9 Great Ideas to Improve Family Gatherings

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Family gatherings. 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 a lot of us, these events are dreaded and 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.

So what can you DO to improve family gatherings?

Realistically, deep-seated family issues probably won’t go away any time soon, but you, yourself, can make a plan to do things differently and maybe, you’ll get some of the others on board and family gatherings will become more fun for everyone. I think doing is really the key.

1. 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. 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.”

As in all things in life, prep helps make things go more smoothly. If you know an elderly aunt or uncle has a special family recipe they haven’t broken out since their arthritis got bad, arrange for them bring it and teach “the younger generation” – even if that generation is in their 50s. But please, make sure you have all the ingredients, utensils, and equipment on hand! Remember to write everything down so future generations can enjoy this same dish.

3. 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.

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. If Great-Gramps used to work on the railroad and some youngsters love trains, have him work with them on a train layout. You can buy a complete set, including track, for as little as $50. Just don’t expect top quality for bargain-basement prices.

In short, spend a little time thinking about who might have common interests and get them together.

5. 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, 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. Older relatives also have stories. Many of these stories are probably about hard times – wars, depressions, job losses, natural disasters. Sometimes, all at once! IF you can get the family to listen to them, it might just do more than anything you will ever say to help them see that prepping isn’t crazy-talk, it’s just plain common sense.

I once asked an older woman how many houses she had bombed out from around her before she immigrated her. 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. 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, and 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. Depending on where the gathering is, people may be able to learn/teach different skills. The image above shows two generations outside exploring together, not sitting in the house gossiping.

9. If you are at someone’s home, look around at their stuff (not snooping – the stuff in plain site) 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. 

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.

 

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Bethanne is an eclectic writer who lives in the exurbs (that's what comes after the suburbs) with her husband, sons, and cats. She has been writing for The Survival Mom since 2010. You can learn more about her books, including the "Survival Skills for All Ages" series, at BethanneKim.com.

5 thoughts on “9 Great Ideas to Improve Family Gatherings”

  1. How timely is this! Thanks. Something that has really helped me too is playing games. We have done a minute to win it with a couple of quick “challenges” and a gift exchange game where trading goes on. Anything to distract from the drama!

  2. #2 hits home with me. My grandmother made a special stuffing for every holiday and large get-together, and not a one of us got the recipe from her while she was alive. The first Christmas after she died, my daughter and I were determined to make it “her” way. Having watched her all those years, we dredged up old memories and did our best. It wasn’t a complete failure, but it took us many years before we were able to recreate “Grandma’s” stuffing. Don’t wait too long like we did.

  3. So sorry to hear about your loss – grandmother and a treasured memory / recipe. Hopefully this will help others avoid that secondary loss in their lives.

    Thank you for sharing.

  4. Pingback: Survival Sunday: Nov. 20, 2016 - The Organic Prepper

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