Linda Lewis Griffith

How to pull off a great family gathering with as little stress as possible

Linda Lewis Griffith
Linda Lewis Griffith

Family gatherings are a challenge. Just ask anyone who’s planned one.

Orchestrating a multi-generational event that pleases a wide range of personalities, interests, ages and abilities requires the negotiation skills of a secretary of state and the planning savvy of a wedding coordinator.

The larger the group, the more complicated the reunion.

For instance, each member arrives with a unique personality. Some are laid back, others require constant mental massaging to prevent emotional meltdowns. Then there’s the age difference. Grandpa may want to sit quietly by himself. High-energy adults and teens get antsy if there’s not enough excitement. Babies and toddlers need naps and hawk-eye monitoring.

Even if the last gathering was a rousing success, there’s no guarantee the next will work as well. Key players are perpetually morphing into new, updated versions of themselves. Teens head off to college. Boy- and girlfriends enter the mix. Babies start grade school. Aging parents become frailer. Plans must continually change.

The herculean task of family gatherings usually falls to one member of the clan, often the elder female. She’s probably most motivated to get everyone together and has the time to devote to the project. Unfortunately, other people seldom appreciate the effort involved and often respond with complaints or intra-sibling bickering.

Still, family gatherings are important. They cement members with shared experiences. They keep generations connected. They pass along family lore. Most importantly they say, “We’re family. Let’s do this again next year.”

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit

Suggestions for planning a multi-generational gathering:

▪ Keep it brief. Short gatherings are easier to plan and prevent agitation from overexposure. In the end, you want members clambering for more, not chomping at the bit to leave.

▪ Share the load. Assign tasks where appropriate. Ask a daughter-in-law to arrange preschool-age activities or have Hubby lead a wine-tasting excursion.

▪ Don’t overschedule. A loose structure is helpful. But allow ample time for talking and bonding. You never know what conversation or activity will evolve if there’s ample time.

▪ Have lots of things to do.

▪ Limit alcohol. Too much liquor can quickly derail a reunion. Don’t make it the focus of the event. Keep your eye on problem family members. If alcohol causes a serious problem, consider hosting a dry event.

▪ Have fun with a theme. Themes set a light-hearted tone and create a background for terrific photographs. Let your imagination run wild: space themes, superheroes, fairy tales, Western, Hawaiian, movie — you name it!

▪ Keep expectations realistic. Someone will always be grumpy. Calamities are inevitable. Do the best you can. Laugh and accept your wonderful, messy family as it is.

▪ Keep trying. Sometimes outings don’t work. Arguments erupt. There’s more stress than fun. Analyze what happened. Consider something new. Don’t get discouraged. Next time may be better.