• 5 Tips for Making Your Family Reunion Fun and Enjoyable

    A family reunion is the kind of event that can produce wonderful memories and rekindle relationships. There are people you haven’t seen in years. You can’t wait to reminisce and see how everyone is doing. Maybe you get matching t-shirts.

    However, anxiety often builds leading up to and during the reunion.

    You may feel self-conscious or stressed about being judged for your life and career choices. Maybe you’re concerned about old arguments resurfacing, or you’ve seen a relative say something on social media that you don’t agree with.

    Another common occurrence during family reunions is that people tend to fall back into their old family roles in a way that isn’t productive or pleasant.

    “When you bring the family back together, some people may return to roles that didn’t suit them years ago and certainly don’t suit them now,” said Staela Keegan, MSW, LCSW, LCADC, Senior Clinical Supervisor at Nutley Family Service Bureau (NFSB). “People have been living their own life, but when they come back to the family environment, they may fall back into old roles they worked so hard to break away from. This can lead to stress and tension.”

    “Katerina” had always been the spokesperson for her Polish-speaking parents. When the family decided to plan a reunion, she found herself making all the arrangements. Katerina quickly felt burnt out and taken advantage of, and her family viewed her as controlling. She grew resentful.

    Through therapy, Katerina worked on separating from her role as family caretaker and gained insight into why she was drawn back into these old behaviors. With the help of her therapist, Katerina applied this insight to set boundaries, give up some control, and ask for help. Together, the family planned for the reunion. This made it possible for Katerina to enjoy the planning and the reunion itself.

    Therapy can help you learn strategies for coping with the potential stress of a family reunion and make it the positive experience that everyone would like it to be. Here are five examples.

    1) Manage Expectations

    Expecting perfection is a recipe for disappointment, so accept the fact that not everything will go 100 percent smoothly. Have fun, go with the flow, and stay positive! Set a realistic goal of creating one positive memory that day.

    2) Stay in the Moment

    This is helpful in all areas of life. Instead of dwelling on unpleasant memories or conflicts, hoping people will change, and expecting different outcomes, stay in the moment and enjoy each other’s company!

    3) Focus on the Positive

    “Holding onto past hurts negatively affects us mentally and physically,” Staela said. “Reminisce about the good times and practice the art of forgiveness. We should always be mindful of our emotions. There’s nothing wrong with taking a breath and stepping away if an interaction seems to becoming tense or heated.”

    4) Establish Boundaries

    You don’t have to answer a question or talk about something that makes you uncomfortable or feels intrusive. You can politely redirect the conversation or remove yourself from that interaction. Similarly, respect the boundaries of your family members and avoid potentially sensitive topics.

    5) Plan Fun Activities

    Scavenger hunts, trivia, baby photo guessing games, and old favorites like bingo and cornhole give you the opportunity to enjoy time together in a fun, low-stress environment. Activities also make it easy to change the conversation when necessary.

    Above all else, keep in mind that you’re having a family reunion because you value family relationships. Focus on the positive, stay in the moment, and spend time with the people and activities that make you happy!

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