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10 carer hacks to planning a get-together

Some of us may be natural ‘hosts’ when it comes to planning a get-together, while some of us may find the idea exhausting.

Illustration of two people having dinner.

Either way, there are many reasons why hosting a big event alongside caring can be challenging for us. Whether we like it or not, big events still happen.

Whether it’s a birthday party, Christmas or another religious holiday. We don’t always want to sidestep the celebrations, or we may have some level of family obligation to host.

So how can we host a “big event” alongside caring?

10 carer tips to planning and surviving a get together

Carers in the Mobilise community have shared 10 top tips that have helped them to plan and survive a get-together - and even have some fun along the way. Which of the following will you give a go?

1. Are we hosting because we want to?

It can be helpful to acknowledge if we’re hosting out of a personal desire to host, or from a family or cultural obligation. This is important, as it will impact how we feel about the amount of work involved. Of course, it’s possible to host out of obligation AND have the desire to host.

Noticing how we’re feeling is an important starting point. If there’s some resentment there, it can make the whole thing much harder.

And if we’re totally up for hosting, we can skip this section!

It can be helpful to explore why we’re feeling any resentment. Perhaps it’s “assumed” that we’ll host. And that may make us feel “taken for granted” or that family or friends don’t understand how challenging things are for us. This can pull up all kinds of difficult feelings.

Carers shared that it’s ok to “say no” or to offer up compromises. It’s OK to explain why hosting would be challenging or not possible on this occasion.

Saying ‘no’ or ‘not this time’ isn’t always easy, but sometimes we simply need to prioritise our own time and energy. How many times have we been in moments where we regretted saying ‘yes’? Establishing boundaries is a healthy way for us to protect our time and energy.

So take a moment to ask, what do we really want to do?

Working through any reasons for resentment, can be a really helpful way to come up with solutions. It helps us identify the “sticking points” or things we are struggling most with. These might be emotions, rather than practical things.

If we’re feeling brave, we can use this newfound insight to have honest conversations and this may shift how we feel about hosting.

“I love to spend Christmas with my wider family, but it’s exhausting. When I opened up about how hard hosting was - getting the house ready, all the extra cooking etc, my family stepped up. They started bringing their own bedding and towels, they each made a side dish or took over dessert. Things like that have taken the load off and I feel ‘seen’ and ‘loved’. Better to have these conversations sooner, rather than later”.

2. Decide on where it should be

There is often more pressure for us to plan everything perfectly when we’re hosting at home. From making sure the food is ready on time, to making sure the toilet is squeaky clean for our guests. Making all the rounds of tea, checking if guests need anything…

If this is something we’re not too keen to deal with for a particular event, an alternative can be booking a restaurant and asking friends and family to pay their share. Plus, doing so means we avoid tidying up afterwards. Or we could suggest rotating the host, through our family and friends, so the extra work doesn’t always fall upon us.

On the other hand, for some of us, hosting at home actually works out much better. Especially if the person we care for has all their health and mobility equipment at home, so everything is much more convenient.

3. Set realistic expectations

When planning a get-together, there are many things that may not be in our control. Accepting and anticipating what these are beforehand can help us mentally prepare for them. Planning for how our “best self” might respond, may save us from overreacting in the moment.

Some things are simply out of our control, how we respond is where our power is. Some of the things that are out of our control, can be anticipated. Planning for how we could best respond, is a helpful practice run..

“If my partner soils herself as I’m dishing up Christmas dinner, I’ve told myself to take a breath and help her with Christmas love. The alternative is that I snap and ruin it for both of us.”
“What worked more for me is making a list of essentials and tackling them first”

Perfectly imperfect

With lots of ‘perfect pictures’ floating around social media, we can fall into a habit of comparing ourselves to others - setting ourselves up for unrealistic expectations. Yet, there’s no such thing as perfection.

It’s okay if the event doesn’t turn out to be what we expected or planned - we can’t control everything. If we do find ourselves caught up with the small things, take a moment to ask, ‘does it really matter and why?’

Through all the planning and execution, give ourselves permission to enjoy the moment. We are allowed to have fun as much as everyone else.

“For me having a ‘good enough’ list - rather than going for perfection, keep it simple and be organised. I have to accept things are different and having a pep talk with myself to remind me what the ‘point’ is, is useful before I get too hung up on making sure everyone else has a good time.”

Illustration of a woman online shopping.

4. Set a budget

Setting a budget for planning a get-together can help us feel much calmer and more in control about where our money is going.

It also ensures that we’re not overspending on things we don’t need or already have.

For example, do we have decorations from a previous event stored away that we can bring back out?

Depending on how many people we invite, we can roughly determine a budget for how much we’ll spend on groceries. It may turn out that we don’t have to spend as much as we think if some of our guests are helping out with some food.

When shopping, look out for offers and deals - but also be careful to not fall into the trap of buying everything because it is ‘on sale’.

5. Book a supermarket delivery slot ahead of time

Shop online, preferably a week ahead, to secure a supermarket delivery slot (or a month before, if we’re hosting Christmas!). This is a great way for us to manage our time, alongside caring.

It also means that we don’t need to leave the house to go food shopping, which can be helpful depending on our caring situation.

Some supermarkets offering online delivery include:

  • Tesco

  • Aldi

  • Morrisons

  • Amazon Fresh

  • Sainsbury

We can connect our online shopping to our loyalty and rewards cards, to make sure we don’t miss out on any points.

6. Ask for help

Often as carers, we’re used to “doing it all”. The idea of doing everything ourselves comes naturally.

But when it comes to planning a get together, we should also give ourselves permission to ask for help. It can be fun doing things with other people. Although we may need to have a chat with ourselves to to take a “step back”.

“When people arrive I point them towards where things are so they can help themselves and feel at home.”
“If someone asks “what can I bring” take the opportunity to let them make things easier. I also invite family who are great at helping out and know their way around my kitchen.”
“Make a list and share the load.”

Making a list of the things to do can give us an idea of what can actually be achieved. A couple of tasks we can split can include:

Illustration of food.

Ask people to help by bringing some food

It’s also a great opportunity to invite people to share their best cooking and favourite meals with us. Dividing out who brings what, can save a lot of time and money.

Plus, we don’t have to always go for the ‘full sit down meal’ experiences. Often a buffet style works better, especially when different diets and children are involved!

Do we have someone who's the expert baker and more than happy to be in charge of dessert? Perhaps others can prepare side dishes, a cheese board or maybe the bar!

“Write out a list of food jobs, set up a WhatsApp group with guests, and get started!”
“I cook all the meat and roasties, daughter does the veg and yorkies. Granddaughter does the pudding.”

For some of us, asking others for help (or to do something) may be a bit challenging. It can help to be specific. Some helpful prompts include:

  • I really enjoyed your x last time, do you mind making that again?

  • Will you be able to come over a little earlier and give me a hand with the vegetables?

Ask people if there are any decorations or party favours we can borrow

Our friends and family may have some party decorations we can borrow - again, don’t be afraid to ask. We might even have friends or family who enjoy creating DIY decor and can help us out in that aspect.

Or we can ask for people to bring some of the basics such as extra napkins, plates, or trays that can be helpful on the day.

If guests aren't great with food, maybe they could be put in charge of bringing and putting up decorations (and taking them down!).

7. Consider takeout or pre-made food

Taking advantage of food delivery apps or pre-made meals can save us a lot of time. During busy moments, takeaways can be a helping hand, allowing us to direct our time and energy towards other preparation tasks - or giving us more time to simply have some fun!

If pre-made or take-aways feels like cheating, perhaps a blended approach could work. Ordering pre-made sides and dessert, but making the main meal.

Our guide to meal planning for busy carers has lots of tips.

8. Managing paid staff in the house whilst guests are over

Some of us will need to have paid carers in our home, whilst we’re hosting. Even if we have a great relationship with the paid carer, it can still feel strange to have them in our house when our family and friends are around.

“ I still find it hard to have paid carers in my home - and ours are lovely. We’re naturally a very private family. I have to focus on the trade-off. Having a carer here to help with my daughter, gives her someone to play with and meet her sensory needs, and gives me time to get on top of jobs and spend time with her siblings. It’s not always easy, but on balance it’s the better option”

If we’re going to have a paid carer attend our event, there are a few things that can help things to run more smoothly:

  • Letting guests know that the paid carer will be there. Sharing their name and how they will be helping.

  • Letting our paid carer know who is coming and what help would be most beneficial on the day.

9. Managing challenging behaviours

If the person we care for has challenging behaviour or personal care needs, we may feel anxious or embarrassed, and so might they.

If the person we care for is cognitively able to, it may be helpful to chat through some difficult things that might happen on the day, and how we could best handle them together.

It can also be helpful to let guests know the kinds of things that might crop up, and how you would like them to respond. For example, if it’s possible the person we care for may say something inappropriate or remove their clothing, we can give guests the heads up and advise what response or help will be most appropriate or helpful.

It can also be helpful to give ourselves a bit of recognition here. Challenging or embarrassing behaviours can be hard to deal with, especially when we have an audience. Remembering we’re doing a phenomenal job in an extremely difficult situation can be helpful. If we need to have a little cry, that’s OK too.

10. Anticipate how we might feel throughout the day

Pre-empting how we might feel throughout the day allows us to visualise how our best self would handle the moment. Perhaps we can run practice rounds in our minds to help us prepare.

For example, if we know we’ll feel tired by mid afternoon, can we plan to have some time-out?

“We host Christmas every year. It’s fun but exhausting. My children find it hard socially and I feel exhausted making sure everyone has the day they hoped for. I always try to take the dog out in the afternoon and on my own. Just 30 minutes to clear my head and recharge makes all the difference”.

Planning recovery time in for afterwards

Yes, this is much needed after spending a day of hosting, alongside caring (plus all the build up to the “big event''). Recovery time and how we like to spend it, will look different for everyone. Some of us may prefer going for a short walk.

Others may prefer getting lost in a book for half an hour. Either way, it can be helpful to try and keep the diary relatively clear, giving us time to replenish (somewhat!).

As much as we love being around friends and family, taking some time to recharge is a healthy way for us to end the day. It can also be a ‘little treat’ for us to look forward to after a long day.

Whatever it is, it’s always helpful to plan in some recovery or ‘alone’ time. It may be that the recovery time is planned for the following day when we can focus after the event.

If finding time for ourselves is challenging, take a look at these micro-respite ideas that we can fit around our busy schedules.

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