for IWAP’s The Bridge Magazine
For expats, a big part of traveling with children is visiting relatives. However, for many this is too often a source of great stress rather than a source of great joy.
First off, you need firmness in your own mind about what is important – saying please and thank you, hello, goodbye, and insuring reasonably adequate sleep, reasonable food, reasonable safety. Some of these do need to be stated firmly to children or relatives; some require your ingenuity. For example, if relatives are majoring in cake and candy, and you will be with them for some days, purchase bags of fruit, “For all of us.” Cut some up, and feed it to your children! Teach your children how to handle unfamiliar things safely – stairs, perhaps; a large highway, a small highway; snakes in the garden? Bees? This learning is at least as much a part of their vacations as visiting Disneyland! However, perhaps your greatest strength is your ability to be flexible. Relatives do things differently? Think what they do that you appreciate. The museum is closed? What is of interest there outside – maybe statues? Or, the children can play stone school on the museum steps, while you think what to do next. One suitcase is lost? Fill out the paperwork, and buy a new dress. Take as much as you possibly can as an adventure. Yes, sometimes hand the kids over to their father or grandmother, and chill out ALL BY YOURSELF.
The child doesn’t always want to be flexible. Three-year-olds particularly don’t like things moved around. You can help by taking special pillowcases, which you pop onto pillows in airplanes, trains, hotels, and relatives’ houses. You may also turn routine variations into special treats. For example, you’re quite sure the four & five-year-olds will never go to sleep if their eight-year-old sister is in the room, which is how Auntie arranged it. So eight-ear-old sister gets the special treat of staying up with Uncle & Auntie an extra hour!
Let the children interact with those you visit: that’s one of the reasons you’re going, isn’t it? You don’t want a 40-yearold child later saying; “My mother, my grandmother, and my three aunts were all exactly the same,” do you? You want them to have special individual memories of each of these special people. Here are some things my grown children have said to me: “I remember my two-year-old birthday party Grandma had for me.” “Grandpa helped me with my homework when I was in fourth grade in the States for two months, and he always made me finish it!” Do not talk for your child! Of course, you can explain anything necessary, but if the child can talk, let the child talk to his relative! Furthermore, if basic safety is observed, let them go. The three-year-old goes with his grandmother to visit the pigs. He comes back clean, but if he doesn’t, does it matter? My children were washable, and yours are, too, aren’t they? Grandpa swears, and you don’t. “I don’t use those words, and neither does Daddy. But, don’t you love that song Grandpa sings to you? Please sing it for me.” Uncle Jim is about to help Veronica roller skate. You don’t want her to skate without kneepads? Improvise. Maybe you can use extra large Band-Aids [plasters] on her knees. Perhaps, it is more important for her to have this experience with Uncle Jim, whom she may not see again for several years, than to go through life with totally unscarred knees. Or, go buy some kneepads.
Your children normally have their own rooms. “Steve, today you are so lucky. You’ll be in a bunk bed in your Cousin Tim’s room.” You think Maria will be terrified of owls hooting from the woods while she is sleeping on auntie’s screened porch. “Oh, Maria, you have a special treat. You’ll see some stars through the screen, AND! You’ll be able to listen to owls hooting. Auntie has a book about owls. Let’s read it and then listen to the owls together.” I wish you many special experiences of love, joy, learning with your family and your extended family this summer!
Originally printed in IWAP magazine “The Bridge”
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