Q. My children and their cousins are close in age, but their family has different rules from ours. During visits, our stricter rules about TV, junk food, and bedtime conflict with theirs. Should I just give in?
A. We've had this issue in our family too. One set of parents thinks Pokémon and Rugrats are okay, the other doesn't. One invites Cap'n Crunch for breakfast, the other never does. It's not a question of judging their approach -- to each his own rules and regulations. It's more an issue of enjoying visits and getting your kids to live by your rules afterward.
It's hard for children to see others living it up if they're not. And it's a downer for you to be the meanie, so don't be totally inflexible. Besides, attempting to follow your regular rules during special visits can cause practical problems. Do you put the cousins in separate rooms for TV viewing? Leave a restaurant if it's heading toward bedtime and you still haven't hit the salad bar?
My own solution has been to bend on some rules and dig in my heels about the ones that really matter to us. So we say yes to TV (within reason) but make it clear that these viewings are for cousin get-togethers only. We let them eat sugary cereal for breakfast, but once home, what isn't in the pantry isn't an option. We'll let our kids stay up late one night but not all three, to avoid the cumulative damage of being off-schedule for too long. A little bit of the "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" philosophy seems to work for the kids and the parents in our clan. And remember the point of these visits: to spend time with the whole family and to have a happy (albeit sugary) time together.
Trisha Thompson is a contributing editor to PARENTING magazine and a former editor-in-chief of BabyTalk.