From Dr. Jane's Notebook
The fine art of family reunions
Family reunions and family gatherings can be wonderfully
renewing or emotionally disastrous. One way or the other, they are always a lot
of work, so it is a good idea to give these events some serious forethought and
planning. If your family is like mine, people have to travel from long distances
to be together. This requires special effort and special challenges, and it is
likely that both frustrations and expectations will run high. To maximize the
chance that your next family reunion will be a rewarding and enjoyable
experience, please consider the following thoughts.
- Make specific plans but remain flexible.
Family reunions need some amount of organization, but beware not to try to
over-control things. Different age groups like different amounts of activity.
Some like quieter and less physical plans; others want to be busy at all
times. The key to keeping both groups happy is to have a combination of
“possible” plans. I suggest two lists. The first list should include
activities that the whole group can do together, such as meals, craft fairs,
religious events, or visits to museums. A second list may include suggestions
for smaller groups, such as rest time, outdoor games, indoor activities,
cooking and clean-up squads.
- Take time for one-on-one conversations.
Most group discussions tend to remain on a superficial level. In groups,
people tend to stick to safer, less personal topics, while discussions between
individuals are more likely to result in more meaningful communications.
Relationships tend to grow when we take time for private conversations and
allow ourselves the opportunity for heart-to-heart exchanges. To facilitate
these opportunities, arrange times to meet with up with various family
members outside of the “big events”.
- Get to know each other over again.
People change all of the time. Children grow, teenagers mature, adults become
parts of couples or become single again. Some gain new employment, others
relocate, almost all of us develop new interests over time. These
accomplishments result in personality changes and personal growth. Ask people
about the things they’ve accomplished to learn more about their strengths and
resources. Take time to learn new things about the members of your family, and
remember to share information about your own life. As relatives, we can take
great pride in each other’s accomplishments. As a “team”, it is important to
congratulate each other on our achievements. There are no sweeter compliments
than those we hear from our own friends and relatives.
- Build upon family strengths, not weaknesses.
Unfortunately, almost every family has at least one relative who seems to
thrive on the misfortunes of others. Be aware that conversations around these
folks can quickly turn critical and hurtful as they degenerate into gossip
sessions. This often leads to hurt feelings and family damage. Since none of
us are immune from criticism, it is up to each one of us to stop negative
conversations in their tracks. When recalling memories, remember the things
that went well, not just the problems. Beforehand, give thought to “burying
the hatchet” and extending the hand of forgiveness to someone with whom you’ve
had a problem. Family relationships are far too precious to be scarred
People search for better ways to communicate
with their relatives. Sometimes, it helps to set goals for yourself and come up
with creative projects for kids. During Thanksgiving, one of my nephews compiled
a book which consisted of several sheets of paper, folded in half and stapled.
On each page, he drew a picture of each family member present and wrote
something about them. My other nephew drew a composite picture of all of our
pets and their names.
As for teens and young adults, family reunions
can serve as important hunting grounds in which to explore your “family of
origin”. To know yourself, you must understand your own background. Most family
elders appreciate being “interviewed” as it gives them a chance to reflect and
pass along family memories and traditions. Once a relative has agreed to be
interviewed, any of the following questions can be used to “get the ball
Where is our family from originally?
What are your first memories of radio and television?
How did you learn to drive?
How did you decide on your career?
Where did your meet your spouse?
What kind of things did you like to do as a kid?
How did you choose the name(s) of your child(ren)?
What was it like when your children were young?
Grandparents generally love to be interviewed
and their answers may lead to many previously untold bits of family history and
folklore. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to know a few of your elders from a whole
new perspective…and come away from your family reunion with a stronger sense of
your own identity.
©Copyright, 2004, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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