The Ten Best Things I Have Learned Visiting Family

by - Tuesday, June 17, 2014

This weekend, we went to LA to visit my brother and soon to be sister-in-law, and I have to say, the four of us pretty much have this whole family visit thing nailed.  the whole experience made me think about how much I have learned in my 6 years of living away from home. In that time, I have visited Franklin 35+ times, and I have visited other places about 20 times all added together. We have also hosted quite a bit, though mostly people not from Franklin (which is probably a lesson in itself, but I digress). Family visits, as opposed to friend ones, come with deep history and love, but that can also translate into baggage, higher expectations, or generational differences. There is a lot to be learned here, and I definitely haven't figured it all out, but I figured I would share what I know.

10. Putting Faces to Names Changes How you Listen-This is one of the greatest things about actually going and being in the presence of you family members' lives. For years and years, I heard about my Uncle Steve and Aunt Melinda's family and their life in Kenya, his job, their community of missionaries. When we went to their home last year, I finally was able to really understand what that life looked like and why it was so beautiful to them. I got to see them with friends, at their church, and at Christine's school. It makes the conversations with them so meaningful now, because I have a much stronger sense of what their day to day looks like. I always feel that way when I meet my cousin Rochelle's friends, or my sister-in-law's friends from school, or my cousin's new girlfriend. Having looked at these people and things firsthand deepens the level which we can communicate about their life, and it makes our conversations apart a heck of a lot more vivid and fun.

9. Convenience and Closeness are Easily Mistaken for Each Other (but they aren't the same thing)- Being part of a family is a choice, and everyone has to continue to make that choice, to show up, to care, to communicate, for the whole thing to work. When you live near family, this choice is relatively easy because it doesn't cost you all that much. You don't spend significant money and time in transit. The blessing of it being a challenge is that you understand how precious that time is, and it creates gratitude in every direction of the relationship. The kind of commitment that makes family work comes in lots of different forms (some people are great communicators, others are great travelers, etc), but having all of my family time be visits has really clarified the work it takes to keep the family growing. Now I can see easily who understands that and who doesn't.

8.Hershey kisses (or booze)- there is nothing wrong with taking a minute for yourself and misbehaving slightly. Traveling and hosting can both be very stressful, so don't apologize for taking care of yourself however you see fit. No judgement here.Enjoy the visit, and give yourself a minute when it is too much.

7. Olive Garden is always a safe bet- Sometimes, people want to try the crazy cuisine you had a couple weeks ago. Sometimes, they are already out of their comfort zone and just want something familiar. That is A OK. Sometimes as a host, the best thing you can do for your guest is to recognize their discomfort and not push them again. When my beloved cousin Paige came to visit us in SF earlier this year, we went too far out on a limb with the food, so we reeled it back the rest of the trip. When my Mom comes, what she wants is whatever she can't get on the Island, so Red Robin pleases her to no end. On the same end, I basically want to eat at the same 3 places whenever I go back to Franklin (Leonardo's, King's, and Polly's). What is a treat for someone else may not be a treat for you.

6. Just be honest!!! They will love you anyway- Sometimes, you need a break. Or you really really don't want to go on that historical tour of the button factory that they are planning. Or they hurt your feelings. When you are on a visiting basis with someone, you don't want to rock the boat because your time together is so brief and so precious, but the longer I am at this, the more I wish I had just spoken up or stuck up for my little family more. It is actually so much better to say something before it sits too long and to communicate about it face to face. We have all sorts of things we feel like we can't say, but I think if you say it with kindness, it will be ok.

5. Down Time is FINE- The Boy is way better than I am at standing up for his alone time or feeling comfortable just sitting around doing nothing. I feel like I have to pack months of bonding time into a few days, but just like in regular life, down time can serve as a catalyst for some of the best moments. If you are like me,chilling out can be one of the most stressful and challenging parts of hosting or visiting, but everyone will be happier and more fun if you don't run them ragged.

4. But Hosting is Important. You set the Tone-If someone is visiting you, you have to host them. It's that simple. You have this awesome opportunity to come up with something great, whether it be a big adventure or a shared meal, and you will be glad if you go for it. Down time only does the trick if every moment isn't down time, and I try my best to make sure visitors know that we are grateful for their visit by treating their time as really special and valuable.

3.The 3 Day Rule- My Mom says this is the cardinal rule of visiting people- it doesn't matter how much people love you, after three nights of staying in their house, they will be ready to have their own space back. If you are coming for a longer visit, splitting your time can be kinder. I never thought it would be like this going home, but even there I can feel our welcome wearing out in our longer visits. For the past 2 years, The Boy has said we shouldn't have stayed all the way until New Year's, because people are openly complaining about us to us by then. Not a great sign. Unless you are with someone very used to visiting or hosting, everyone will stay happier if the trip isn't too long.

2. It's never good to live in the past, so make new memories- I love the good old days. To someone this nostalgic, the glory days really were glorious. But the only way to keep your family vital, you have to keep giving it new things to do, because everyone in it is changing. It doesn't do any good to JUST sit and talk about how fun it was in the past, go do something fun now! I am pretty sure if you are doing this perfectly (which is of course impossible, but a girl can dream), you would never trade the present in for the past. If a tradition is getting stale, switch it up. If every visit you do the same thing, do half those things, and come up with something unexpected to do. It is definitely a risk, because some things will land better than others, but a few glow in the dark egg hunts and reese's cup s'mores in, you will wonder how you ever did without this new stuff! Babies do this the best, but you can get there all sorts of ways.

1. Just Go Already- Every human relationship (EVERY one) ends in a goodbye. The best we can do as human beings who love each other is to make the sadness of that goodbye worth it by treating our time together as even more important. This works on the micro level for visits too. When you know that time is limited, it gains exponential value. You know you have to make the most of it, and that is the gift of living from visit to visit. Time with my family might be further between than when they lived down the road, but when somebody gets off that plane, we know this is time that matters. That awareness is a huge gift, and even though I sometimes wish things could just be easy, I am grateful for the time I get, and I want to make every hello worth the goodbye that will come soon after. There will always be a reason, often very good ones, not to travel to see your family, but love is an unbeatable reason to do it.

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