Children learn roles as hosts to house guests

About six months ago we moved from our Northern snow-country home of 20 years to Florida. We've been extremely fortunate to have had several relatives and friends visit us already, with more to come.

It has been interesting to watch my three children, aged 12, 9, and 8, adjust to sharing their family life with others for a week or two at a time.

The hardest lesson they've had to learn with guests in the house is the importance of keeping their schedules going. It's hard to go to bed on time while camping with old friends on the family room sofa, and hard not to talk all night. But school does come in the morning.

It's hard to learn to dress quietly and eat quietly in the morning so guests may sleep. We have never asked the children to be quiet on these occasions, but their natural good manners dictate that they do so.

We have, however, had to make some rules and talk about their roles as hosts.

It's great fun to have a favorite cousin in the house, but it's also important not to ignore new friends in the neighborhood. Cousin John will go home and Scottie, down the street, will understand a few days of missed play. But if he has been totally ignored, he might think his friendship is not important.

So rule No. 1 is that previous plans with friends must not be interrupted entirely. Sometimes it is possible to include young visitors, sometimes not. Zach, for example, was invited to a birthday party. We explained to cousin John that Zach would be gone Saturday afternoon, but that they would have Saturday evening to do something together. It was also inappropriate to take John to Cub Scouts, but he did go with us to the school play.

Our second rule is that chores stay up to date. Zach takes the puppy out every night. While John was here, all of Zach's patient outdoor training of the puppy was almost lost because for two nights he forgot to take the puppy out.

Our final rule is to make a special effort to keep their belongings in place, especially if they change rooms, so when guests are gone they can find things again. We give guests drawers and closet space. Even so, there's usually some sending back and forth of T-shirts, socks, and favorite toys that get misplaced.

The children love a house full of guests. When I asked them what they like best, they made a list.

''I love it when people love my new house and my new town and my new friends, '' says Autumn, 8. ''It makes me feel wonderful.''

''I like it when we are going to school and visitors are going sightseeing and I tell them to look for something special and that night they tell me how much they enjoyed it,'' says Joshua, 12.

''I like all the laughing and fun at dinner with a lot of people,'' says Zach , 9.

I explained to the children that we will be taking vacations back home and I expect them to be as thoughtful there as they are here. They reminded me that they have, after all, traveled before.

I remember when we drove from Detroit to Boston to visit my mother. Autumn was 4 then. ''Well, Grandma, look out,'' she said when we arrived. ''I'm here and sometimes I am messy.'' Actually, on that trip she was very tidy.

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