Being a good house guest in my parents own home is something I typically never thought twice about until recently. Up until a few years ago, I still considered their home an extension of mine since it is where I lived my whole life. As a 20 year old, that attitude didn’t matter much because I left a small footprint behind and was often running in and our visiting childhood friends. But, with the introduction of first Summer and then Cal both the physical and emotional space that our family takes up in a home grows and grows. Over Thanksgiving I went up and visited my parents in Sonoma County for 10 days, 5 of which was just the kids and I without Ryan. While there, I put a lot of thought into what I could be doing to make our footprint less intrusive and what my personal revolving door of house guests do to make their presence less daunting. Whether you are staying with your parents, sibling or friends definitely put some thought into these suggestions this holiday season.
1. Pre-Visit Communication
As a host, it’s really challenging when your guests aren’t forthcoming about their itinerary. Do you clear your schedule completely to spend time with your guests or do they have additional plans? When I am the hostess, I both work from home and have a nanny when I’m putting in a full days work. I always make a point to have guests know in advance what our weekdays look like, it’s tremendously helpful when I know that they know I am occupied and the nanny is there. As a house guest, it’s equally important that I communicate my schedule with my hosts (even when they are my parents). If I am trying to work 2 full days during the visit it’s really helpful for everyone to know what days I’m working, when I’m on conference calls versus doing tasks that can be interrupted. If you are staying with friends who don’t have kids, let them know what you will be bringing and what you might need. They might be worried that they don’t have what you need or might also be a good resource if there is something that you might need. You won’t know unless you open the lines of communication.
Quick Tip: Whether you are the host or the guest if you aren’t getting enough information from the other party try starting the conversation by telling them what your families events are. Basic rules of reciprocity will generally lead to similar communication in return.
2. Don’t Come Empty Handed
Bringing a hostess gift is such a small touch but really makes a huge impact on how the visit with go. Admittedly, I don’t do this for my parents but probably should. Whether it’s a bottle of wine to be shared together during the course of a visit, fresh flowers for the table or even something for the house the gesture of the effort never goes unnoticed. On that same note
Quick Tip: Here is one of my favorite hostess gifts to give – The 5 Minute Journal.
3. Tidy Tidy Tidy
As a guest with kids, keeping things tidy is so important. While we can’t control how big the emotional presence of two lively children is, we can control the physical presence of us being there. For a while, I feel into a routine of letting toys sit in the main area, sippy cups sit on the counter or shoes lay be the entry hall door. This last visit I tried my hardest to have only my purse in the entry hall and a basket of toys as the items we were leaving out in the open.
While my kids are lucky enough to have my old room as a nursery for toys and themselves while I get a separate guest room, it’s important that I still make a point to pick up the nursery room toys at least once a day. With other cousins coming over it still is a shared space and needs to be tidied as if it was a room downstairs.
Quick Tip: As parents we forget how much more comfortable we are with chaos and disorder. Don’t forget that your host probably isn’t as comfortable with it as you are.
4. Ask The Rules
You always want to act in a way that never leaves the host having to be the one enforce their rules with your children. It’s awkward for them and as parents it’s our responsibility to make sure that our kids know the rules and that the hosts see we are enforcing them. If you are in doubt if something is ok, ask the host directly so that you know for future reference. While we might not think twice about letting our kids color at the counter with markers, the host might not know their coloring on page competency and wish they were rather at the kitchen table where they just bought a plastic table cloth for this very coloring occasion. In my case, when we arrived at Thanksgiving my parents has just got new light gray cloth couches. Their rules were no food, no liquid, no shoes, no jumping, no dogs on the couches. While my kids and Cloe definitely wanted to continually forget those rules, it was my job to provide constant reinforcement and reminders about the couches. Each home and each family has different rules so never assume and always ask.
Quick Tip: Try having a conversation with the kids in front of the host so the host knows you are giving her permission to enforce her rules. “Summer and Cal we are guests at Leah’s house. Do you know what a guest is? Yes, and since we are in Leah’s house it’s important that we follow her rules. I’m going to help you but Leah will as well. If she tells you to do something it’s important we listen to her the first time. Ok?”
5. Take Note of Your Hosts’s Routine
Probably the most common challenge I hear from people with house guests is the break in their routine. It’s often something like, “it was great having them but . . . it’s just nice to get back into my groove.” Most of us are creatures of habit more than we realize. While we welcome the company and seeing friends we also simultaneously look forward to the return of the daily routine. While as a guest, we can’t avoid causing the break in routine, we can try to take note of the routine and weave ourselves into our host’s daily flow. For example, if the host doesn’t eat dinner until 7:00 and your kids usually eat at 5:30 don’t throw off their day by getting everyone to eat early. Just give your kids a snack and make them wait it out until closer to when the adults are eating. Or if keeping your kids schedule is important for their routine feed them early and then let the adults sit down together at 7.
Quick Tip: The more you can start to mirror the hosts routine the more comfortable they will be with you there. This doesn’t have to be at the expense of you or the kids routine but simply observing their patterns and finding ways to flow it with goes a long way.
6. Make Time To Not Be There
Whether you are staying for 3 days or 10 making a point to carve out some time away is generally always of benefit. For my retired parents, adding us into the mix for so long was definitely a marathon of hosting. But having my mother-in-law take the kids for long adventures and time at her house was a nice reset for giving them back some quiet and time to recharge. When Ryan joined us, we snuck off to a resort and instead of leaving my tired parents with the kids, let Nana take them so my parents got a nice long break for all the house guests.
Quick Tip: I’m never heard of a host who was disappointed to get a break from hosting even if only for a couple hours. For some this might just be getting to read the paper and drink their coffee in silence while you and the kids are on a walk.
7. The Follow Up
As guests in our own parent’s house we often slip into the role of a child and forget to express gratitude for their help with the kids, hosting and taking us in. Just because they want us there and wouldn’t dream of not having us around for the holidays, doesn’t mean that we don’t still owe them gratitude for hosting us and gratitude for wanting us there. After my resent long visit with two kids, a husband and a dog I could tell that someone would most likely need to spend a full day cleaning. Not only did the extra people create extra cleaning but 10 days worth of visitors meant 10 days of deferred cleaning. I was a little late on the execution but I did offer to pay for the housekeeper to come in the day after we left.
Quick Tip: Your responsibilities as a guest don’t end with you rushing out the door. Make sure that you do something to help your host return their home back to order as you are leaving.
8. Express Gratitude
At work, we always tell clients “the fortune is in the follow up”, that couldn’t be more true in both business and as a house guest. The pen is very powerful and a handwritten than you note goes great lengths in conveying gratitude. I’ve always taken Thank You card writing very seriously.
Quick Tip: If you don’t already have beautiful stationary on hand, stock up! Getting a thank you email while you are filtering spam has only a micro level effect in comparison to sending it by post.
The Bottom Line
Children take up both a large physical and emotional space and that size is magnified when you are going into someone else’s home as a house guest. The simple acts of good manners in being considerate of your guests time, routine, and preferences will go a long way in ensuring a smooth visit where everyone can enjoy the company of loved one as much as possible.
P.S. Looking for tips on flying with your little for the first time? Check out our popular post Top 10 Must Know Tips For Flying Alone with a Toddler or Baby