Family reunions can be a lot of fun. It’s an opportunity to catch up with friends and family you haven’t seen in a long time and to see just how much everyone has changed. Family reunions also have the potential to be incredibly awkward. There is something about spending a few hours with people who think they know you well when you see them once a year at the most. I was a teenager when I attended my first family reunion, and I remember feeling so uncomfortable with constant comments about how much I had grown and changed.
Recently, I spent a few days with my mom’s small family — her sister, mom, and a handful of cousins, nieces, and nephews — and I was surprised by the anxiety I felt approaching a family get-together. At the same time, when it was time to head home, I was happy with the way things went and glad for the opportunity to catch up with family.
Prepare for good conversation
It seems kind of awkward to admit that having talking points has helped me navigate family get-togethers. The truth is, when you get caught up in the activity of the day, it’s easy forget that there were questions you wanted to ask your aunt about her new job or your cousin about her new baby
And if I’m being perfectly honest, having things I wanted to discuss or ask gave me a way to keep conversations upbeat when things turned negative. I knew in advance that I’d make a quick subject change to something more pleasant — like new babies and new jobs — if someone brought up politics or things started to get a little gossipy. In the end, focusing on catching up with family members I hadn’t seen in awhile gave me the opportunity to get to know one of my cousins a little better, to learn more about what he does as an auto mechanic, and to hear more about his new relationship.
Have you ever noticed how much simpler conversation feels when you’re working on something or engaged in an activity at the same time? Keeping busy at family reunions is an awesome strategy for avoiding lulls in conversation or feeling too much pressure to keep talking.
This could mean being the first to volunteer to dry dishes while your second cousin washes. It could also mean bringing along card games and board games to fill the time after the meal is over. More importantly, board games, activities, and icebreakers are all great ways to connect with others and create memories with family members you don’t see as often.
Find a buddy
Any big gathering, whether it’s a family get-together or high school reunion, is better experienced with a friend. If conversation gets awkward or you end up at a table alone with a cousin you barely know, it’s nice to know you’ve got someone to fall back on to help you keep conversation moving.
Touch base with a family member you’re close with ahead of time. That way, you and a sibling or a parent can stick together so you don’t have to be afraid of pauses in the conversation when you have someone you know well there.
Have an exit strategy
Some families are totally awesome and laid back, but even without drama, reunions can be overwhelming. If you know your family dynamic can be unpredictable, don’t go to a get-together without an exit strategy. This means, you should probably drive yourself or go with someone who will want to escape with you if you get tired or uncomfortable.
And if you believe there’s a good chance you’re not going to want to stay long, don’t be afraid to set the expectations early on. Don’t feel pressured to provide an explanation, “I can only stay for two hours,” is more than enough information.
As much as possible, enjoy yourself! Being around family and friends you don’t see often can be tricky to navigate, but it can also be a lot of fun. Catch up with the people you love, learn about their lives, and don’t forget to take a few pictures.
Originally published on June 29, 2018.