Family gatherings. Love them or hate them, they happen.
Whether it’s a big holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas, smaller ones like Memorial Day or Labor Day, or even a special event like a family reunion or a wedding, there are times when our extended families gather together.
For many of us, these events are dreaded. They’re something to endure rather than enjoy because of family dynamics and long-term family conflicts that never seem to end. And the bigger the family, the harder it is to avoid family drama.
But what if you want something different?
Most people don’t really want to rehash the same arguments, listen to bragging and comparing, or repeat the same questions about future plans. If that’s you, then I’ve got some ideas that might help you enjoy your family gathering and the loved ones that come with it, a little more.
So what can you DO to improve family gatherings?
Realistically, deep-seated family issues probably won’t go away any time soon. However, you, yourself, can make a plan to do things differently.
Although you can’t control how other people will act and respond, you can attempt to create an environment more conducive to getting along. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll get some of the others on board. If you do, then family gatherings might become more fun for everyone.
But I think doing is really the key. So here are nine ideas to try.
1. Encourage everyone to help with meal prep
Instead of sitting on a sofa watching TV, get people up and helping with whatever is going on. Just try not to play into ongoing family drama and make things worse. This first step is really the basis for everything else in this post.
2. Pass on special family recipes
Is Grandma making her secret recipe? Have someone work with her and learn the secret to getting it just right, and don’t assume boys won’t be interested. As several preschoolers told me, “Boys cook. Girls don’t.”
To facilitate this, arrange for the individual to bring and teach “the younger generation” – even if that generation is in their 50s. Make sure you have all the needed ingredients, utensils, and equipment on hand at the get-together. Doing this kind of preparation is especially helpful for the elderly aunt or uncle who has a special family recipe they haven’t broken out since their arthritis got bad.
Also, remember to write everything down so future generations can enjoy this same dish.
3. Enlist kids to help with decorating
Is Uncle Clarence putting up some last-minute decorations? Help him decide where they go and hold the ladder, so he doesn’t fall off.
Better yet, have a younger family member learn some new skills by really helping put them up. Even using simple tools like levels and hammers are skills people need to learn.
How to ask a teen to help
While teens, in particular, may not want to help, phrasing is important. Instead of, “Do you want to help Grandma?” try, “Do you want first dibs on dessert or to play with the little kids for two hours?” I find one is more effective than the other, especially if one of the little kids has a nasty cold or is generally badly behaved.
4. Find multigenerational connections
Spend a little time thinking about who might have common interests and get them together.
For example, if Great-Gramps used to work on the railroad and some youngsters love trains, have him work with them on a train layout. An inexpensive set is fine, just don’t expect top quality for bargain-basement prices.
5. Share knowledge at get-togethers
Think about who has skills another generation could use. Having one of the kids teaching the older folks skills like taking a picture on Instagram and forwarding it on their phone could be a holiday highlight for them all! Everyone likes to have their knowledge valued, even little kids.
The older your family and friends are, the more likely it is that they have skills from their youth that a prepper can use. Canning, using hand tools, gardening, home remedies – the list is HUGE!
Now is the time to try to get them to share their knowledge. Remember: many families gather throughout the year, so some skills can wait for the right time of year.
6. Encourage the sharing of life stories
Older relatives also have stories. Many of these stories are probably about hard times – wars, depressions, job losses, and natural disasters. Sometimes, all at once!
IF you can get the family to listen to them, it might just do more than anything you could ever say to help them see that prepping isn’t crazy talk; it’s just plain common sense.
For example, I once asked an older woman how many houses she had bombed out from around her before she immigrated here. Her answer? One – she wasn’t home for the others. The mere matter-of-factness of her statement makes a point no book can about living through a war.
7. Record life stories and skills-teaching
Take the sharing of life stories and skills one step farther by by documenting them.
If you can get someone to record either the stories or the skills-teaching, then your friends and family can keep learning from these folks. Plus, it will probably tickle them pink to know someone cares enough to record them for the future.
As an added bonus, if there are high school or college students, or Scouts, in the family, they might even be able to fill a requirement by recording oral history from one of the family elders. (This ebook on recording family history is a great resource; it even includes sample questions.)
8. Plan a few activities for the family gathering
Have some activities available that people can play together.
One of my family’s favorites is doing a puzzle because it’s low stress and people can come and go from it as they please. We’ll have it set up on a card table, and people will randomly work on it here and there throughout the get-together. I find this allows people to talk more freely as the focus of attention is on the puzzle, not the person. Alternatively, the puzzle itself provides a neutral topic to discuss. People generally find this less threatening.
Any games geared more toward groups, such as Apples to Apples, are good options, also.
If you have a lot of kids, or just a lot of young-at-heart people, have supplies for Minute-to-Win-it type games. They’re fun and generate a lot of laughter, which is helpful for overcoming feelings of stress and uncomfortableness.
9. Ask questions of your host/hostess about what you observe at in their home
If you are at someone’s home, look around at their stuff (not snooping – the stuff in plain sight) and ask questions. When my husband visited one relative’s home for the first time, he came home shaking his head in amazement.
When I asked about the visit and my husband’s reaction, my Dad explained, “That’s what happens when a family reads every issue of Popular Mechanics for three generations.” Among other things, they found a way to use naturally cool underground air to cool their home in the summer.
Other relatives have sewing, canning, gardening, musical, military, and all sorts of other items related to their areas of passion and their personal history, including military service, out and visible. Ask a few questions, and you could spark a long conversation and learn a lot.
The Final Word About Family Gatherings
So the next time you have a family gathering approaching, instead of dreading the drama, take a little time to appreciate your family history. Then make plans to spend time learning from the others in your family instead of going through the same-old-same-old.
What are ways you encourage connecting and bonding at family get-togethers?
Last updated on 11/20/22 by The Survival Mom editors.