Dear Carolyn: There are four kids under age 3 in my family.
Once a month, my parents like to have their four kids and the grandkids over for dinner, which is a nice tradition in general, but recently it’s overwhelmingly focused on the kids.
I try to initiate conversation with a sibling or their spouse, we talk very briefly and then their attention drifts to a child. When I try to introduce current events or entertainment, they are barely discussed or have a connection to kids somehow.
These meals have become somewhat of a chore. I am single and not dating anybody seriously enough to bring with. Any tips on getting through this phase?
Too Many Babies
A few suggestions:
(1) Reduce the chore in the most basic way possible by skipping a dinner occasionally — unless you decide perfect attendance is a worthwhile long-term investment in goodwill.
(2) Lower your expectations to 0 when you go. You won’t have any satisfying adult conversations, finish many sentences or have much interest in what actually does get discussed.
(3) Set realistic goals from there. General ones: to wave the family flag and to lay the foundation for being close to your nieces and nephews as they grow up. Specific ones: to give your tired siblings a hand; handle dinner so your parents can focus on grandkids; get on the floor with the kids and play with them.
The efforts required to bond with young families aren’t on many lists of fun ways to spend an evening, but so often it’s worth it in the long run. You learn a lot about managing little kids — good for the empathy muscles; you build enduring relationships across generations; and you stockpile some goodwill with your sibs for if/when you have your own kids under 3 someday.
Other ideas from readers:
• I’m a single aunt with seven nieces and nephews, and not a baby person at all. You have to learn to transition from being a child to being an aunt or uncle. Accept that sometimes you’ll be on the sidelines, especially while the kids are really young and need so much attention. My oldest niece and nephew are in high school now, and it’s an enormous privilege to have their friendship and trust.
• I get it — there are eight kids under 12 in my extended family. It’s very challenging and not always fun. I view our get-togethers as a once-a-month gift to my parents. Viewing it as a gift makes it much easier to tolerate.
• Whenever you do have kids, you will love that your now-older nieces and nephews will play with their younger cousins and all of the adult siblings will get to talk. So, think of it as putting your time in, to have payback later.
• As the kids get older, they get funnier. And you’ll be surprised how much you can talk to a 4-year-old about. Don’t assume you have to talk to an adult to have an adult conversation.
• If you want to connect with siblings, bring dinner to their houses, then visit with them after the kids go to bed. The parents will delight in not having to cook, and you get the adult conversation you both crave.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.