Dear Carolyn: I have been married 10 years and have two children, 7 and 9. We have no family in our city and I have very few family members still alive. My husband has a larger family but they are not very close. My kids love being around extended family, but we do not have the money to travel and his family rarely visits.
My brother-in-law comes to visit every couple of years. He usually just comes for the weekend and only spends the first day with us. On the second he goes into town to go out to lunch and shop by himself.
I find this incredibly rude.
My husband thinks there is nothing rude or inconsiderate about this behavior. I couldn’t disagree more. He never tells us what his plans are prior to his arrival, which maybe would make it better. My kids don’t understand why we can’t do something together, and I can’t even explain without making him sound bad. He is middle-age, single with no children; it’s not like he’s a twenty-something going out to party!
You are expecting too much from a houseguest.
More important, though: You’re expecting way too much from one uncle, who by himself can’t possibly satisfy your kids’ — i.e., your — entire (valid) craving for extended family in five visits per decade, not even with that second day. It’s unfair to him to expect him to.
Your opening paragraph is telling: Not only does it explain your obstacles to having something you value deeply, but it also has virtually no bearing on what relatives are or aren’t obligated to do when accepting your hospitality.
Is it less than ideal for him to use your family as home base while he extracts what he wants from your city? Sure. However, my concern is more that he doesn’t communicate with you about his intentions; some hosts wish their guests would be somewhat independent, after all, meaning there’s an element of personal preference here, plus you mention clearing your schedules. These suggest a simple pre-visit email or conversation could pre-empt some hard feelings.
“Suggests” being the operative word: That he does that same thing every visit means you’re beyond needing an email to notify you of his plans. You have all the information you need to prepare yourselves to share only the one day with him.
Since you keep hoping for more anyway, and blaming him when those hopes are dashed, that says your outrage at this point isn’t a reaction, it’s a choice.
Please make a different one, for everyone’s sake. Choose not to see this uncle as your kids’ best hope for family, and instead see him as the one-day visitor he is. Tell your kids exactly that when they ask. “(Shrug.) It’s what he always does.”
And, more important, see this as the push you need to find other ways to experience family.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.