to stay. I am not opposed to providing the bulk of the groceries. I am not opposed to suggesting fun and entertaining things to do both in- and outside the home. I am willing to provide my vehicle for their use. I am happy to let them use our washer and dryer. I will try my best to be kind, hold conversations, and be helpful.
I do not believe I am responsible for:
Providing round-the-clock meals, entertainment, or perpetual conversation.
Cleaning up after everyone as though I am a servant. (Hey, if my kids can take their dirty dishes to the dishwasher, so can you!)
Being tantamount to a car service so you can avoid reading a map to get to a location only you want to go to.
Neglecting my personal daily routine, chores, and responsibilities to focus on my houseguests.
Feeling guilty if you are bored while at my home.
Houseguests, realize that you may wear out your welcome within 3 days (like that adage with the fish). THIS CAN BE AVOIDED if you make an effort to be a Super Awesome Houseguest.
Super Awesome Houseguests (SAHs) keep in mind the following:
Before planning a trip to stay, inquire what time frame works best for the hosts. If a certain week is better than another, take that into consideration. Ask if the host has time available to take time off from work. If not, discuss what the houseguest(s) might do while the host(s) is at work. Do not rely on the fact that one of the hosts might be a stay at home parent and is, therefore, free to be at your beck and call.
Try to NOT inconvenience your hosts as much as humanly possible. Consider the Golden Rule, would you want them to come into your home and turn their toilet paper rolls the wrong way.
Ask what you can do to help out. Sometimes attempting to put dishes away when you don’t know where they go is not helpful. It might be more of a help for you to keep your hosts’ children entertained while the kitchen gets cleaned up after dinner. Suggest something you’d like to do (“I’d love to sweep the floor after you’re done clearing the table. Can you show me where the broom and dust pan are?”) and see if this would be acceptable to your hosts.
Offer to pay for groceries. Or better yet, on a visit to town, pick up a mega-pack of toilet paper. Or wine. Wine and toilet paper go a long way to solidifying your reputation as a SAH.
Don’t complain about their kids keeping you awake. They are kids. It’s their house. Your hosts are providing you a place to stay for free. If you really want, you can go check into a hotel and possibly get a stranger’s kids on the floor above keeping you awake as well. Or you can just stay home. The ball is really in your court, people.
Don’t complain about not sleeping well on your hosts’ king-size pillow top mattress that they generously vacated their master suite to allow you to use. This is just poor manners.
Their way of life might not be your way of life. But when in Rome, at least try to do as the Romans do. If your hosts generally get up at 7 and go to bed at 10, it is nice to mirror their schedule somewhat. Sleeping all day and still being awake when your hosts go to bed just makes for a weird dynamic. Likewise with toilet seats. I know it seems anal (pun intended!) but observe whether they normally keep their toilet seats shut or open. Make sure you leave them that way when you’re done doing your business. At our house, we always close them (an open toilet seems sort-of obscene to me, don’t know why…) not only for aesthetics but also for safety – we don’t want our toddler falling in!
Ask what your hosts’ plans for the next day are. Is there something you can do together, or will the host be busy and the guest will need to figure out something to do? Having a houseguest sitting around being visibly bored while a host is trying to balance the checkbook is surprisingly stressful. Don’t stress out the host! Find something to do. My dad used to always say He who is Bored is Boring. You’re on vacation! Make the most of it! Don’t make your host feel guilty that they aren’t being the Activity Director. If nothing else, ask if you can help with chores.
A no-brainer: If you make a mess, clean it up.
Send or bring your hosts flowers at the end of your visit to say “thank you!” for opening their home to you
I guess my goals for next time the in-laws come to visit are to be more assertive about what does and does not work for me. I tend to be too nice to their faces while being extremely irritated inside. I don’t think that is what the Saints meant hospitality to be when they described it in the Scriptures.
Also, I think I need to be more vocal about asking for help with the extra housework. I need to not be afraid to put my father-in-law to work. He gets really bored (particularly when Hubby is at work all day) and I am hesitant to press him into labor.
I also need to have an honest talk with Hubby about the length and timing of their stay.
Above all, I think I need to meditate more on the Christian meaning of hospitality as well as how to have a heart of charity while not being a doormat. Any suggestions? I love my in-laws and I love my Hubby but I need to find a way to not let these visits hurt our respective relationships!
Have a great week!