For some families, summers can arrive like songbirds on wings of relief and anticipation. June, July and August can positively glow with the promise of play and relaxation for moms, dads and kids who have waited all year for warmer days without homework to arrive, along with visits from grandma and grandpa, friends and relatives.
But for all the restful, supportive days the summer months may offer some families, for many others what can also arrive with the balmy breezes are bouts of anxiety, disappointments, arguments and patience-sapping endurance tests -- to say nothing of the disapproving, uninvited scrutiny from relatives.
Ah, family life.
So how can parents be open to the best of what a summer can offer from family get-togethers, while navigating the less-than-lovely moments these visits can also bring with them?
For starters, being realistic about who your relatives are as people, and how they prefer to interact with your family, is key.
Do they like to jump into the thick of your home-life during their visits, integrating themselves readily into your daily routines? Or do they prefer a drop-in approach, in which they maintain a hotel room nearby and simply come over for meals? Are they the kind who will gladly step in to provide you a break? Or are they more like house-guests who look to you to entertain them?
All judgments aside, a realistic understanding of who your visitors are, as well as their preferences, is your best friend in managing your own expectations and plans for their visit.
But even when mom and dad have made thoughtful arrangements to accommodate and anticipate their relatives' preferences, life -- and family -- reserve the right to surprise us. And that can lead to as many unexpected joys as it can to unanticipated stresses.
Which brings us to plan B.
When you feel the room's temperature rising -- or, more importantly, your own -- the better part of valor is to take five, take a walk, take a deep breath, or find any other way you can to take some time for yourself.
In doing so, a parent can rightly create the space to not only calm down, but to also remind themselves that family visits can easily trigger old wounds, reenactments of outdated psychological patterns or behaviors, ancient upsets, or unhealed losses.
How bittersweet it can be for a mom and dad to see their own mom and dad lavishing love on a grandchildren in ways they would not, or could not, offer their own child.
Yet since we all bring our proverbial baggage to the table, mom and dad can, with a compassionate recognition of their own joys and sorrows, better meet and promote the best potentials of summer visits through a calmer awareness of everyone's limitations and imperfections.
In this way, despite all the tensions or potential land-mines that await any family get-together, a parent can also be the safe and stable glue that allows grandparents and their grand-kids, especially, to share in the real joy of family. That your child can share love and feel comfort with their grandma and grandpa -- as well as with your family friends and relatives -- is a precious gift and life-lesson you can make possible. And that's the true warmth of any summer.
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