By Guest Blogger Kelly G

If you have ever read the children’s book The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant, it gives a good picture of what a longer family stay is like: the long journey, the hugging, the crowding, the chore trade-off, the mess of kids getting to know each other again, etc. My husband’s family (brother, wife, two cousins) comes to stay every year for the entire week after Christmas, and the rest of the family often shows up for dinner and hang-out time, so we have an overflowing house. Here are some things I do to help make our family visits a sane time.

Identify what stresses you out the most, and deal with it first. For me, it’s trying to get the house clean enough, including the nooks and crannies, to have someone else live with us for several days. This year I have hired someone to clean a few days in advance. It’s a big splurge for me, but I am much more relaxed about the visit than usual!

Figure out bathroom and sleeping arrangements ahead of time. We don’t have a dedicated guest room, but we turn over the kids’ bathroom and one of their bedrooms to my in-laws and let the four kids bunk together in the other kid’s bedroom. We also assemble a basket of soap, shower gel, shampoo, towels, and extra blankets ahead of time. It gives their family their own space and their own “stuff.”

Manage the meal stress. Some meals need to be special, like a big family dinner or New Year’s Morning brunch, but constant formality at mealtimes is exhausting, and overrated. Leftovers and takeout are fine, too, as is an entire dinner of fun appetizers or potluck. Not every meal needs to be sit-down, either. Eat in shifts if it’s crowded, or let some sports fans have dinner in front of the TV during a big game.

Experiences last longer than presents. Although we have a gift exchange, I try to plan a few things to get us some time out of the house. This year we will go to a Thunderbirds game, visit Old Salem (which we haven’t done yet, believe it or not), and the kids will visit one of the local bounce gyms. Also, every year we go bowling on New Year’s Eve.

When scheduling fun stuff, don’t forget the adults! Leave some open time for grownups to go out for dinner, or drinks, or exercise, or just get out for a bit. My sister-in-law and I usually try to get a long walk in every day, and we try to have one night out. (I know this is harder when you have little kids, but I am a much nicer parent and hostess when I get a break.)

Downtime is just as important as scheduled time. Let the kids just play games or videogames, watch a movie, walk the dogs, or hang out and play with their new toys. Put on quiet music and encourage adults to have some laptop or phone time, or take a nap in front of the fire. Not every minute needs to be full.

After several days together, even the best families can get tense with each other. Steer clear of controversy, whether it’s political disagreements, or just general in-law or sibling snark, or different parenting styles, or even just different sleep schedules. Make up your mind ahead of time to change the subject, leave the room, have a glass of wine, count to ten, take a deep breath—whatever it takes not to fuel the fire of family disagreement. You may feel great putting “that family member” in their place at the moment, but unless it’s a moment where you really need to stand up for yourself, you likely will regret it afterwards, especially if you are only a couple of days into the visit and you have to make nice for the rest of the time.

Finally, remember that very few people in the world live a life like what we see on Facebook and Pinterest. Drop the pressure to make every moment perfect, to anticipate every need, to have a spotless house and perfect food in the midst of a gaggle of guests. (See articles on “Scruffy Hospitality” for more about this mindset.) Hopefully your visitors will have the grace to appreciate all you are doing and all the effort you are putting in to give them a warm welcome and comfortable stay. It’s the quality of the time spent that matters most, so instead of constantly rushing around to clean up and cook, leave the dishes in the sink, pile the laundry in the corner for a bit, sit down, put up your feet, and really enjoy your guests. They will remember your gracious attention far longer than they will remember how clean your bathroom was!

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