We’ve just waved off my husband’s parents after their annual Christmas visit; and for the first time we realised that they are, in fact, getting older. They’re almost in their 80’s, and my FIL is not in good health at all. And I’ve realised we’ve switched life roles again. Once they were parenting us. Then we parented our small people… and now it feels as though we’re parenting them as they slowly resign themselves to not keeping up with modern life. Although we live 200 miles away we deal with their utilities for them. The husbands sorts their car & home insurance, and I’m on standby as first stop IT support when the iPad does ‘weird things again’.
Watching them navigate our house this year I realised we’re also rearranging the house for them – once we moved breakables out of the way of toddlers, now we move them to avoid any mishaps with a rather blundering older gentleman with a walking stick (the same reason his wife has banned him from ‘assisting’ with the drying up when we’ve used our best china).
Their needs have simply begun to change, and where we once they were able to slot into our house with ease, now we try and do what we can to make their stay more convenient and comfortable for them.
Obviously it’d be lovely to install a walk-in shower or a Stannah stairlift (I had to Google to be sure they were still a thing. I haven’t seen an ad for ages – remember Dame Thora Hird zooming up and down in hers? To be fair, my FIL does actually have a stairlift at home… not sure if it’s a Stannah though. Other brands of stairlift are clearly available…)… But for the few visits a year that’s not going to happen.
However there are things we have done which help enormously.
We replaced our old and uncomfortable spare bed with an airbed.
Yes, I know, that sounds counter-intuitive. But he with the crumbling spine swears it’s way more comfortable than any mattress, and he much prefers it. Instead of pulling the various parts of the old pine bed out of the loft (and the old double mattress out of the garage), we asked my disabled Father In Law to sleep on an airbed for Christmas. Not as harsh as it sounds – we’re not talking an old rubber pump-up on the floor. We were talking a properly good big-and-solid Platinum Aerobed.
Being a polite sort, he agreed to give it a go – and was amazed at how comfortable he was, and how well he slept all week.
To be honest, we were amazed too.
We added a ‘welcome tray’ to their room.
Younger grandparents love to be in the thick of it, but we’ve found as the kids have got older and rowdier, and the grandparents have got older and quieter, they just don’t cope as well as they used to. The year we thought to lay out a small kettle, mugs, tea bags and an insulated mug of milk was the year things relaxed. They can wake and rise in their own time, no need to get up & dressed and sociable just for that early morning tea if everything’s on hand.
Obviously we stole this idea from every hotel we ever stayed in – they do it for a reason y’know.
And it doesn’t have to cost the earth; we picked up an electric kettle for under £6, use mugs from the cupboard, an old insulated travel mug for the milk, and a pretty ramekin dish stocked with teabags. An Aeropress would make perfect ‘proper’ coffee easy, too. Though if you wanted to up your game, I did hear that the old Teasmade is making a big comeback – remember them?
You could add some essential supplies too – tissues & travel toiletries are always welcome, a notepad and pen, and of course the Wi-Fi password should be written somewhere too!
(Actually I recently wrote a whole list of easy steps to a welcoming & cosy guest bedroom – might be worth a read!)
We organised our living space.
As I said, my Father in Law is not the most graceful of movers these days. It’s a lot easier for elderly guests to feel comfortable if your living space is tidy and organised – it’s easy for them to move around if the floor is clear of all stumbling risks (get the kids to keep their toys to one side of the room, or one separate room if you have it).
Think about your meal plan
I love to cook for guests… but not so much for my in laws. Because they have… shall we say limited tastes. No garlic, no spice, no pasta or rice, no fruit with meat and no anything that’s not meat-and-two-veg, really. They do like a good pudding though :) For years I tried, thinking that if they just tasted my XXX, I’d convert them and help them see how good it is. But alas. Though my FiL is happy to venture and try, he rarely likes. And my MiL isn’t keen on even trying.
So now, I stick to the easy staple options. Shepherd’s pie, steak pie, stew or a simple roast, and soup or sandwiches for lunches… The result? Happy eaters and clean plates. Much less stress all round once I lowered my expectations.
At the end of the day, having guests in the house can be a tricky thing, but there’s lots you can do to make it a fun time for everyone. If you plan ahead, a few simple tricks can make all the difference in the world to everything running smoothly, and your guests feeling welcome.
Because if your guests feel welcome, they relax – and then you all have a good time.