It’s time for the big family reunion or you’re doing the mini-version and spending the night with the kids at the relatives. Sounds like another happy family memory, right? That’s your vision anyway, until you pull into the driveway and your backseat cherubs start in: “When do we get to go home?” or “This is going to be so boring!” So how do you survive the visit with those out-of-town relatives your kids haven’t met? How do you stay overnight in someone else’s home (especially when they have white carpets and china figurines and have never had kids)? Here are a few sanity savers to help you survive family travel and actually have a good time:
Do your homework.
Are any special activities planned so your kids can look forward to something (like a fishing trip or horseback riding)? If not, research what’s available --like a community swimming pool or a special art class—that you can take your kids to. And if Grandma has a swimming pool and your kids don’t swim, now is the time to set up those lessons.
Most kids need a “manners-tune up,” so don’t wait until you're pulling into the driveway for your review. Start practicing “please” and “thank you” and table etiquette at least two weeks before the reunion so you don’t die of mortification.
Make advance introductions.
Your children will feel more secure if they know someone—anyone—before arriving. Use the electronic world to swap email addresses or digital photos so your kids can meet their long-lost cousins via email and learn their names.
Keep to your routine.
Different time zones and new faces are tough for anyone, especially kids. Even if Aunt Mary serves dinner at eight, make sure your kids are fed at their regular time. Do pack snacks so your children don’t starve if escargot is served every night. Anticipate meltdowns if your toddler doesn’t get that nap or bedtime ritual. Stick to what your kids really do need to maintain decorum.
Pack some security.
Make sure each child packs “can’t live without” items in their backpack: a favorite pillow, used nightlight, stuffed animal. A new flashlight to tuck under a child’s pillow can be reassuring when you sleep away from home.
You never know what’s available for your kids to occupy their day. So pack a duffle bag of things they can use to entertain themselves such as books, a new coloring book or drawing pad and crayons, a sticker book, or a basketball. Maybe you can introduce a hobby to your child as well as their cousins such as crocheting, beading, rock, bug, flower, or coin-collecting. Or bring along a welcome gift that everyone can do together like a Monopoly game, volleyball set, croquet, archery, or even horseshoes (so Grandpa can play with the kids).
Give advance warnings.
Suppose you have a slow-to-warm-up kid who has a meltdown if approached too quickly, a “spirited” child who really needs to adhere to a strict bedtime schedule or a middle kid who is overly self-conscious about his new braces? If you do, give the relatives advance warning. Let them know about the best ways to help your child feel secure.
And if you have sanity savers that have worked for your family, please pass them on! I’m sure there are other moms who would appreciate your wisdom.
Happy and safe travels!!!
Michele's latest book is 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know: Getting Back to Basics and Raising Happy Kids.