Every one or two years, a nightmare scenario lands itself in your email inbox: The date for your next family reunion has been set, and you've been invited to attend a weekend away with everyone from your cranky Uncle Bob to your cousin with six monstrously-behaved kids. What's a woman to do?
Let's face it — gathering any large group of people together is tough. But with family, long-festering resentments with long-lost relatives resurface, family heads can vie for familial power, and in-laws added to the equation can feel like your own personal kryptonite. "Family itself can be highly stressful, and family reunions have this tendency to simply heighten stress," commiserates John Duffy, Ph.D., parenting expert and author of The Available Parent. But, you can survive this year's family reunion with this sage advice — here's how to make the most of it and come out (mostly) unscathed and in good spirits.
Employ humor liberally.
There's nothing like a good (or even bad) joke to break the tension in an otherwise awkward family reunion. "Humor is among my favorite stress relievers," says Duffy. "Keeping things light, and focusing on topics that lack controversy, is my number one recommendation for surviving a family reunion intact."
Contain your expectations of the reunion.
Have hope, but also get real, and get comfortable with the fact that this may not turn out to be the greatest weekend of your life. "It may not mend old fences," says Duffy. "It may just be a way to gain some closure of old wounds, a way to get some photographs of an entire family together, and hopefully share some new times and old memories."
Have an escape route.
No one is suggesting you have a Mission Impossible plan to sneak from the reunion unnoticed. In fact, no one is suggesting you leave the reunion at all. "But I do think it's a good idea to escape to your room when tensions get high, just to take a breather," says Duffy. "This could make for far healthier, more memorable reunion."
Manage your alcohol intake
And even more so, says Duffy, encourage others to do the same. "In my experience, nothing ruins a family reunion more than the loose lips that accompany the drunk uncle syndrome," he warns. "I'm not suggesting stone sobriety necessarily, but be judicious, and encourage your family members to do the same. Limit alcohol-related damage."
Put old assumptions aside.
As they say: Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. "People change over time, including family members you may be estranged from, or never have gotten along with," says Duffy. "Go into the reunion with an open mind, ready to go to joy yourself, and deepen your family connections. Be prepared to be surprised."