This Year’s Word Podcast Shownotes: Episode 15, Family Reunions CAN be fun!
Hello and welcome to This Year’s Word Podcast, I’m your host, Courtney Symes. I’m an author, entrepreneur, mum, and wife. In this podcast series, I will share my Word of the Year experience as I explore the meaning of the word “Love” and how you can use this word to change your life, one day at a time.
Today’s episode is the second in my mini-series on Family, where I’ll be chatting about ways to nurture and show love within our family relationships.
It’s my second day back at work after a very indulgent three-week holiday. The kids are back at school, and my office is blissfully quiet. Whilst we all had a lovely break – the weather was fantastic and everyone stayed healthy – I had forgotten how tiring kids can be after three solid weeks of “family time”. Let’s just say I’m certainly appreciating some “alone time” this week!
Today I wanted to share one of the highlights of our family holiday, which was the beautiful 70th birthday party we attended for my mum-in-law. This event was actually the main purpose of our trip, and we managed to keep our visit a secret from the whole family and surprise her at the party! We had a wonderful afternoon at the party, and it was a great opportunity to catch up with close and extended family we hadn’t seen for some time. Many of the party guests had travelled great distances to be there, and also bought their partners and children. It was lovely to see how the children had grown and changed, as well as hear how people’s lives had grown and changed since we’d last seen them – especially after the COVID years. We also met some new extended family members, such as my brother-in-law’s partner’s family, who were visiting from the UK.
This event reminded me of a family reunion experience I talk about in my book, A Year of Love. A couple of years ago, my father’s extended family organised a family reunion to celebrate the milestone birthday of one of the elderly family members. I had never attended a family reunion before, and the only other guests I knew (apart from my husband and children) were my dad and step-mum. However, the event was a fantastic experience, and I’m now converted!
We met at a club in Sydney, which pre-COVID was an excellent choice of venue as they had plenty of space, were used to accommodating large groups, and had a simple, inexpensive menu with options to suit everyone. It was low-key, which made it easy for families, and comfortable for the older folk who didn’t want a fuss.
Family reunions have developed an (often unfair) reputation for being dramatic and painful – probably due to the cliché American Christmas movies we’ve all seen that usually involve an outspoken uncle, and end in a full-scale family blow-up. From my experiences so far though, I’ve learned that family reunions can be a great way to:
• Reconnect with family members you haven’t seen for a while, and meet new family members, such as children and grandchildren.
• Meet other sides of the family you haven’t met before.
• Share stories, family history, and memorabilia to induce warm and fuzzy feelings of nostalgia. At the event organised by my dad’s family, a few family members had done extensive family tree research, so it was great for them to collaborate and share their learnings, as well as fill in any gaps they had. Some people also bought family photos and albums to share, which were the catalyst for many fantastic stories.
• Reunions are also an opportunity to celebrate older family members who usually have intriguing stories and pearls of wisdom to share. This also highlights the value senior family members provide as ‘memory keepers’ by sharing their experiences and precious stories. Hopefully, those who hear them will remember them and keep their memories alive once they are no longer here.
• They are also a wonderful way to celebrate milestone birthdays. Whilst the purpose of both these occasions was to celebrate a significant birthday of a senior family member, they also became special events for us all as we reconnected with immediate and extended family.
Family reunions can increase everyone’s sense of self-identity and belonging. Whilst reunions might not be a wise idea for families experiencing conflict (as they may further inflame existing friction), in harmonious families, reunions can strengthen existing bonds.
For me, and I suspect others involved, these events can be a positive, memorable experience.
Since the first family reunion, I have attended the funeral of my uncle, which sadly wasn’t as joyous an occasion as celebrating a milestone birthday. Nonetheless, it was still comforting to catch up with family.
It is unfortunate that funerals are often the only occasions we see family. The most important lesson I’ve taken from my family reunion experiences is to not let this occur. This was why it was so important for us to attend my mum-in-law’s 70th birthday, and I will certainly look for other opportunities to connect with family on happy occasions. The key is planning events in advance, which is easy to do for birthdays as we know when they are!
There are some other fun things you can do to make your family reunions more memorable – these are a few of my favourite ideas:
1. Take lots of photos – this sounds super obvious, but often when we are absorbed in conversation (or the buffet!) we forget. I recommend organising a dedicated photographer. Many families have an introverted family member who loves taking pictures and would be more than happy occupying themselves behind the lens instead of engaging in polite conversation with Auntie Margy. If it’s a large reunion and you have a budget, organise a professional photographer to circulate and take photos of everyone – that way no one is stuck behind the camera.
2. Organise catering or find a venue that offers simple, hearty fair. It can be tricky preparing food that caters for all dietary requirements and age groups, so outsource where possible. If you are on a budget, ask everyone to bring a plate of food to share, at least that way everyone will bring something they’ll eat.
3. Create point of interest, such as a photo or trivia wall where people can bring and share photos and family stories, or a guest book or well-wishes box where people can write a special message about the occasion. These are great ice-breakers, or places for people to hang out if there is a lull in conversation.
4. Give guests a take-home momento of the occasion, such as a specially decorated cupcake or cookie, or something longer lasting like a postcard printed with a family picture or family recipe.
My challenge to you this week is to identify three future occasions that you could catch up with family, and start planning and locking in some dates – this could be a birthday (milestone or not), a christening, engagement, or wedding anniversary. Our next family event will be a wedding in Tasmania for a cousin at the start of next year. Whilst we aren’t involved in organising the wedding, we have already booked a couple of weeks off and plan to stay and share a holiday house with my husband’s brother and his family. Even though the actual wedding is just on one day, we will try to maximise our time spent with various family members in the week before and after the wedding, as others travelling from further afield plan to do too.
I share more about my experiences of connecting with family in my book, A Year of Love: Finding peace one day at a time, which you can find at here.
Thanks for listening, and I hope you can join me next time.
I’ll leave you with today’s mantra: I look for opportunities to connect with close AND extended family in fun ways, as often as possible.