Family Blessings? Tips for a Healthy Reunion

By Lila Lazarus

If you’re reading this, it means I survived. For the last two weeks, 17 family members have been staying at my house. Yes, sisters, brothers, spouses, nieces, nephews and a few dogs. It was a family reunion.

Like so many families in the modern world, my siblings are spread out all over the world. I’m the only one who stayed in Michigan. So if we want to see each other, we have to plan an extended visit. No one wants to travel this far for just a weekend. And in theory, we all really wanted to spend time together. But making the plans, dealing with the air travel, the cost of the flights, packing, figuring out sleeping arrangements and two weeks of meals… it’s stressful.

And when they finally arrived, they were exhausted. Two arrived sick with what we called “The Plague”— a bad virus with fever and cough that quickly spread through the family ranks.  Tempers shortened and our eagerly anticipated joyous family visit morphed into family drama, hurt feelings, lack of communication and a messy house.

In families, it is not unusual to be irked by the same frustrations with your siblings that were there 50 years ago. These unresolved hot buttons get pushed without any warning. And just like when we were young, we were all staying in the same house and I had nowhere to run. So I made a list of   survival tips for getting through an extended family visit:

Remember they’re never going to change. Every time something got under my skin, I reminded myself that there’s no fixing these people. They are who they are— for better or for worse.  Find the better.  They will never change and they don’t have to.

Focus on their talents. If you look at my family tree, there’s a dancer, a gourmet chef, a lawyer, an artist, singers and acrobats. They all have wide ranging talents. They’re smart and funny and always game for adventures.   Rather than think about what they don’t bring to the table, try thinking about the incredible gifts and laughter that they do bring.

Limit the trip. This was my biggest mistake. If you know you have strong personalities and age-old sibling rivalry,  don’t stretch it out for two weeks.  (Just because you love your family doesn’t mean you like them in your home for 14 days.) If a few days is your tipping point,  set your limits. Why didn’t I think of that earlier?

Lay down the ground rules and stick to them. Someone will always try to push your boundaries. Don’t let them. When my brother tried to change the dinner location or my brother-in-law tried to invite more people to the party, I had to stand firm. “I’m so happy the family is here, let’s keep it to the family and the plans we’ve made.” Do whatever you can to minimize the chaos.

Plan your escape. When every sofa, stool and chair in your home is taken and you just can’t seem to get away from family or their barking dogs, it’s time for operation time-out.  Go for a walk. Go do some yoga or meditate. It’s important to regroup. Alone time isn’t selfish. When family’s around, it’s self-preservation. I would disappear sometimes for two hours just to breath.

In short, happiness is a close, tight-knit family in another city. But if they do come to visit for an extended period of time, try to keep in mind that it’s just temporary. I kept asking myself, “What if this is the last time we’re all together? Can’t you just hold it together for a few more days?”

Now that they’re gone, I do realize what a blessing it was to have them all under the same roof. But families are definitely like fudge. Mostly sweet with a lot of nuts.

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