"You really must come and stay with us," is a sentence many people easily utter. But how do you deal with it when people take you up on your offer?
"There are many reasons why having guests to stay can be stressful, even if they are people that you really like," says Cape Town psychologist, Ilse Terblanche. "These include invasion of your privacy, different habits of your guests, disruption of your routine, rearrangement of your living space, possible special dietary requirements, different sleeping patterns, and an exaggerated sense of responsibility on your part."
"Also, if you are living on your own, you are used to having your own space, and having guests can be doubly disruptive, even if you really like these people."
"So if you feel truly exhausted after your sister and her family came to stay with you for a week, there is nothing strange about this. Disruption of your normal routine can be very stressful and it can take you quite a while to get back to normal."
So what can you do to minimise the stress associated with having people to stay?
So what are you in for? If you know exactly how many people are coming and how long they're staying for, you can prepare yourself mentally. Don't be shy to ask. If you're too shy to do this, pretend that you're planning on going away or that you are expecting other guests and want to organise things. There are few things more stressful than not knowing how many people are going to descend on you or how long they're going to be staying. You have a right to know these things in advance. The last thing you want is Auntie Sophie coming for three days and staying for three years. Stranger things have happened.
Get an extra pair of hands. Moving furniture, sorting out bedding and towels, doing shopping and cleaning are all time-consuming tasks. Get someone to help you the day before the guests arrive, otherwise you will be stressed out and exhausted when they get there. It will be worth every penny. Don't hesitate to employ extra domestic help during this time. If you have to spend all your time cooking and washing up, you will not get to spend any time with your friends or family. And, after all, that's why people come to visit, isn't it?
Don't be a 24-hour entertainer. You cannot assume full responsibility for your guests' entertainment and wellbeing. They also have to make some effort in this regard. Especially if you're working (and even if you're not) let the guests go off and do their own thing for some of the time. Don't fall into the trap of becoming unofficial tour guide and master of ceremonies 24 hours a day. You will be burnt out within a day or two. You also need time out and don't be shy to take it.
Ready, steady, cook. Providing meals for guests can be stressful, to say the least, especially if you are not used to cooking regular meals. Or if they have food allergies or if their diet is very different to yours. Either cook and freeze meals beforehand, or get the guests to cook some of the meals – and do some of the washing up! If guests ask what they can do, take them up on their offer and pass on some chores.
Business as usual.Obviously things will be a little different when you have a house full of people, but if you usually go to bed at 10 p.m., don't suddenly sit up until midnight and expect to function normally the next day. The guests are in your house and should fit in with your living arrangements. If you have classes to attend, freelance work to do, meetings to go to or a doctor's appointment, tell your guests beforehand about prior arrangements and continue with your normal life. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't make time for them and go the extra mile to make their stay pleasant, but it does mean that you should not entirely disrupt your own life.
Send them to the supermarket. Feeding a house full of people is expensive to say the least. In fact, the last time you saw what a trolley of groceries cost, your heart missed a beat. While we all like to treat guests, family and friends, if people come to stay for weeks, you cannot be expected to foot their grocery bill. Make a list and send them to the supermarket, and if they have any sensitivity, they'll pay for at least half of the groceries. You don't feel like being in debt for weeks after they have left.
Your rules rule, OK. If your children are not allowed to jump on the couches, then theirs shouldn't either. Don't be scared to enforce regular bedtimes or mealtimes, especially if your kids are used to it. If there are things that are important to you, it is much better to say so outright before the fact that your guests don't adhere to this rule, becomes a problem. It is your house and your rules are the ones that count.
Don't feel guilty when you say no. Don't feel that you have to be at the beck and call of every suggestion your guests make. If you want to hit the sack and they want to hit the night clubs, let them go on their own. Or if their children want to spend hours on the internet, or the phone, you have the right to say no.
Kitty vs. Rambo. Unless you really have no problem with their two dogs, don't agree to have them. Especially if you have animals of your own, this situation could be problematic. Your pets could be traumatised by this invasion. Don't do this to your stress levels. Consider putting your pets into kennels if you don't manage to discourage your guests from bringing theirs. Don't hold out any hopes that Kitty will make friends with Rambo.
Childproof your home. Doing this in advance makes so much more sense than trying to save your vases and your CDs from the grabbing hands of toddlers. Pack away breakables that are at eye or ankle level and lock the cupboard that contains your TV or CD-player. Knobs that turn have a fatal attraction for little ones. Remove the temptations rather than screeching like a banshee all week. Remember that people are often blind to the faults of their children and will happily sit and watch while Junior demolishes several of your favourite magazines.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, April 2004)