Question: My brother and sister-in-law will be coming for a holiday visit, bringing their 5 kids, ranging in age from 1 to 8, staying at our house for “at least” two weeks. As of yet, they have not given me a definitive time of departure. The family eats a specific diet and she has already sent me a list of foods she would like for me to provide during their stay. We are already on a tight budget feeding a family of two. She has also requested I keep my house cats in one room as one of her children is very allergic. I have several concerns and shared them with my sister-in-law over the phone. She emailed back, “I hosted you and Tom this summer and spared no expense to show you a good time. I would appreciate the same consideration.” How do I handle my holiday houseguests?
Answer: While you want to make every effort to be an accommodating host, it’s important to set financial and emotional boundaries upfront. Here are my thoughts:
- Be honest. Your husband is the best candidate to have a candid conversation with his sister. He should say, “We would love to have you for the holidays but we are unable to comfortably accommodate all of your requests. I will be happy to take you grocery shopping when you arrive so you can purchase some of the items on your list.” A kind, yet assertive discussion is necessary in order to set boundaries and start the visit off on the right foot.
- An itinerary is not optional. It is not unreasonable to ask for at least a general time frame of departure so you can plan the rest of your holidays accordingly. Say, “Sara, we are looking forward to having you at our home. Our house is your house during the dates of December 1 – 9. I hope this works with your plans.”
- Food allergies and special requests. If a guest has a food allergy, a host should go out of their way to provide safe menu options. However, if a family of 7 is on particular regimen that requires specific food items, it’s a nice gesture for the guests to at least offer help with the cost of food. The host can decide how he or she will move forward from that point.
- Let your guest know you have pets. Before you start fluffing the guest room pillows, make sure your sister in law knows you have 1 dog and two cats, and they all live indoors. Your guests may be allergic to dander and will need to make alternate plans or bring extra allergy meds. You could offer to crate them at night, but keeping them in one room for the entire visit is unrealistic.
- Tit for tat is tacky. Regarding your sister-in-law’s remark, “We hosted you and Tommy this summer…”. The line becomes murky when family (or friends) hold your hostage for what they may have done for you in the past. In the future you may want to visit your sister-in-law and her family during the day, and retreat to your own hotel in the evening – no strings attached.
- Make your guests feel comfortable. I have no doubt you will provide your holiday guests comfortable lodging, great food and a wonderful time. There are plenty of opportunities to do things that don’t cost a lot of money, such as caroling, neighborhood holiday events, building a snowman, or drinking cocoa and watching a holiday movie. Use this opportunity to build on your existing relationship.
- Unplug from your technology. I strongly suggest powering down your technology during family time and holiday visits. Make every effort to be fully present while you host your family. Disconnecting for even a short period, during meal time or playing a board game, will allow you to reconnect without added distractions.
I invite everyone to join Thomas P. Farley and I this holiday season by unplugging from your technology during the Thanksgiving meal. Our 2nd Annual Thanksgiving Unplugged campaign is well under way and we are excited to share it with you. Show your support of “going unplugged” at the holiday table by “liking” our Facebook page. This is a perfect opportunity to start a new family tradition!