Family Matters: I will survive

How to make the most out of your family visits, while keeping everyone happy.

Family (photo credit: Thinkstock)
(photo credit: Thinkstock)
Michele asks: “I’ve just finished a very exciting phone call with my son; he is flying in to see us next month with his wife and kids, and they’ll probably stay over for a couple of weeks. I am very happy they’re coming, since I haven’t seen them in almost a year, but I’m also worried about the visit. Last time they were here we made a lot of effort to accommodate for them, but they kept complaining about not having their essentials around. Additionally, my husband and I took a few days off work so we could spend more time with them, but they had other plans in mind - meeting with childhood friends and going hiking with the kids, which is a bit too difficult for us now. How do I make sure that this visit is not going to turn out like the last one? Should I discuss these issues with my son, and how?”
Like Michele, more families find themselves today living quite far away from their extended families. Internet and phones may help in maintaining basic communication, but nothing beats those rare face-to-face visits.
Whether it’s the parents traveling to see their children or vice versa, the joyous gathering means hosts having to accommodate the needs of their guests, and guests leaving the comfort of their homes and adjusting to new house rules.
In order to ensure that such visits leave everyone with good memories and anticipation for the next visit, there are some basic steps Michele can take before and throughout the visit:
Michele should speak to her son prior to his visit and encourage him to sit with his partner and decide how they’re planning on spending their vacation. For example, they might want to spend most of their time with their family, expecting them to join in all the outdoor activities, or on the other hand they might rather spend their days travelling and their nights going out with friends.
The next step should be to find out how well Michele’s plans fit with her son’s plans. The only way to figure it out is to share her plans with her son. It might be that her son would like to spend most of his time with his parents, but Michele and her husband won’t be able to take much time off from work, or that Michele’s son was planning on a lot of personal time with his partner while Michele had envisaged taking leave from work so that they could spend time as a family. Having an open discussion prior to the visit will help Michele to not be disappointed with the amount of time she gets to spend with her son and his family She might not get to spend as much time as she would want to, but at least she can express her wishes beforehand and understand how she should plan her time during the visit.
In order to make sure that Michele’s son has all his essentials ready for him this time around, Michele should ask him to provide her with a list of his basic requirements. For example, if his children are still very young, he might want his parents to obtain appropriate beds, a high chair, toys and also certain foods the kids just can’t seem to do without. Michele might also want to ask for some assistance in acquiring all the needed items.
Michele should consider initiating a few shared activities, whether it means getting the family together for a barbeque, a Friday night dinner or going out for a picnic over the weekend. It’s important to share those plans with the others so that they can provide feedback. For example: Michele might want to invite the extended family for a Friday night dinner, but her son is scheduled to arrive with his family late that Friday and he might prefer to go to bed early. Preventing an argument is almost always easier than trying to solve it later on.
Don’t forget to give everyone plenty of notice to make sure they won’t plan anything for that specific day.
Lastly, though many people perceive these visits as the perfect time to tackle some complex issues they have with their family member, we must also leave enough time to create new happy memories, so that those few precious moments spent with family members will carry meaning, helping us grow closer until we get the chance to meet again.
Shimrit Nothman has a Masters degree in Conflict Resolution and believes that like charity, conflict resolution begins at home. If you have any questions for Shimrit, please use the comments section below or email her at
This column is brought to you as general information only and should not be a replacement for professional advice.