For the past year, my friend Carrie and I have been bringing our four toddlers to the nursing home down the street to visit the elderly residents. I cannot tell you how special these visits have been. The pride I feel for my kids after they bravely walk up to each resident, without judgment, to say hi. The way a resident’s face lights up when they see four cute kids walking down their hall. The way my heart burst when a resident (who probably feels a lot of aches and pains normally) bent down to pick up one of our boys and give him a huge hug. The sadness I felt just yesterday when I realized one of the residents that so warmly welcomed us into his room that he shared with his wife had passed away. The love, joy, and yes, sometimes occasional sadness, are all a part of it.
Honestly, up until probably ten years ago, I was nervous about nursing homes. I wasn’t exposed to them much growing up (except for occasional volunteering because of a school requirement) and I think I always worried that someone would die while I was there. It is sad to see people who are confused, bedridden, or crippled. When I met my husband though, we regularly visited his grandparents in their nursing homes. Soon my fear started to fade away. When you realize that these residents could easily be your grandparents, (or eventually you!) one day, I think your perspective changes. The people in these homes often do not get many visitors.
The simple act of stopping by for an hour and looking someone in the eye with a smile can be the happiest part of their week.
When Carrie mentioned that she was going to deliver Christmas cards to the residents of the nursing home down the street from us last year, I knew we had to join her. I want my kids to be exposed to all sorts of people, and have the confidence to interact with anyone. Yes, we have had some awkward moments when one of our kids gets nervous around a resident or comments on their appearance. But what a perfect opportunity to teach acceptance! By answering honestly to your child’s inquisitive questions, they are learning so much. We often refer to the residents as “grandmas and grandpas”. I think that helps ease any fear that our kids initially felt.
Here are some other tips for making your visit easy and successful:
- Visit around a holiday. It’s a great excuse to visit AND to dress up your kids in cute holiday-themed clothing. The residents will go nuts for it!
- Have a planned activity. What has worked really well for us is to bring something for our kids to hand out to the residents. It gives the kids a reason to go up to each resident and interact with them and it directs our visit. We walk the circle of the nursing home and hand out Christmas Cards or Valentine’s Cards. Just yesterday, we trick-or-treated at the nursing home.
- Let your kids drive the interactions. You don’t need to feel nervous about talking to anyone when you have kids with you! They’ll do the talking for you! Be brave, knock on doors, ask if you can come in and then let your kids just be themselves. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how brave they are. If a resident doesn’t want to be visited or if they are sleeping, no big deal! Just move to the next one. But don’t forget about people who may be bedridden. I bet they’d like to see a cute toddler face beside their bed!
- Give the facility a heads up you are coming. Usually, they are thrilled to have you come but be sure to ask when the best time to visit is. They might have activities already planned for that day, or they might be eating dinner, so make sure you check before you show up.
During our 4th of July visit, a resident named Ed thanked me for bringing the kids to visit and told me how much it means to them because most of the residents rarely see their own grandkids. He finished by saying “Moms like you are what’s going to make the world a better place”. This is absolutely nothing about me (since bringing the kids to the nursing home wasn’t my idea in the first place) but such an amazing reminder that when the world we live in seems really yucky (which it does a lot lately) there are things we can do in our own community, that take just an hour of our time and make all the difference.
If you need further convincing that you should do this in your own community, check out this hysterical dialogue from our visit yesterday:
Two sweet ladies to my two-year-old: “What’s Your Name?”
Two-year-old: “I don’t know!”
Ladies: “You’d fit right in around here!”
I hope that on World Kindness Day, you’ll be inspired to start spreading kindness with your kids to the nursing home down YOUR street. You will be doing such an amazing thing for your kids, the residents and yourself. Your momma heart will be so full, I promise.