In the summertime, family visits take the place of the normal school routine. Is it just me, or do these visits make you nervous? It's hard to know how to be a good houseguest to people you love, but don't see all the time. After all, no matter how much you love them, sometimes you just don't know them as well as you'd like.
Here are a few tips that will help smooth out a visit with any family member, from your Great Aunt Fran to your brother Leo and his 10 children. Being flexible is key. Whether that means taking care of yourself or voicing your preferences - especially with Aunt Fran. Unless, of course, you really enjoyed skydiving with her last year as much as you said you did.
1. Be accommodating
In my experience, every host does things a little differently. My mom sets out towels in my room, so I always get the fluffiest ones. My best friend lets me take care of myself, but sternly insists I have real meals at normal hours. My in-laws would think it was so weird if I offered to pay for anything. As you can see, there is quite a variety, so it's important to be flexible. Consider the personality of your host and the circumstances of your visit (like a new baby, a funeral, or just for fun). If you accommodate to their habits quickly, both you and your host will be less stressed out. You will be grateful for having a place to stay for a few days, and your host will be grateful you are there.
2. Have a plan B
You may stay with someone who loves to plan out several big events during your visit, like going to the zoo or to a movie. Or, you might not. Either way, there will almost certainly be time when you are left to entertain yourself. So bring something to do. My mother-in-law borrowed almost every book I own while my dad brought an armload of techno-gadgets to keep himself occupied. Whatever the case, your host will be grateful if you are at least moderately self-sustaining. That way, your host family can still have an element of normalcy to their day-to-day life, guests notwithstanding. This is especially helpful if your host family has little kids who require a lot of time and attention.
3. Make yourself available
Plan B is important, but don't get so involved in entertaining yourself that your host wonders why you bothered to come. Try to find a happy middle ground. Maybe you can offer assistance with meals, play with kids, and have friendly chats with your host. You're visiting these people because you like them. They like you well enough to welcome you into their home. Enjoy it while you can.
I like to think I've found a good balance while I've been visiting my parents this week. I put the dogs outside, had long conversations with my dad, and went to the store with my mom. When I'm not actively interacting with them, which is relatively often, I sit in a central part of the house. This allows me to be involved in any comings and goings, which would be impossible if I was hiding out in the guestroom all afternoon.
4. Have an opinion
This one I share mostly from the point of view of a hostess. When people stay with me, I often wish they would have some idea of what they would be excited to do. I understand that, as a guest, they are trying to be accommodating. However, as a hostess, I am trying to accommodate, too. I want my guests to enjoy themselves, not wish they had stayed home. The next time you are going to visit family look up places and events in their area and choose a handful that you wouldn't mind attending. This could be a theme park, a particular restaurant, or even just the library. The point is, you'll have something to contribute to the inevitable conversation that starts with "What do you want to do today?"
Family visits are one of the things we look forward to most about summer vacation. That doesn't mean they are always easy. On your next trip, remember these tips and live it up. After all, summer will be gone all too soon, but relationships with family last forever.