Babies and Big Groups

Babies and Big GroupsWe visit family often. By family, I mean a moderately-sized group of twenty or so people. The trick is we often stay in my parent’s or my in-law’s home where all of these twenty people are also around for prolonged periods of time. Sometimes they are also staying at my parents, or in the case of my in-laws grandma babysits many of the kids and we spend the weekends doing things together. Our visits are from a few days to as much as six weeks sometimes during summer and winter school breaks.

With our first child, our first long visit at five and again at twelve months, I really tried to stay rigid. We napped when we were “supposed” to nap; when a little taste of icing was offered I refused it on his behalf though; I apologized for his grumpiness at times. By now with the three kiddos in tow I’ve settled into a little confidence and competence on managing my babies in these big group situations.

Most important for us was to know our children’s individual needs. One child gets overwhelmed more quickly with sensory overload and crying fits occur more often. He needs a quiet room. For another we look for cues of needing more cuddles or neediness though he is not as acutely aware of noise. He needs more hugs. Knowing your child’s needs allows you to best advocate for them. Advocacy does not require shouting out defensively so much as just providing, as the adult, for your child’s needs and giving space for their voice in the context of uncertainty and unfamiliarity. We visit for weeks at a time, and I recognize that being far from home—away from bed, toys, the grocery store and church, even the streets and all the other familiar things—can be taxing.

Be ok with standing up for what your children need. We love our families very much and enjoy their company. I recall one day when additional family arrived unexpectedly to visit just as my children were waking from their naps (possibly having woken one of them from his nap). As we see them regularly during our long visits, I didn’t feel any pressure to “make every moment count.” In fact, ensuring my children’s emotional stability for the day allowed for the remaining moments to be most enjoyed. I politely and quietly ushered my kids into our bedroom and closed the door. There was no big explanation or curiosity about it. I could tell my children needed a few minutes to transition from nap to unexpected socialization. Those twenty minutes secured my children’s ability to cope and enjoy the remainder of the day with family.

Advocating also means finding trust within you. I make mistakes but generally believe I take the time to balance what everyone needs with what my children need. Just because we are far from home doesn’t mean they always get their way or even always get their needs met. Sometimes we don’t get our needs met. But I try to find a little grace for them and me when I don’t read a situation most accurately or my expectations (of myself or others) aren’t met. Though rare, any comment someone makes about their behavior I try not to engage it as a criticism. That comment doesn’t matter as a judgment on my parenting, but it is insightful in how I might be a better house guest or how someone else is experiencing their time with us. Again, it’s a constant negotiation of being present for everyone I can and not just my children.

I try to balance time with the larger family and friends with just my little family of five. For some of that time we are a family of four while hubby works. I build in days of just down time or little adventures (to the donut shop or park) where it is only us even though they have many cousins who would love to join us. We spend much time with the cousins and I find it grounding and rejuvenating for my kids (and me) to just be together alone. This means extra cuddle time and quiet time together, which I usually build in early in the morning before others wake up or arrive.

Last, I let things slide. I find it important to keep structure but my kids usually eat a little less healthy on any of our vacations. They take in a little more technology, sometimes stay up a little later, and their nap schedule becomes a little less concrete. After trekking 1,600 miles each way in a mini-van with three little ones you learn to bend a little to adapt and make the time as enjoyable as possible.

Lynette is a mom of three children from 3 months to age four. She has cloth diapered all three since birth and enjoys all things eco-friendly and mindful living.

Tags: development, family, newborn, preschooler, stress, toddler, travel

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