Have you missed spending time with family? A family reunion can be a great way to get to reconnect, especially after a year when getting together was on the no-can-do list for so many families. There’s a lot of pent-up demand for time with extended family now. But planning a family reunion can be overwhelming. Read our reunion-tested tips to find out how you can have a stress-free family event.
We Need a Family Reunion Now!
Family reunions run the gamut from multi-day affairs with scores of smiling relatives wearing matching t-shirts to a few hours at an overcrowded picnic table with a potluck and revival of sibling animosities. The secret sauce is in the planning: knowing what your family can handle and not imposing your dream vacation or party on others.
Vacation time is precious, but so is getting the whole family together, especially after a year of social distancing. Over the years, our family get togethers have ranged from renting houses in East Hampton to getting a block of rooms at a beach resort within driving distance (with a reduced group rate!) to flying to the Caribbean.
5 Easy Steps to Planning a Family Reunion
1. Scheduling the Date
Getting the whole family together can be the most difficult when a large group of children are at different schools, or attend camps, play on competitive sports teams or have plans with their own friends. Try to schedule far in advance and search school schedules so no one has to miss out.
My youngest had to miss our last reunion get together because her college is on trimester. But our family has a good record – in 31 years, only two kids have missed our family gatherings.
Once you’ve agreed on a date, lock it in. Robert Jordan, a negotiating expert, says the best way to get a great deal post-pandemic is to guarantee you’ll show up. With the proliferation of “cancel for any reason” deals to get people to book travel again, hotels, VRBO and Airbnb rental owners might be willing to offer a great deal if you forego the right to cancel.
2. Choosing the Location
A central location or easy-to-get-to destination can be key. Your family vacation ideal may be the Balkans, but the rest of the family might want to stay closer to home.
If everyone has to fly, try to choose a place that has nonstop flights from multiple locations. My sister-in-law once chose a remote Caribbean island that required a seaplane flight or long boat ride after a flight. Her daughter, an infant at the time, got sick on the boat ride there and sicker on the flight back.
I was very glad we had not been responsible for selecting that resort! But we all felt sorry for the baby. And my in-laws weren’t too happy with the arduous trip either.
3. Setting the Budget
This can be the biggest pain point when family members are at different life stages. My husband is significantly younger than his three brothers, and when they wanted to host a family reunion for his father’s 50th birthday, we had just gotten married and were still in graduate school. We couldn’t afford the five-star resort they chose – or even the flight to the remote Caribbean island.
Luckily, my siblings and I are closer in age and income. We tend to just share all the costs, not worrying if one family is bigger, or one brother drinks more. But the time to figure out how to split the costs is before you get the bills.
For our purposes, house rentals, food and alcohol are equally shared expenses. Activities like kayaking and stand up paddleboarding are paid as-you-go by each family.
4. Assigning Family Reunion Responsibilities
The logistics of our most recent reunion, a surprise long weekend in East Hampton for my brother’s 60th birthday, were particularly challenging. That brother, the keeper of the family tree, is the mastermind behind most of our family reunions. But he was in the dark. Plus, we had to coordinate cars, airport pick ups and food deliveries. In this instance, we each took charge of a particular task so my sister-in-law didn’t get overwhelmed.
Once we were all there, my other brother took charge of meals. It is good to have one person in charge, but make sure everyone takes food allergies, avoidances and preferences into account. If one of your children is now on a Paleo or Keto diet, be sure to make this known well in advance. You might have to keep reminding everyone, but you also want to keep your children happy and well fed.
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5. Sharing the Family Reunion Photos
My millennial kids love to post on social media. Who am I kidding? We ALL post on social media. At our last reunion we airdropped photos at the end. You can also set up Dropbox or a shared Google folder to share family photos. Make sure to take plenty of group photos. Use the timer on your camera to ensure everyone’s smiling face.
Planning a Reunion to Honor a Family Member
Two of our biggest and most successful family gatherings have centered around a 90th birthday.
My husband’s great aunt and his mother had giant family reunion birthday parties where every single grandchild and great grandchild came. The aunt had her 90th nine years ago and she is still going strong.
We weren’t involved in planning these reunions, but being a guest was fun.
Not to be morbid, but my mother-in-law hinted that she didn’t want the next family reunion to be her funeral. Suddenly, everyone’s schedule opened up. One of my kids made a last-minute decision to miss a couple of law school classes and the whole family showed up.
What was even more amazing was the utter lack of planning this family gathering entailed. Well, except for the behind-the-scenes work of amazing mothers (okay, me) who bought last minute plane tickets and scrambled when the polar vortex and an ice storm threatened to derail plans.
We had friends nearby house all the guests, splurged on a caterer for all the meals and just wrote checks. It was easy peasy and my mother-in-law was thrilled.
Now we may have to top this for a 100th birthday party for the great aunt!
What does your perfect family reunion look like? Are you planning a family reunion in the near future?