Getting the whole family together in the summer can be a wonderful time where you and your loved ones create memories, strengthen your connections, and enjoy the weather.
It can also be a headache-fuelled nightmare filled with messes and disagreements. A big part of where your event lands on this spectrum has to do with your hosting.
The following aims to break down some of the quintessential steps involved in hosting a pleasant family gathering that has everyone saying: we should do this more often at the end of the night.
Come As You Are
First and foremost, make it easy for members of your family to show up by specifying the event as come as you are. This means you can wear your normal clothes and you don’t have to worry if the kids have mismatched socks. This is especially important for members of your family with young children. Family gatherings are often a place of pressure and stress for people with infants and toddlers as little ones take time to grow accustomed to the adult rules of the world and having your child “act out” in front of your parents, grandparents, or siblings is a source of huge embarrassment. If they have to worry about dressing the kids up and keeping them clean in addition to everything else, you have a recipe for people who hate family gatherings.
Avoid The Bad Subjects
While political debates can be entertaining, they’re often not enjoyable when you’re in the middle of them. Every family has certain topics that cause a divide. In recent years, those topics have probably grown. As you greet people arriving, express gently and politely: we’re going to try to avoid talking about [whatever it is that divides you]. If you think your family would respond well to it, you can even have something similar to a swear jar where people who get caught talking about the dangerous subjects have to put a quarter in the jar. Perhaps a politics jar is what you need. Maybe debating the differences between homeschooling and public schooling deserves a jar. You’re all family; you should be able to put aside your frustrations with beliefs that are different from yours.
Besides, if you really want to change people’s minds, you should know that arguing or attacking their beliefs isn’t going to do it. Study after study has shown that this actually causes people to double down on their beliefs. If your view is truly correct, life will eventually reflect that to people via their experiences. They know where you stand and so can easily come to you with questions should they arise. Of course, if you spend every family gathering berating them for their beliefs (however wrong they are), there’s no chance they’re going to come to you when they feel doubts because they know they’re in for a smug: I told you so sort of conversation.
Food, Food And More Food
Figure out how much food you need, and then add more. With a big group of people (especially with some that are traveling from a distance), even one hangry person can throw the whole vibe off. Consider summertime-grilling, buffet-style make-your-own-sandwiches. Have lots of snacks available at all times so that kids (and adults) can eat when they feel hungry; remember, the bigger the group, the higher the chances are that you have many people who are used to different schedules all in one place. Don’t force people with little stomachs to “wait until dinner.” Their dinner time might have been half an hour ago.
If adults are drinking, it’s just as important that there are snacks available for them; this helps keep people at an acceptable level of buzz rather than too drunk to be tolerable. As well, if it’s particularly hot, you probably also want to ensure that there are cold drinks and snacks that cool people off, like frozen fruit or handmade popsicles. Finally, when it comes to food, you want to be wary of anything that’s too sugary. Sugar causes people to crash about twenty minutes after eating it, causing mood swings. If you ever have the chance to watch your family interact with sugar and without, you might be shocked by how big a deal this is. Parents will also thank you for not loading their kids up on cookies, as it’s hard to say no to things in group settings that they would say no to at home.
While thinking about food, it’s important to be respectful of people’s dietary restrictions. No one likes having to speak up and say they can’t eat something in a public setting, especially if they don’t feel like having their health problems broadcasted to the family. Avoid this scenario entirely by asking ahead of time if anyone has any restrictions and making sure there’s at least something without animal products or grains available in case someone develops a restriction between when you ask and when the event takes place.
Activities For All Ages
Many guides for family gatherings will specify activities just for the kids, but the truth is, most kids don’t want to be too far from their parents when in a new social situation. Finding activities that everyone can enjoy like bocci ball, spike ball, ring toss, beanbag toss, horseshoe toss, or otherwise can be fun for people of all ages. You might even want to schedule a big game of capture the flag or manhunt with everyone.
Kids appreciate events where adults participate in the things that they find interesting, but at the same time, you want to give them ample opportunity to not participate if that’s what they’re feeling. Adults are notoriously bad at figuring out what counts as relaxing for kids. Nothing should require everyone’s participation. The most important goal is that everyone enjoys themselves.
You might also want to consider activities that make for good photos. Sparklers are a fantastic idea, as are photo booths and face painting.
Blankets And Pillows
If there are little kids attending the event, you might want to have a cozy place set up for them where naps can happen when and if kids feel the need for them. There’s a good chance normal napping schedules will be thrown off by the hustle and bustle of the day. That’s okay. Just let people know there’s a nice shady spot that’s comfortable should the kids want it.
Talk To Your Neighbours About Parking
If everyone is meeting at someone else’s home in a relatively populated area, it might be worth your time to speak to your neighbors about overflow parking. Let them know parking might bleed out onto the side of the road. Likewise, let your family members know where they can park ahead of time. If you don’t, you’re going to end up with a bunch of cars packed as tight as pickles into the few spots you have, and this is going to make people leaving when they want to leave difficult.
Give Your Attention To The Black Sheep
Every family has at least one; most families have several. Black sheep are the people who, for whatever reason, don’t fit in. This is the ballerina in a family of racecar-obsessed folk. This is the vegan, homeschooling single mom in a family of carnivorous public school advocates. This is the religious man among the atheists. If you notice someone sticking to the outskirts of the group, this is the person you should be devoting your time to as the host. Talk to them. Ask them about themselves. Ask follow-up questions about what they’re interested in. Making everyone feel welcome regardless of their beliefs, interests, and character is your job at this event.
Give Your Attention To New Arrivals
If someone is bringing a new significant other to meet the family, be sure to give that person lots of time and attention as well. It can be really scary meeting the family of the person you love because you really want to make a good impression. Find ways to include the newcomers in activities and ask only the kind of questions you would ask a new boss. Don’t ask their views on having kids, don’t ask how they met (so many couples meet online nowadays that there’s a high chance the whole conversation is going to turn into a debate about Tinder), don’t ask about politics or religion. Ask what their hobbies are and then ask follow-up questions. If they like books, ask for one of their most recent favorite reads. If they like movies, ask for a film recommendation. There’s a magic phrase every host or hostess should know, and it goes like this: Oh, wow, I don’t know anything about that. How would you explain it to someone on the outside?
The above tips should help you host a party that is fun for everyone. The aim should be to make everyone feel welcome. It doesn’t matter what they were like the last time you all got together. It doesn’t matter who broke mom’s car stereo or who mistakenly thinks they can make a really good Chewbacca impression. What matters is that you create a space where people can be themselves but together. If you want family gatherings to continue, children and adults need to feel like part of the group.