Many military couples host their in-laws, friends and extended family members during the summer months. Afterall, what’s the point of being stationed in Hawaii, if your house doesn’t become a revolving door for cousins who want to spend time with you, but also enjoy having you as their tour guide and your house as a free hotel room. You are happy to host them as your guests until you realize you are spending way more money on groceries when they are staying with you.
What happens where you as the host feel like you can’t afford (or don’t want) to pay the costs associated with guests. This conflict over who pays seems like a source of unspoken frustration among military spouses.
A military spouse posted this question in a Facebook group:
When your relatives come to visit you, who pays for stuff? You or them? Can you ask them to help out around the house when they are staying with you?
Some military spouses responded saying they believe that guests shouldn’t pay or chip in with housework, ever. Your guests are on vacation and might have dropped serious cash to get there. The hosts should pick up the tab along with the extra work.
Others were firmly on the opposite end of the spectrum. Visitors are getting free lodging so assisting with cooking, cleaning, child care or groceries is a fair trade.
Most military spouses agreed that every situation is unique. Cost of travel and budget were factors that everyone considered. Others talked about the frequency of visits and reciprocity of the expectations when the host/guest roles are reversed.
Where is the disconnect?
Almost everyone agreed that family visits can be a huge source of conflict, especially when the in-laws are involved.
The heart of these might be a lack of shared cultural, familial history. It could be that your mother-in-law comes from a family where hosts have historically paid for everything. Maybe this is how it worked with her own mother-in-law!
When the visit or your guest’s expectations don’t go as you thought, it can cause frustration. Over time, with visit after visit, the frustration turns to anger which turns to resentment.
How can you prevent family vacation conflicts?
It all comes down to communication! If things are going well, you’re probably on the same wavelength. When you’re feeling frustrated during a family visit, it’s time to have a friendly sit-down.
First, decide what you are comfortable doing as a host. What makes you frustrated or upset? Is it having to do all the cooking, cleaning, shopping and paying? Are you comfortable with splitting things in different ways? What do you want your guests to help, or not help, with?
Be very clear with yourself and your spouse. Knowing where you are willing to compromise is just as important as your hard limits.
Solve family visit conflicts
“What do you want to do tomorrow?”
Share a few different activities that everyone can enjoy and bring out brochures. Talk about price and ask if this activity is in their budget. You could do this with any part of your trip from tourist attractions to meal planning to paying for gas.
Sit down with your visitors to plot out the events and meals that will happen during the vacation. Ask about which activities fit their budget. Share unique eating experiences in your area at a variety of price points and ask which ones they think will best suit them. Invite them to go grocery shopping with you.
For slightly more complicated situations, you might need to be more to the point. Request politely and kindly that your guest helps you.
You could try:
- While I cook the main course, could you prep the salad?
- Please feel free to bring your favorite drinks with you, as we mostly drink water.
- Would you be able to step in with the kids while I (go for a run, head to the store, do this chore)?
Another route is giving praise for desired actions:
- Thanks so much for putting on the coffee! I so appreciate having hot coffee when I woke up today!
- The kids love spending time with you, especially since we live so far apart. I know they’re over the moon to just be with you!
- You make such good (food item)! We’d love to share this special meal with you! Could we make it together?
- It’s so nice to have your help (sorting the laundry, emptying the dishwasher, walking the dog)! Thanks!
Often it could just take a nudge or gentle push to move your guests to help you, if that’s what you want.
What happens in a stand-off?
You might find yourself between a rock and a hard place. You’re super uncomfortable in your own home and stretched beyond your limits.
The first conversation should be with your spouse. Decompress and share your frustrations with him or her. Explain what would make this visit better or at least slightly easier. Then create a plan of action to find a solution. You and your spouse should take this on as a team.
If your conflict is with a member of your own family, you should handle it. For in-law issues, your spouse should take the lead. Yes, these conversations will be awkward and uncomfortable, but they need to happen. Not talking about it is a recipe for more anger and resentment in the future.
Start small and use lots of “I feel” statements.
“I feel very tired after working all day and taking care of the kids. It’s overwhelming for me to cook dinner by myself for everyone every night.”
Talk about the good points of the visit, too. Share fun experiences that you’ve done together or how much their visit means to your kids. Then make your big ask. What is it that would make the visit more enjoyable for you as the host?
“I love spending time with you, but doing all the cooking and then all the cleaning makes it hard to do that. Would you be willing to dry if I wash?”
If your concern is financial, be upfront about that, too.
“We love going to all these great places, but we are really watching our bottom line right now. We cannot afford to pay for everyone in our group to go. Can we find another solution?”
Your guests might be genuinely surprised to hear your frustrations!
While it might be really uncomfortable, you could find solutions that work for everyone. Even if things aren’t 100% better, at the very least, you’ve shared your feelings.
If things remain at a stand-off, consider ways to meet on neutral territory. You could pick a location in the middle where you can both stay in hotels or shorten their visits, if possible.