Friday, May 20, 2011

A Meditation on Visiting Children

When my parents come to town, I can get a little whigged out. I love seeing them but I want them to be happy and comfortable and I know that when travelling, stuff happens that I can’t control. Like the last time my parents went through Heathrow and the airport was having one of its  ‘meltdown moments’. That’s not a safe place for anyone, much less an intrepid couple in their 80s. So when my parents come to town, I try to hyper-manage their visit and I worry – a lot.

Having just returned home after spending two weeks visiting my own children, I wonder; how was it for them? Do they get whigged-out when I roll in to town? Was I a good visiting parent?

Being a good visiting parent ain’t as easy as it looks. First , there is the whole role reversal thing. You are on holiday but they are working. You are in a strange place but they’re at home  - a new home, not their old home, sniff, sniff. Yup, there is nothing to bring home the fact that your chicks have flown the nest like visiting them in their new nests. And lets get down to the tough stuff. You are there to check up on them and they, in turn, know that you are there to check up on them.

All of this is true. But so is the fact that you can experience remarkable moments, like when you meet your children’s friends and you realize that they are surrounded by folks who care about them almost as much as you do. Even if you are unintentionally stressing them out during their work week, it’s great to get a glimpse of them in work mode.  Who knew they were so competent? How did they get their hands on such good housing without your involvement? And how did they learn to take care of their old Mum with such good grace.

So here’s my advice for being a good visiting parent. Come early and often. Travel light. Don’t stay with them. Offer to pay for everything but allow them to pay for somethings. Let them drive. Admire what they have built, on their own. Have fun. Your job is done.

Photo: Leland and I, after running Bay to Breakers together in San Francisco, a real highlight of my trip. Photo credit – thanks Erinn!


  1. Kate - as usual, I think you have captured it! You are still the uber cool mom in my book (although maybe your kids will disagree!) The only thing I'm not sure of is whether the come often makes sense. But that comes from my prejudice of having parents that don't follow the other rules!