This post was written by former Gradhacker author Trent M Kays

During a recent busy period in the semester (is there any other type?), my father decided to visit me to see how I was acclimating to my life in Minneapolis, MN. I was admitted to my doctoral program at the University of Minnesota (UMN) last year and started my studies at UMN in August 2010. This was a major life event for my family and me for three main reasons: First, this was the first time I would be living more than 100 miles from any family members. Second, this was the first time I would be in a position where my grandparents could not immediately help me if needed. Third, and lastly, this was the first time I would be without my dog. All of these issues impacted my family and me in different ways.

So, it was important for my father to come to visit me, and I’m sure he came with orders from my mother to spy on me. Despite my objections regarding timing, my father decided to come during a busy week in April. This probably was the worst time he could have chosen to visit me, yet it was also probably the best time he could have chosen to visit me.

Needless to say, I was running around preparing two weeks before his arrival. I tired to ensure that I was caught up and, dare I say, ahead on my coursework and grading. I succeeded on this front, and, when my father arrived, I was in a comfortable position regarding my coursework and grading. I was able to work a little each morning and have the rest of the day to spend with my father. He only had two requests when he arrived: First, he wanted to visit the Mall of America, and, second, he wanted to visit the UMN campus. My father has a proclivity for rushing around and trying to get as much done in as short amount of time as possible, and I told him that his time with me in Minneapolis would not include any rushing around. I prefer to take my time and enjoy the process of the trip to the product of the trip.

My preparation for my father’s arrival caused me much more stress than would a normal two-week period, but it was worth it. I realized as soon as I picked up my father at the airport that I was happy he came to visit me. Yes, it was an inconvenient time, and, yes, I was completely stressed and worried about my students work, but none of that mattered when I saw my father. So, in a way, he served as a stress reliever for me for a short time. We stayed up and watched King of the Hill, ate BBQ brisket sandwiches from Rudolph’s (a popular BBQ joint in the city), and talked about my time in Minneapolis. It was a relaxing and lovely visit. I showed my father around the city, and he frequently commented on how nice it is in Minnesota.

I noticed by the end of his visit that he was much more relaxed and comfortable than when he had arrived. It occurred to then that his visit was as much of a vacation for him as it was a stress reliever and work lull for me. When I took my father to the airport, we relaxed at the airport bar and shared a drink in the father and son tradition, and, then, I watched him go through security and leave me a much more relaxed graduate student.

I owe much of my good experience during my father’s visit to my three family visit rules:

  1. Do not rush. Enjoy the visit. The point is to visit with family and not to chauffeur them around. It’s your time.
  2. Go for a walk. I went for short walks with my father everyday he was in Minneapolis. It’s a nice way to visit.
  3. Laugh. I think a day without laughter is a day wasted. So, I made sure to watch funny shows on TV, or talk about a funny story while my father was visiting me because it’s important to laugh. It’s a great stress reliever.

These three rules might seem simple, but, when our families visit us, we often turn the simple into the complex. This is the curse of all graduate students. We take simple issues and turn them into complex ones. We can’t help ourselves sometimes. Our families are important for our sanity and can help us work through the stresses of graduate school. They are people we can lean on and depend on to help us realize that we are human, and sometimes we shouldn’t expect so much from ourselves.

Do you have any good family visit stories or rules? Please share them with us in the comments!

Photo by Flickr user gareth1953 // Creative Commons licensed: CC-BY

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10 Responses to When Family Visits

  1. Katie says:

    My parents let me know months in advance that they would like to visit with me and plan their visit according to my schedule. This gives me the ability to play catch-up before they arrive and actually enjoy their visit.

    My live-in boyfriend’s parents, however, invite themselves without more than a few days’ notice. So, my rule is to not be afraid of saying no if it really is a bad time for a visit. Like when they wanted to stay with us the week of my qualifying exam.

    • Yeah, my theory is that serious procrastinators can’t stay calm and not rush when it’s crunch time. I’ve learned that, for me, it’s better to say “now’s not a good time” than to risk losing my temper over something small just because I’m feeling anxious. I’m the same way with phone calls. I let my parents know what’s going on and call them after it’s over.

      • Trent M Kays says:

        I’ve gotten into trouble a few times for not responding to my parents phone calls in an appropriate amount of time; however, after they realized how busy I am throughout the semester, they backed off a bit and understand.

    • Trent M Kays says:

      Well, that’s considerate of your parents. My parents do the same. My dad wants to know far in advance when to come, but even the time we settle on often is quite hectic.

  2. Fayana Richards says:

    My mom came to visit right in the middle of finals this past semester. I felt guilty because I had to write papers instead of spending time with her. Luckily, she was understanding and let me do my thing. Still, I wish I could have done more while she was here but some of it is poor planning on my part.

  3. I actually did the reverse this past semester. While in the middle of the most challenging semester I’ve faced so far, I made myself go home. After a trying time in Teach for America, with no family around, I made a promise to myself to make visits at least once a semester. The same rules apply, and though I spent a good deal of time working on one last assignment that I could complete before leaving and lamenting about grad student woes, I also spent a good deal of time laughing, crafting with my mom, and playing Yahtzee with my Gram. And it was nice to be working in a sense, as my family got to see some of what I’m getting for my tuition money. Family is an important support structure, and I am glad mine is currently only a 5 hour drive away.

    • Trent M Kays says:

      Understandable. I sort of made the same promise to myself. Since this was the first time I moved away from all my family, I made a promise to myself to call at least once a week and talk to my parents and grandparents. I also started Skyping with them because I think it’s important for them to see me.

  4. Stephanie Hilliard says:

    I would daresay that another reason that your father was more relaxed when he left was because he had reassured himself that YOU were actually doing okay and could handle your new situation. As a parent of an undergraduate, I can testify that you are just as stressed if not more so than the student about them being away from home. The fact that you are a graduate student does not change that worry!

    Glad to hear that you and your father had such a wonderful visit.

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