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    • Why are family reunions notoriously dicey? It seems they're particularly prone to drama, grumbling, and awkwardness, despite most people showing up with a desire to get along and have a good time.

      My husband and I took on planning a family reunion this year. This was following a six summer drought, during which time more than one family member had tried to pull something together and ultimately thrown their hands up in the air when choice of time or location led to bickering.

      I'm happy to say this year it was a resounding success. Among the nearly 40 people who came, every single person had a great time. Yes, there were some minor hurt feelings along the way but the bonds of family won the day and everyone felt included, loved, and appreciated.

      Here are my best guesses at why things went so smoothly. I'd love to hear tips from others since we'll be planning another one in 2021!

    • 1) We picked a location and time that seemed reasonable, then let everyone know they were welcome to join, but there was no pressure to do so. There was a flood of people wanting to come. Whereas in the past when feedback was requested and voting held for a place/time there was a lot of disagreement, it worked well to just decide and let people get on board if they wished.

      IMPORTANT: We were truly ok with people opting in or out. No hurt feelings.

      We ended up going to Breckenridge, CO for a 4 night stay, which turned out to be just the right length of time.

      2) We rented houses (with kitchens and central gathering places) and were careful about choosing who roomed with who. Again, not requesting feedback, but trying to minimize potential conflict. One important consideration was that young children have a spot to nap as well as a buffer from those who like more peace and quiet.

    • 3) We listened to this podcast on Family Reunion Perfection:

      Spoiler alert: Mindset determines the experience you're going to have. We decided in advance not to focus on making other people happy, and not to gauge the reunion's success on having everyone get along all the time. Instead we focused on being the kind of people we wanted to be at the reunion. That's within our control.

      I also decided to replace potential irritation with a response that serves me better, such as curiosity, amusement, or love. And, I accepted that because we're all humans, probably about half the time things were going to be at least somewhat difficult or less than ideal. That kept those rough spots from tainting the priceless memories that so often came on their heels.

    • 4 (and final): We only planned 3 activities.

      - One was a "puzzle race," where every team received a difficult puzzle to work on during the reunion and the first team to text us a photo of the completed puzzle won a prize. Not everyone got into this, but we had at least one puzzle going at each house and it was enjoyed by many.

      - One was a nightly dessert when everyone would gather and a different house would host and provide dessert. That gave people a time to talk about their adventures and plan for the next day while still being very low-pressure.

    • - The biggest hit by far were the beads! Based on an activity I'd seen at SmugMug's corporate retreats I'd attended in the past, I brought leather necklaces for everyone at the reunion, and gave everyone advanced notice that they could bring and collect special beads or charms at the reunion. 

      To get the ball rolling, I had a general beads available at one house that people grabbed (on the honor system) as they earned them. I also provided one adult from each family with a tub of beads and a particular challenge that people would have to complete to earn their bead.

      The premise was that if we could get people interacting across generations and interest, we'd come together as a family and feel belonging and connection much more quickly.

      I was blown away! People took this idea and ran with it. We had an absolute ball for four days earning and handing out beads. We ended up with necklaces like this, and the person with the most beads had more than 60!

    • Then we went bananas.

      - A jelly bean bead for each night you attended the family dessert.

      - A cupcake charm for helping to make dessert.

      - A running shoe for running a mile and telling a certain Uncle about it. (He ended up organizing a morning run with a whole crowd of eager bead collectors showing up...)

      - A "laugh" bead for telling a certain aunt a joke she's never heard.

      - A family tree charm for listening to a family history story from Grandma.

      - A leaf charm for climbing a tree.

      - A glow in the dark star for star-gazing.

      ... and so many more!

    • Everyone from 70+ down to the 6 year old was participating. (Anyone who folded a paper airplane that could fly further than Daniel won his paper airplane charm, which meant people sought him out and exchanged airplane folding tips with him, much to his delight.)

      A niece who'd had foot surgery challenged people to balance on one foot for a full minute. An uncle with an American history bent had people telling stories about the founding fathers. A niece who's amazing at keeping a straight face dared people to get her laughing. My daughter asked people to show her their favorite dance move, etc.

      So that's it! I showed up with buckets of beads and the rest just happened organically and pretty magically.

      Would this work at your family reunion? What does work to bring your family together?

    • That all sounds brilliant. Congratulations! ❤️

      I'd be interested to know what the underlying causes of the bickering are, if you know or can guess. What causes such disagreement over location and time?

      I've been debating this some with parents who find they can no longer have family reunions with all their grown, married kids. They guess that some of the activities they loved as a family made some of the new in-laws uncomfortable: singing, talent shows, dancing, games, sports — because they didn't grow up doing those things in their families and feel self conscious about not being good at them.

    • That’s a good question. I’m sure it varies by family, and the in-law scenario makes a lot of sense. I get the feeling that major factors include:

      - Fear of being judged (based on parenting/ behavior of kids or life choices.)

      - Competition stemming from birth order and other unhealthy patterns established in childhood. One sibling might slip back into the “bossy” role and the others immediately resent that, for example. I still feel when I’m with my siblings that my ideas tend to get dismissed because I’m the baby of the family, and I’m sensitive about that.

      - Economic disparity can cause conflict for sure

    • I enjoying hearing of these family stories....all kids in our family and my uncle's family all left the house at 17/18 and the only rendezvoused was when my mom died...no one hated anyone it just wasn't part of our family dynamic..but, to be honest any girls I dated over the years would have sent me running if they had a big family dynamic. I loved your creative thought process..