July is National Family Reunion Month, which means many of us will be traveling near and far to gather with loved ones, share meals, laugh together, reminisce and play games. This is what family reunions are meant to entail but for many of you, it’s another story. Family reunions mean disciplining your kids as they fight in the backseat during a five-hour road trip. Or, they mean listening to your uncles have that same political debate they’ve been having for decades. While some of you may look forward to your family reunion each year, I know others dread it.
But don’t cancel your trip just yet. Spending time with family can be fun. It just might require a little planning and some expectation management. So this year, instead of despairing about the family reunion, prepare.
- Set expectations for behavior.
My friends Julie and John have 14 children. Yes, 14. Four are biological and ten have been adopted through foster care. Several years ago, they took the nine kids who still lived at home on a road trip. I asked her what she did when the kids fought in the car.
“Nothing,” she said very matter-of-factly. “We don’t allow our kids to fight.”
Really? It’s possible to make kids NOT fight? What she told me was pretty simple. She and John make their expectations of their kids’ behavior very, very clear. If their kids get out of line, they discipline them with consequences set out beforehand. Each child gets the same consequence each time. The expectation is crystal clear, the follow-through is consistent and because of this, their children behave. Even on road trips!
Set behavioral expectations and standards with your children well before you get in the car. Let them know what will and will not be tolerated and what the consequences will be. Implement the consequences each time the line is crossed. This way, you don’t show up to family reunion already stressed.
- Prepare for conflict.
Most families encounter some kind of conflict when they get together. Families can be difficult, and the anticipation of having to deal with those difficult relationships at a family reunion causes way more stress than it’s worth.
Think about what may happen when your family gets together and think through how you will handle it.
- Tip: Don’t get baited into an argument.
The annual family reunion is not the time to settle ongoing issues. Let them go and resolve to work on Uncle Daniel’s temper, Aunt Ruth’s rude remarks or grandpa’s drinking problems another time.
- Let go of vacation ideals.
We all have the picture-perfect idea of what vacation should look like in our heads. What does yours look like? Fishing by the lake? Laughing around the fire at night? Now take that image and let it go. That might sound harsh, but how often does that perfect image in your head actually materialize? And how often does your frustration on vacation stem from failed expectations?
Go ahead and count on this vacation having some hiccups and surprises—a flat tire, a fight, a rained-out campfire and smores night. If you can let go of your expectations, you will be able to take your family trip in stride and appreciate it, surprises and all.
Family reunions are an important tradition. They keep us connected to one another. They help us form healthy relational bonds, and they help teach our children where they come from. If you’re dreading your reunion this year—whether it’s the travel or the potential family conflict—set your expectations ahead of time, let go of your ideas and see how enjoyable these family gatherings can be.