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Imagine that the king invites you for dinner at Buckingham Palace. Would you complain that the mashed potatoes are not as good as yours? Tell an off-color joke? Lecture everyone at the table on appropriate curfews for the kids?
Probably not. So, this holiday season, practice manners worthy of the palace if you are a guest in your adult child’s home.
Or, as Diane Gottsman, founder of The Protocol School of Texas in San Antonio, puts it: Being a guest trumps being a parent.
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“When you are the guest in someone’s home, it’s your responsibility and duty to be a gracious guest. That means making everyone comfortable,” she says.
Honor the house rules when visiting
Even royal family gatherings are complicated by traditions, emotional baggage and, when adult children host parents, by the role reversal of “my house, my rules.” Meanwhile, ongoing concerns about COVID-19 variants add a whole new layer. But that makes it even more important to make things work, and as adults, we should be up to the challenge, says Gottsman, who has grown adult children and an 8-year-old grandchild.
“We get to choose what kind of relationships we have,” she says. “If we want positive, strong relationships, sometimes we need to know when to bite our tongue. And other times we need to know that we need to be responsible for our body language and our tone of voice.”
But how do you meld the roles of parent and guest?
The first step is to “tame your ego,” says Jane Isay, a longtime book editor and author of four books about family issues, including Unconditional Love: A Guide to Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Being a Grandparent Today. Isay, who has four grandchildren, ages 11 to 18, warns that entitlement can be poisonous. “If you think of yourself as somehow entitled to what you think [your children] should do for you, it’s going to be more problematic because they have their own needs and challenges,” she says.
Once children have established their own families and households, their parents need to honor the boundaries of their decisions “in the same way we didn’t want to be told how to cook the brisket by our parents,” she says. “I think it’s really important that we understand today’s culture and don’t apply how we behaved as the sole standard.”