Be a family gatherer
How you can solidify relationships through family gatherings
BY RICHARD AND LINDA EYRE
Your individual relationships with each of your children and each of your grandchildren are forever important and can be the source of the teaching of unique loving, and of joy. But, besides the individual time, there should be collective time—places and time-spans where families bond, where cousins become almost like siblings, where everyone catches up on everyone else, and where a special kind of family communication happens.
Whether you live on the same street or your kids are far-flung; and whether you have one child or five, it is so important for your children and grandchildren to have bonding experiences that create lasting memories. Unless you are proactive about these get-togethers, whether formal or informal, it is so easy for families to drift apart and become disconnected.
Everyone’s plan will be different depending on the numbers and distances involved, as well as on financial issues, but there are three things that ought to be a part of everyone’s “family gathering plan.”
Place: Having a traditional place or location to gather.
Family Reunions: Structuring and organizing the gatherings and making them happen regularly.
Specialized Retreats: Grandma gathering with daughters and daughters-in-law; Grandpa with sons and sons-in-law.
Families with grown-and-departed children need a place to gather and communicate. It ought to be a place somewhat removed from the daily routine and from the normal distractions of work, friends, and commitments. Days seem so much longer at a place like this—there is more time to talk and to listen and to enjoy each other. There also seems to be more time and more opportunities to discuss problems or choices and to help each other with solutions and decisions.
One family we know just uses their old Winnebago. Once they’re all crammed into it together, they start to talk and have fun on a different level. Another family has a very inexpensive vacation rental that they go to in the off-season. Friends in Bulgaria and Ukraine, though they earn virtually nothing by American standards, still have a little “dacha”—a tiny country or forest cabin, often that they built themselves, where they can get away as a family. Still, other families simply go camping to some familiar place they have come to know and love. My brother creates the same sort of bonding in a different place each year. He’d rather rent than own. Many families we know find that their best bonding comes while camping together. Others, particularly those who have family “issues” with some of their siblings or in-laws, start with something shorter and on neutral territory—something as simple as a nice dinner together.
If none of these is an option for you because of distance and expense, luckily there are ways to have a family gathering online with Zoom.
There are so many ways to have a successful family reunion. The important thing is to get together and to do so regularly.
It seems that there are four indispensable ingredients in a successful family reunion.
We call them the 4 Fs:
- Facilitation (having one of your grown kids in charge and everyone involved)
- Food (which not only attracts everyone but stimulates conversation)
- Fun (because this is the real point, right?)
- Forum (decide in advance what needs to be discussed and set aside some meeting times)
Your family is a growing organization now, and you are the CEO. Take the time to sit down and plan reunions (getting inputs from your kids) and work out the details of how you will handle Facilitation, Food, Fun, and Forum.
Don’t expect everything to go perfectly, because it never does. But our observation is that, with family reunions, the positives and the blessings always outweigh the negatives and the troubles.
Guys Trips and Gals’ Trips
About every two years, I (Richard) take my sons and sons-in-law on some kind of outing—just us guys. We call it F&FFE (Fathers and Future Fathers of Eyrealm). The bonding, brother to brother, brother-in-law to brother-in-law, and brother to brother-in-law—not to mention son or son-in-law to me—is extraordinary.
We find a long weekend and spend it together. If there is long-distance travel involved, we have a travel fund to which we each contribute what we can. We’ve gone scuba diving in Mexico, we’ve trekked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, we’ve backpacked through Zion National Park on horseback, and we’ve gone to tennis tournaments together. And, in there among the fun, we occasionally find a moment or two to talk about fathering and families.
I, (Linda) do something similar with my daughters and daughters-in-law. Since they are all married, our name is a little simpler—Mothers of Eyrealm or “ME.” As I write this, we have just returned from 5 days in the South, Charleston, and the Outer Banks. We learned so much from each other, and perhaps the best part is that the husbands appreciate us more now, having just taken care of the kids on their own for five days!
Other Ways to Have Family Gatherings
There are many different kinds of family gatherings. One alternative is to do a service project or some kind of humanitarian project together. We have had life-changing experiences in Bolivia, Africa, Mexico, and India with as many of our children and grandchildren as could go.
It wasn’t long before we discovered that we could go on one of these expeditions for less cost than a vacation at Disney World and/or some other typical vacation. We also found that the service element of these trips enhanced our internal family interaction, bonding, and communication.
We have also realized that you don’t have to go to a third-world country to derive these benefits of service. A full-family “mini-expedition” to feed the homeless at a shelter provides the same kind of bonding and communication and the same kind of perspective and gratitude boost.
Be a Gatherer!
ABOUT THE AUTHORS: RICHARD AND LINDA EYRE
GRAND is pleased to welcome New York Times #1 Bestselling Authors Richard and Linda Eyre as regular columnists. The Eyres’ parenting and life-balance books have reached millions and been translated into a dozen languages. As fellow baby boomers, their passion and their writing focus has now shifted to the joy of grandparenting. Linda’s latest book is Grandmothering, and Richard’s is Being a Proactive Grandfather, each of which is reviewed in this issue.