Dear Rachel,

I read your post about Badly Behaved Neighbors which I thought was excellent. I am hoping you will likewise be able to help me with my predicament. It is one thing when the kids who don't behave come to your home where you set the rules, but what happens when you are in someone else's home where the kids are out of control? Basically, my sister, who I dearly love, lives right near my parents. And since she has a large house, whenever we go to visit we have no choice but to stay there since we cannot afford a hotel for the whole trip. We are supposed to go again this summer and I am dreading it. Her kids are violent, disrespectful and basically, a terrible influence on my children. What can I do?

Miserable Sis

Dear Miserable Sis,

You are right, it is one thing to set the rules in your own home, but so much harder when you are the guests in someone else's home. Add to that a sibling, and you have a real tough predicament. To start with, you mention that you cannot afford a hotel, which makes perfect sense, but are there any other options of places to stay? Have you seen if you can rent a home in the area? Depending on where you are going, is there someone who is on vacation who will let you use their home? Alternatively, would it be possible for you to have at least one or two of your children stay with Grandma and Grandpa? This could be a huge treat for your children and might help diffuse the influence of your sister's children if they aren't all together in the house.

If you can avoid staying with her, that would obviously be ideal. Alternatively, if at least some of your children could be out of that home, it would also be better. Another possibility is looking into not going at all. I know that might not sound like an option, but you have to weigh how detrimental being in your sister's home truly is on your children. Perhaps it makes more sense to either have your sister come and visit you, or have your parents come to visit you. At least this way, if they are in your home or visiting you, you are more able to set the ground rules.

But for now I am going to assume that none of the above is plausible, at least not for the upcoming trip. So if that is the case and you will be in your sister's home with your children, what are your options?

Well, for starters, even if you can't tell her children how they need to behave, you most definitely can tell your own. And you can set your own rules for what your children are allowed to do. To make things easier, I would suggest speaking with your sister before you come. Based on your past experiences, it sounds like you have a good understanding of what the problems are that might happen again. Rather than telling her that she is not parenting correctly or that her kids are out of control, focus the conversation on your children. Tell her that you have been working really hard at having your children speak properly when speaking with you. It has been a challenge and they have come a long way, but it is imperative that they keep this up during the vacation. Ask her if she could help by maybe requiring the same things from her children during your stay to make it easier for your kids.

If you can turn the table so that she thinks she is helping you out in your difficulty with your own children, she might be very willing to establish rules for your sake, not for her own. If you ask her if she can please not allow certain toys, foods, games, or whatever the problem areas are, since you are concerned that your children will not handle them properly, then it takes the blame off of her and makes her your ally and not your enemy.

Since this is your sister, the more you can indirectly give her guidance and suggestions in parenting her own children, the better she will be for it. Again, I would most definitely stay away from telling her that she is doing something wrong, but by enlisting her help in carrying out the rules and regulations that you feel are necessary for both your children and her children, she will be able to parent in a different way while not feeling threatened by you. She may also be able to speak with you about her own difficulties with her children (we all have them, we are just not all able to admit or speak about them!) and if she does open up and ask you for advice, then you can carefully explain that maybe if she did things differently, her children would behave in a different manner. Remember with criticism that it has to be in a manner that the receiver can receive the direction. This concept is called in Hebrew, b'ofen hamitkabel. Great advice is only helpful when stated in a way that one can accept it. Furthermore, the word in Hebrew for criticsm, tochecha is explained by the Sages to come from the words toch and ahavah meaning "from within love." Make sure before you speak that you are being motivated by your love for your sister and not your annoyance or aggravation of the situation at large.

If, however, you see that your sister is not open to helping with your guidelines, then you will need to do it on your own. You still need to insist that your children follow your rules, even if that means that they are not allowed to do something that she is allowing her children to do. There is nothing wrong with saying, "I'm sorry, but my kids are not allowed to play with that" or "I know that your cousins are allowed to stay up, but I am your mother and I am telling you that it is now time to go to bed."

And if your children misbehave, there should be consequences as well. Maybe a statement such as: "If you don't know how to follow our rules when you are here, then we won't be able to come and stay here again" can serve both as a threat for your kids to get their act together, as well as a way out of future visits if your kids misbehave.

While it is not going to be easy, the best thing you can do for yourself, your children, and ultimately your sister and her children, is to insist on your kids following your rules in your sister's home. Even though you can't tell her what rules to set for her children, you can most definitely show by way of example. Stay strong in what you expect from your children and teach them the important lesson that no matter where they are, at home or with their cousins or in camp or anywhere else, proper behavior is absolutely expected!

Much luck and keep me posted with how the trip goes!