Right now, everyone is craving social opportunities like nothing I’ve ever seen before! As we move into the summer months people are turning out in droves for neighborhood events, church gatherings, birthdays and special events. Family reunions and visits with older family members have taken on a new and deeper meaning since we just spent over a year not being able to gather in person.
Summer has always been a common time for families with young children to travel to visit older relatives who live far away. While I was blessed to live close to grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, Betsy grew up with grandparents who lived several hundred miles away. For her, a trip to visit her grandmother meant a 6-hour car ride, and a joyous time of playing on her grandmother’s farm in North Carolina.
This summer, unlike last year, families who have been vaccinated may gather together and enjoy an intergenerational celebration. For some, this will happen at a family reunion, maybe an outdoor event involving food, fellowship, and fun. For others, the visit might be more individualized, like going to stay with grandparents for a few days. These visits are certainly welcomed and encouraged, but they can also be uncomfortably disruptive in a home that is usually quiet and orderly.
In addition to the loud voices and happy squeals of little ones, there are dangers associated with running children and scattered toys. As the family caregiver, you’d be smart to set some house rules so everyone can enjoy the visit and at the end of the day all are sorry to see the day end.
Consider reaching out to your extended family and inquire about their summer visit plans to get the ball rolling. For those who indicate that a visit is in their upcoming travel plans, have a deeper conversation about planning the visit so everyone can make the most of it.
Update your relative about any changes in condition for those they plan to visit. A gentle word like, “Mom doesn’t walk as well as she used to,” or “Dad seems to get a little confused when his routine changes greatly,” will set the stage for expectations and remind parents of small children to keep a watchful eye on their child’s behavior.
If possible, set up a safe play space for children away from the grownups so conversation can happen in quiet comfort. Perhaps you could hire one or two of the youth from your church or neighborhood to come for a few hours and supervise or even plan activities for the kids while the adults visit.
Another great idea is to have a few age-appropriate toys available to interest and engage visiting children, or children’s videos to watch. Parents could bring toys or videos or make suggestions.
Keep meals simple. Soup and sandwiches, congealed salads, cookout items and the like are quick and easy options. Pasta salad is popular, and cookies and ice cream are both a must for dessert! Don’t stress over what to serve; a pot luck meal is frequently the favorite choice because everyone brings something they love to eat.
Be sure to give the children appropriate time to visit older relatives as their age allows. These visits are critical to developing a strong sense of family and heritage. Include them in the greeting time and at other, quieter times of the day. Ask parents to talk with their children before they arrive to explain any details like, “Granny’s ears don’t work as well as yours, so be patient if she doesn’t understand you,” or, “Uncle Mike can’t walk very well so we need to help him not trip and fall; maybe you could hold his hand when we go to the table for lunch.” Children can be wonderfully empathetic if we help them connect with age-related disabilities.
Finally, remember to plan for snacks. Little bodies need lots of fuel to keep running on high all the time. Let parents know (if they don’t already) a good spot for napping and changing diapers. A good supply of band aides and lollipops is also a smart investment.
Advanced planning and communication are the smartest ways to pull off a wonderful summer of visits for both young and old. Enjoy the visitors of summer! Betsy and I hope you will join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about managing summer’s visitors.