Every summer, friends' grown child comes to their house at the beach for a two-week vacation--rent free, of course. Every winter, my friends take this daughter, their son-in-law and two children on a long-weekend ski trip. My friends pay for the condo and the lift tickets. The daughter lives near my friends and is frequently a guest for Sunday dinner and always for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.
Since my children live far away from me and Paterfamilias and we don't have a summer house by the beach or anywhere else, I usually think, "Lucky friends to be able to treat their daughter so well; to be able to spend so much time together in a pleasurable setting; to get to know their grandchildren so well; to be so much a part of their child's life.
And yet there's another side to the story, as a Carolyn Hax column made clear. "Any advice," a son wrote, "on how to deal with a mother who is smothering me with love?" The son is married; he and his wife have good jobs and two children. "Yet, Mom insists upon family vacations, family dinners, family everything. And she always makes reservations and nonrefundable deposits first, then invites us second, with that little (or big) bit of guilt thrown in." What the son wanted to know is, how to tell his mother to "let me live my own life and meet you on my own terms."
Of course, there's a big difference between inviting and insisting; on making plans together and issuing a fiat; on making your resources available to them at their convenience and playing the guilt card.
So what was Hax's advice? "Accept the number of invitations that feels right to you, decline the overkill, and gently, kindly, firmly become an immovable object who will not get into long renegotiation of each 'no' you issue."
From our side of the aisle, if we notice a son or daughter setting these kinds of limits--"We can't go on a vacation with you every year"--it may be time to gut check whether we're practicing smother love.