As Indians with our roots firmly embedded in the Indian subcontinent, we try to visit our extended family and childhood homes once every two years. Along with the excitement of meeting familiar people and seeing familiar sights, it cannot be denied that these trips are expensive and hectic. All this does lead to stress that can get magnified when you are parents, especially of young kids.
It’s easy to get stressed out due to conflicting interests of the parents versus the child, the child versus the grandparents, and even the family versus the rest of the relatives. In such instances, it is often the children who are overlooked or put in a spot. As parents, it would be nice to remember the following points that I have gone through and will continue to face every time we visit our Indian relatives.
Your kids will be cranky
The time to travel from the US to India is approximately 23-34 hours, including layovers at various airports. On top of that, because we cross the international dateline, there is about 12 hours time difference between the two countries; noon in India is midnight in the States. This means that your body clock is completely messed up for a few days until your system has had a chance to adapt to the new timings. For small kids who have no idea about this concept, this would mean wanting to sleep and wake up at odd hours. In order to get them used to the schedule, you would have to force them to stay awake during the day, which is a pretty horrible time for both kids and parents! It’s no surprise then that that is the time when there is a 100% likelihood of meltdowns and temper tantrums, and I’m not just talking about the children! It requires the mental stamina of saint to be patient with your kids when you yourself are drained from the journey. Yet, like the rest of parenthood, we have to deal with it in the best possible way we can!
Your kids may not warm up to your extended family
Some kids are extroverts and love the attention and coddling that grandparents, aunts and uncles, as well as the many cousins will gladly provide. Others, like my elder son (and a younger me), cannot handle the spotlight for long. Kids may feel apprehensive of the seemingly hundreds of unfamiliar faces beaming at them, hands that reach out to tousle their hair and pinch their cheeks, relatives they’ve never met who demand hugs, and cousins who wish to drag them out to play games they’ve never played before. They may panic and cry for you; it may make you uncomfortable and awkward to ask people to give your child space, because you may feel everyone thinks you’re mollycoddling your own child, but do it anyway!
Your kids may not warm up to your idea of a great time
When we go back to our childhood homes and recall with fondness all the wonderful things we did, ate, and played as kids, we’re often eager to have our kids experience the same things. And, very often, what we consider the highlights of our youth are just lame and boring for the next generation! Hell, even I couldn’t sit through some of the ’90’s movies that I thought were awesome and hilarious 20 years ago! So, give your kids a break and don’t insist on their playing gilli-danda or listening to your favorite songs if they really don’t want to!
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to try! Luckily, board games are still popular with my boys, as are going to the local zoo, planetarium, or simply, dancing in the rain! Some things truly are timeless!
Your kids and your extended family may not understand each other
I think approximately 25% of my time was spent serving as interpreter between the two groups! Many of our relatives asked my kids questions and then after listening to them answer, turned around to us and said, “we can’t understand their Amreekan accents!” But, truth be told, my kids didn’t get some of the words said in thick ‘Indian’ accents either! Either ways, it was tiring, standing around and translating!
Your extended family will have questions about your kids’ upbringing
Ah, the joys of having your parenting questioned by all and sundry!! No matter how dutifully you toe the line on ‘Indian parenting ideals”, there will be differences in upbringing simply because of the difference in environment and of course, the differences in the way previous generations brought up kids versus the current times. So, all in all, it’s a ripe moment to be criticized for almost everything your child does or says.
I’ve found in the past that just throwing up my hands in mock horror and saying, “Yes, they’re doomed!” has helped quiet critics! If you choose not to adopt this cavalier attitude, you may try explaining but sometimes, just being silent and taking it is your best option.
As much as possible, side with your child
As mentioned, your child already has a bad start because of the change in clocks, change in environment, change in weather, and change in you too. You definitely are not paying him or her as much attention as you would back at home; you would obviously be excited about meeting your old friends and relatives and may be leaving your children in the care of others, when they would much prefer to be with you. What seemed endearing in the way your child clings to you at home may now seem stifling and annoying.
But, is that their fault? Do try and put yourself in your child’s place and maturity level, and try and spend time with them just as you would at home without anyone else barging in. Possibly the best time for this is at bedtime. A familiar piece of routine is always comforting and let’s the child know that you are there for them, even though it may seem otherwise during the day!
In older kids too, there may be references and rituals that your kids just aren’t familiar with! When my mom asked my kids why they weren’t greeting our older relatives in the traditional manner of touching their feet, I immediately chimed in saying that it was not their fault; it was I who hadn’t taught them that. They weren’t being rude, in fact, they were very respectful in their manners, but they simply didn’t know that this was the common norm in our extended family.
…But, do not allow your child the latitude to be rude
Having said that there would be meltdowns and confusion and anxiety, your child obviously would not be displaying his or her best behavior. And, relatives may be of the mindset to intervene to either ‘coax’ them to smile again or to give them a lecture. At least with my kids, that rarely works! However, much as they’re feeling grumpy and not in the mood to engage such well-meaning attempts, I try my best to redirect my relative’s attention elsewhere while making it clear to my kids that there is no room for being rude or disrespectful.
In doing so, perhaps that serves as life lesson to them that they may meet people who will be all up in their personal business and the way to tackle such interactions should, at least initially, be with courtesy. Of course, with some persistent people, I myself get impatient and metaphorically yank said relative off my kid, so that’s a another story!
I hope that helps, especially with new parents who are anxious that their American-born kids make a great impression with their relatives. It’s really hard to balance expectations that are usually humongous in such occasions with the reality that your kid is just still a kid! Hopefully, my experiences will help you relate!
Do let me know your own experiences in the comments!