Summer’s a great time for family reunions. Try these time-tested strategies for making your gathering a rousing success:
Start planning early. To round up all the relatives, make a list of those you already know. Ask others to add names you might have missed. Compile a master list of names and email and home addresses and share it with all members.
Hold it at a neutral location. Don’t make one family do all the work. Instead, find a place that’s equally accessible to all members and lets everyone have a good time.
Have separate sleeping arrangements for each family unit. Avoid piling everyone into one large room. It’s nice to have a space where you can get away from the fray to nap or read a book.
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Keep a loose schedule. It’s fine to create an agenda. But allow lots of opportunity for family members to hang out and bond.
Plan activities for all ages. Include things for toddlers, older kids, teens, young adults and seniors. Assign a coordinator for each age group who can plan ageappropriate entertainment.
Have a theme. Think Hawaiian, tie-dye, cowboys or hula hoops. Whatever you do, keep it light, fun and easy.
Include everyone. The ultimate goal is for the entire clan to get together. Never exclude anyone because of lifestyle, choices or history. Some folks may not show up. But make sure they’re invited and sincerely welcome.
Share the load. Divide chores (food, invitations, music, reservations) equally with all members. Reunions already require lots of groundwork. Don’t let anyone get burned out.
Find activities that include all members. Campfires, singalongs, talent shows and scavenger hunts are perfect for a wide variety of ages and skills. Try a multigenerational tug-of-war. Or let an outdoorsy aunt lead gradeschoolers on a nature hike.
Discourage the presence of technology. You want people to interact. So relegate computers, iPods and video games to private time. Cameras are a different story; they record fun memories and should be present at all events.
Never discuss politics or any other contentious topics. These discussions inevitably create hard feelings. Save your opinions for the op-ed page and the ballot box.
Print a commemorative T-shirt. Consider including the date, place, family name and a representative logo.
If your reunion involves a potluck, ask contributors to bring a copy of the recipe. Add any relevant information or amusing histories about the dish. Assemble the recipes into a cookbook to be distributed after the event.
Connect with all members. Make it a priority to talk to every attendee. Ask people what they’re doing and what’s important to them. Your efforts will strengthen family ties and make folks feel loved.
Limit alcohol. It’s fine to have a beer on a hot afternoon or a bottle of wine with dinner. But be careful that alcohol never contaminates the proceedings. If one member has recently been in rehab and is uncomfortable around alcohol, consider hosting a dry event.
Keep the reunion short. Start with a one- or two-day gathering. Ideally, members leave clamoring for more, not counting the moments until they get to leave.
Critique the event. Discuss with the others what worked and what needs revamping. You’ll finetune the process and have an even better reunion in the future.