I have long espoused my Blitzkreig theory: When visiting grown children who don't live near you, Get In, Get Hugs, Get Out. I have perfected the two -day visit for weekends, holidays or stop-bys on the way to somewhere else.
I have been vindicated about my approach. Science is with me, and the time is right to share this science with my readers since many of us whose children live far from us are now able to spend time together--whether our children (and their families) come to us or we go to them.
If you spent a long weekend or a week with your kids at your house or theirs and everything was perfect every waking minute, my hat is off to you. For most of us, though, there are tiny timebombs that go off the longer the visit goes on. When my mother used to visit me for three weeks at a time, by the end of week one I had broken out in hives, week two my ulcer kicked up, and in week three my back regressed to a painful past. So the Blitzkrieg is personal for me: I may not be the judgmental guest my mother was, but I still don't want to inflict an over-long stay on my children.
Let me digress no further. Here's the science I'm talking about. It has to do with our grown kids' reaction to us--not the other way around. But it explains why there are hiccups and occasionally unpleasant outbreaks during family visits.
Psychologists have a term to describe the way we fall back into predictable, maddening behavior patterns when we’re with our family of origin. It’s called family systems theory — the notion that families have an equilibrium, and each person has a fixed role that “is in service of keeping the family system intact.” So whatever your established role is — whether you’re the appeaser, or the family clown, or the petulant one — you’re going to be thrown right back there the second you walk through the door of your childhood home.
Research professor Kira Birditt, reported:
94 percent of respondents to her study on tensions between parents and adult children admitted there was some kind of strife in their relationships. Research also shows that the connection between mothers and adult daughters is especially fraught. Of all relationships, it is the closest and most irritating.
Speaking of the close-but-irritating relationship, author and linguistics professor Deborah Tannen notes the specific underlying tensions between mothers and daughters:
Mothers and daughters tend to expect more from each other than from anyone else. There is a constant struggle between mothers and daughters to balance closeness vs. distance and being the same vs. being different from each other.
Coming soon: A post on how we can, besides keeping them short, keep our visits sweet.
painting: Renoir, Madame et ses enfants