Dear Dr. Debbie,
In anticipation of several holiday gatherings being planned, I’m getting nervous about how well my wiggly young children, ages 2 and 4, will be received by certain sedentary senior relatives.
Based on past experiences at multi-generational gatherings, the children will be expected to sit quietly while the adults socialize. Reactions to their wiggles and giggles escalate quickly from disapproving looks (at them AND me) to the point where we excuse ourselves and just leave.
Any tips to make the holidays happier for everyone?
Mother and Grand Niece
Ah, family. The people who are supposed to love you no matter what but who also, at times, expect the impossible.
Your family has members at different stages of life. The needs of the elderly and the needs of young children differ, yet both age groups are indeed, well, needy. If you think of yourself and other family members in the middle age range as most capable of meeting your own needs then it’s easier to accept that you are the ones most responsible for meeting the needs of the elders and the youngsters. This is best accomplished through teamwork.
Find allies among your siblings, cousins, parents, or others in the “responsible” age bracket to strategize your approach to assuring a successful event for the whole family.
Advancing age generally comes with weakening muscles, frail bones, declining coordination, hearing loss, and a resultant lessening of independence. Dietary restrictions and strong food preferences are common. An older person would probably prefer to settle into one (preferably quiet) place at a family gathering, away from high traffic areas such as between the kitchen and the refreshments, but a with a clear shot to the bathroom. Tag team with your age-mates to engage with the elder family members in conversation— about old times, about their health challenges, about your accomplishments that would make them proud—and offer to ferry food and drink from the buffet table. Speak clearly and listen attentively. They have family history and wisdom to share.
Unquestionably, young children are at their most active phase of life, both physically and intellectually. Take turns with your team members to engage with one or more little one at a time, preferably in a more open space, such as an unoccupied hallway, rec room, or better yet, yard. Bring a small ball to roll indoors, bubbles to blow outside, or suggest challenges and games to keep the bodies moving. Anyone who has been a child should know how to: Follow the Leader, Make Animal Movements, and coach a child to perform, and increase his distance for, a Standing Broad Jump. If a short walk is an option, indoors or out, the adult serves as tour guide to add relevant information when looking at family photos on the wall or the variety of birds in the trees. Bring along a picture book or two if this visit will be longer than just enough time to romp and eat. Similar to the elders, young children require some assistance with food and bathrooming. Additionally, loving relatives can hold cozy conversation with each child. A two-year-old likes to talk about his boo boo’s, his and your clothes, the foods he’s eating, and any toy he has brought along. A four-year-old will talk about his playmates, as well as favorite toys and foods beyond what’s in front of him. Remind (or just model to) your childless relations to speak clearly and listen attentively. Children have new discoveries and wonder to share.
Rather than viewing a multigenerational gathering as a competition of needs, use this opportunity to practice familial cooperation. The able-bodied and responsible members make the event work by taking care of the needs of those who need a little assistance because of their stage of life.
Everyone benefits from caring family connections.
Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.
What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.