One of the things that annoys me the most is when I take my young children to their grandparents’ house (we live in another country, so when we go, it is usually for at least a week) and my husband refers to it as going on vacation. It is not going on vacation. It is my daily life, with the vast majority of the stresses, relocated to a new location.
A vacation is special. It usually involves some relaxation or adventure (or both). There is often excitement and anticipation about an upcoming event or experience. A family reunion is different. Not that seeing my family and watching the joy on my children’s faces when they play with their grandparents isn’t special, but it isn’t the same special as when we all travel to a great resort or villa in a tropical location. But there are tips that can create some of that vacation “special-ness” when visiting relatives at home. A pre-requisite is open communication and cooperation between the host and the visitors. With some advance planning it is possible to have a very enjoyable family visit.
- Think about space If you are planning a luxury family holiday, you would make sure you had enough beds and space for everyone. Your family home (or grandma’s new condo) may not be big enough. A teenager sleeping on the living room couch is going to be extremely moody if his toddler cousins wake up at dawn and interrupt his sleep. And it will be much harder for grandpa to chase after the kids if his back is sore from sleeping on an uncomfortable sofa bed. Air beds and fold out couches, and even tents and sleeping bags, are definitely an option. However, if there are not enough beds for everyone, you could consider some other alternatives.Renting a room or two in a nearby hotel is perhaps the most obvious, and expensive, way to get extra space. But there may be other alternatives as well.
- Is there a neighbor who will be away who might let you use his bedrooms?
- Could you park an RV in the driveway? If you don’t have one, perhaps you could borrow or rent one.
- Are there any AirBNBs near your location?You may decide after looking at options that you prefer to squeeze in. All of the above suggestions involve some inconvenience, if not cost. However, you may decide that trying one of them could be just what you need to make the visit more enjoyable and vacation-like for everyone.
- Book Special Events Most of the time when we go on vacation there are events and activities we are anticipating. When we visit relatives, however, we sometimes don’t plan special events. This is a big mistake. Not only does it take away the opportunity for anticipation, it also takes away an opportunity for creating special memories. Nor do the activities you plan have to involve everyone. An activity for part of the group can be very memorable.For example, one year when everyone in my husband’s family was at my in-laws, my mother-in-law booked an air boat tour through the Everglades for all 10 of us. The whole family still talks about how close we got to the alligators and laughs about how it was possible for my then 3-year old daughter to sleep through the roar of the incredibly loud engines. It wasn’t a particularly expensive activity, but it was unique and brought the entire family together for a specific event.I believe special events foster high quality family time. They communicate to people that their participation in the activity is expected. A reticient teenager is more likely to participate if there is an end time to the event.Advanced planning promotes inspirations which in itself are a big step to creating some great memories
Thinking like a tourist is usually a good way to find special event opportunities. But there are other options. Perhaps you could consider booking a favorite restaurant, going bowling together, planning a hike, or even a mother-daughter spa afternoon.
- Plan and allow for alone time If the visit is any more than a quick weekend trip, it is likely that people will be happier if allowed some alone time to decompress. I believe it is important not to be offended when people seek out alone time (or couple time), but to expect and plan for it. Let your daughter-in-law go shopping by herself without so much as a roll of the eyes. Don’t expect your dad to take the kids on his usual long morning walk if that is his time for quiet contemplation. Book your hair appointment while everyone is there so you know you will have a block of time to get out of the house by yourself. I usually volunteer to do all the grocery shopping. I find even that can be relaxing and recharging if I am by myself. For all but the most extroverted people, alone time is essential to a relaxing visit.
- It is OK to have off-limit subjects One of the rules of our extended family trips is that we don’t talk politics. For our group with a diversity of opinions it is too much of a minefield. If rules such as this is what it takes to have a happy family get together, I say, so be it. And the off-limits topics may be more subtle. A teenager’s new choice to be a vegan or your sister’s new gluten-free diet might be equally hot topics. Not speaking about it, while making a side of gluten-free pasta may be the difference between fights and fond memories.
- Actively reduce your stress I often envision Martha Stewart-esque family visits. However, unless Martha is your live-in housekeeper, reality may be different. Scaling down your vision and getting extra help can go a long way in reducing everyone’s stress levels.My mother-in-law is a good cook and enjoys trying out new recipes. However, when we visit this can often lead to her being stressed, as she figures out a recipe when she would rather be having tea parties with her granddaughter. I recommend everyone think about what elements really are the most important of the visit. Perhaps it is sharing a great new recipe that you have been waiting to try. But you may find ordering sushi is actually the way to get the relaxed family dinner that you are really craving.Besides focusing on what is most important to you, bringing in extra help is another fantastic way to reduce stress. If you can outsource it and you can afford it… do it! Ask your housekeeper to work extra hours. Hire someone to do the clean up after a holiday meal. Pay a friend’s teenager to come and just be an extra set of hands with the grandchildren. Send all the Christmas gifts out to be wrapped, so that you can free up extra time while your family is there. Is staying up hours after everyone else has gone to bed or is hanging out together really how you want to spend your scarce family time?
Hopefully by incorporating one or more of these tips into your next visit with the relatives, it can feel more like a holiday and less like a chore.