Monday, 26 October 2009

Big Family Get-togethers: 8 Ways to Minimise Stress & Maximise Enjoyment

We just got back from a week's holiday with my family - parents, brothers, sister-in-laws, niece, nephews, aunt etc. There were 13 of us in total and we'd rented a big house by the sea in Cornwall. With family members living in France, Italy and England, we don't have the opportunity to be together very often and it's even more rare that we are all in the same place for as long as a week. We were celebrating lots of significant birthdays/age milestones and thought it would be good to organise a holiday to celebrate the birthdays and spend some proper time together.

With Christmas not so far away, many of us will be involved in big family get-togethers. Not all of us are fortunate to have good relationships with all our relatives and it can therefore be a stressful time when everyone is together for the sake of a special occasion, such as Christmas. Whilst I am lucky enough to have a lovely easy-going family on both sides, I wanted to share some ideas I came up with after my family holiday this past week. I have compiled a list of 8 suggestions below that will I hope will help minimise stress and maximise enjoyment at your next big family get-together.

When lots of people convene, even in the best set of circumstances, there can be clashes of personality or disagreements over the smallest of things, like what time to eat a meal or where it's best for everyone to go on a day out. Everyone has their own routines back home and their usual ways of dealing with day-to-day situations, not to mention having their own opinions on what will make a 'perfect' celebration or event. It's important to be open to ideas and doing things differently.

Some people like to plan every fine detail, from the meals that will be eaten and the places visited, to the games played and the music listened to, but inevitably things do not go to plan and it can lead to disappointment when your expectations are not fulfilled. By having a flexible, laid-back approach, you will feel more relaxed and better able to enjoy the time with your family.

Here are 8 ways to get the most of your next big family get-together:
  • Manage your expectations. If you resist the urge to form all kinds of expectations then you are less likely to be disappointed by the way things turn out.   (This is true of so many things in life!)
  • Keep it simple. Rather than arranging lots of activities that can lead to petty arguements, enjoy doing simple tasks together like cooking a meal together or going for a nice walk somewhere.
  • Play together! Board games, Nintendo Wii, quizzes, cards, football, table tennis....whatever you like. Playing a game as a family is fun for all ages and is a great way to pass time if making conversation can be challenging.
  • Make an effort. If there is someone you don't usually get on well with, try to give them some of your time and talk to them; ask them questions, tell them what you've been doing lately. You might be surprised by their positive response and they will likely appreciate your efforts. If they don't, at least you will know you have tried.
  • Get out for a breather. When your get-together is  longer than a day, it can be helpful for you, your partner and children to get out for a short time away from the rest of the family. Something simple like going for a coffee or taking the children to the park for an hour or so can be reviving and restore your energy so that you return feeling able to deal with the larger group again.
  • Share the load. Whether it's helping with meal preparation, washing-up, playing with the children or cleaning a room full of discarded wrapping paper, if everyone does their bit it lightens the load and means there is more time for doing fun things together. It is always noticeable when someone just sits there doing nothing whilst everyone else is helping out.
  • Be open. Accept that it won't be the same as when you are at home with just your immediate family but that doesn't mean it won't be a good experience. Try to be open to doing different activities, eating different foods, sharing different family traditions. You might find you enjoy these more than you expected.
  • Have some time for the children. It can be especially hard to create a happy environment if there are children present who are not happy. Maybe you have a crying baby who's unsettled with the new surroundings,  a 5-year old who's upset because he doesn't have his usual toys to play with, or a young teenager who's bored because she's too young for adult conversation and activities and too old to play with younger relatives. Allow some time to do something they will enjoy and you'll find their happiness will radiate amongst the rest of the group.
How do you deal with big family get-togethers?
photo credit


  1. Over from the BMB thread. This sounds a lot better thought out than my 'make sure there is plenty of wine' approach. Shall use a few of these tips in the future.

  2. You have obviously put a lot of time and effort into this comprehensive article! I like your theme of balancing spiritual life and family life - I'm looking forward to reading more of your tips.

  3. You posted this in 2009?! I had no idea you had been blogging for that long! Such great pieces of advice here, family gatherings can be stressful even with people you get along with - so many different personalities in one room for starters!

  4. Great ideas! I think the last point is especially important. Just taking some time out from it all to be with the children (whatever age) is so vital. They respond to it, and then can relax back into the big family gathering more easily xx


Thank you for reading. I'd love to have your comments and thoughts!