Summer is a wonderful time with lots of sun, visits to the beach, BBQs, and family gatherings. But often our family get-togethers don’t quite go as planned, resulting in frayed tempers and possibly disappointment. Relationships Aotearoa has put together some great advice and tips to help you and your family have as happy and relaxing time as possible when spending time together.
Ahhh, the summer holidays; it’s a tantalising time of year with the promising combination of sun, time out, great food, and good company.
Sometimes, though, the anticipation is sweeter than the reality.
There are lots of reasons why our special times together at this time of year don't always live up to expectations. Not least is expectation itself. It’s not necessarily unrealistic to expect a good time. What you might not anticipate is just how much preparation and forethought might be required to achieve the fantasy. For many people, summer is the time for family celebrations and visits.
Feeding and accommodating more people than usual can be lots of fun, but can also be challenging. Both visitors and hosts can find it a bit awkward to make sure that arrangements will suit everyone. These hurdles can get bigger when age or extra needs are not well understood, or if there are unexpected hiccups in care arrangements.
You can take some practical steps to prevent strains and ensure a relaxing, enjoyable break for everyone. Often it's not the practical matters that get in the way, but the communication and relationship pieces of the puzzle that people can stumble over. So here are some suggestions about how to preserve your relationships if you or anyone in your summer mix has some special needs related to age, ill health or disability.
Often the first step is having a conversation about what’s needed. Getting this started can be tricky. Hosts may feel a bit hesitant before your arrival, as if asking about any special needs is being too personal or nosey. Or, you might feel you're being too demanding if you talk about any special needs before your visit.
But talking about the issues in advance protects you both, and will ensure your visit goes smoothly. If there’s no preparation, things are more likely to get tense. The host may feel embarrassed, like they’re doing a poor job. The guest may feel distressed, as if their perfectly normal needs are a nuisance. That’s when frustration builds, tempers fray, and people end up feeling awkward or hurt.
So if you need to do the asking, be clear about your intentions. Try something like, "I want you to have a really enjoyable time when you come to stay, so I thought I’d ask what things would help make that possible". This will help both of you focus on doing some preparation to make the visit comfortable.
You might make some suggestions to encourage useful answers. "What sorts of things are good for you to eat? Are there foods that give you problems? I’m not sure how much rest you like; do you have a usual pattern about when you sleep and when you take a break or a nap?"
You want to be a mix of straightforward and positive about this. "What do you normally do? What works well for you?"
This gives the message that you want to understand the person’s normal routine. It doesn’t imply that their needs are a nuisance or that they are making unreasonable demands.
If you need something your host may not expect, think about letting them know in advance. Putting it in writing can sometimes be useful. It may be best to mention that you’re going to do this in a conversation first. Try something like, "there are a few things that help me to manage better. I’d like to check that they will work okay for you. Can I send you a note so you can think about it? Then perhaps we could have a chat about it before I arrive."
Once you’ve got the topic in the open it is much easier to be specific about what is needed, what will work, and what may cause a problem (if anything).
There is a lot of potential for hurt feelings if you don’t quite understand what each of you need. You can create unnecessary stress in relationships if you don’t explain your reasons for doing things a certain way, or seek help in advance.
Someone not eating a meal is likely to be noticed by the cook. So "mmm this smells great, I’m sorry, I just can’t chew it with my teeth the way they are" will ensure the cook won't take offence, and has the added benefit of helping you get a meal that you can eat.
Sometimes it seems easier to bypass the person who needs something and to ask someone else. This is especially easy when they have a supporter or family carer who is familiar with their needs. It’s not that this information isn’t valuable, it is. But always ask the person directly about their needs, if possible, rather than through a third party. Looking after someone’s physical needs, but treating them as a non-person without a voice or a view, can understandably put your relationship on shaky ground.
When one of you has Alzheimer’s or dementia, the need to be careful of feelings takes on some different elements. It’s less about understanding reasons and more about understanding feelings. Think of it as a kind of emotional 'follow the leader'. The person with dementia is following some thread that may not be apparent to you. Your job is to follow them.
If you find yourself trying to correct them, stop and think for a minute. What happens? They may feel embarrassed or upset because they realise they have slipped out of your reality and into their own. It may make them painfully self-conscious about what’s happening to them. Or perhaps it just makes you feel like a stranger to them, and possibly not a very kind one.
- Unfamiliar places, more people than usual, changes in routine – they can all create stress for you and the person you support at this time of year. If you care for someone and will be having visitors during the summer period, here are suggestions to make visits stress-free!
- Make sure your guests or your hosts know in advance what to expect. Tell them about any important routines and dietary or other special requirements. This will make it easier for others to be supportive.
- Describe what will work for you or someone you support rather than criticising suggestions. “He will need a quiet afternoon before the family dinner”, “she will do better with daytime events than evening ones”.
- Be direct about your own needs, and ask for help. People often don’t think of this, or know how to offer. So be clear: “I would really like some time out while you’re here. Would you be willing to support Miles while I go to the movies?”
- Let people know how stress shows up in both of you. “She gets restless when she’s tired or stressed. When I see this I know I need to get her somewhere calm and quiet so she can recover. Otherwise I get stressed too and then we’re both a dead loss."
- Be sure to look into helpful equipment to make your holiday easier, and to pack items (such as suction grab rails, waterproof bedding etc) you'll need if you're going away.
- Remember, if this is a holiday, it’s meant to be enjoyable, so if it’s stressful it’s missing the mark.
- Make sure there is at least one time every day when you get to relax, have fun, and feel you are truly on holiday too. It’s really not much to ask, and most people won’t mind helping if you let them know what support is needed.