It’s become a summer pastime for many families: gathering relatives near and far to barbecue or picnic, reconnect and catch up on each others’ lives. Together-time across generations is not only for sharing stories of growing up, but also for teaching your children the value of kin.
"When you're a kid, you think you're the most important, the only person out there and that the world revolves around you,” says A.J. Jacobs, author of It’s All Relative: Adventures Ups and Down the World’s Family Tree, TED talk speaker, and creator of The Global Family Reunion, a historic project whose goal was to prove the entire human species is related. “[A family reunion] is just one way to show [children that] no, you are part of this massive world. You are just one link in the chain.”
Research finds that children who know about their ancestors’ lives are more stable and secure and show greater resilience when faced with adversity. According to a study conducted at Emory University, “the more children knew about their family history, the higher their self-esteem and the better able they were to deal with the effects of stress.”
The opportunity to strengthen family ties and educate your kids about their roots and the roles their relatives – past and present – play in their lives is priceless.
The number of your extended family members and their distant locales could dictate how far in advance you’ll need to reserve a space and make travel and lodging arrangements. Deciding upon the location can also be a time-consuming effort, depending on the number of people weighing in. Once everyone (or mostly everyone!) agrees, choosing a theme can help structure the reunion, whether it’s a backyard barbecue, commemoration of a milestone, sporting tradition or celebration of heritage.
Close the Gap
Making connections plays a big part in the success of a family reunion. Do the younger and older generations know each other? Mixing it up so everyone is engaged and actively involved in sharing tales and traditions is key. “Our identity as a family is shaped by our stories,” says Jennifer Crichton, author of Family Reunions: Everything You Need to Know to Plan Unforgettable Get-Togethers. "What do we choose to tell about ourselves, what do we embellish, what do we leave out? These stories mark the distinctions that characterize your family as different and special.”
While certain tales are destined to become family folklore, there may be many narratives still unknown to the majority of people present. Does everyone know how your kin came to live in America… how the family name originated… what hardships your ancestors had to overcome to assimilate? “These stories personalize the immigration experience in ways that make it [unique] to your family,” notes Crichton. And they provide important life lessons for the younger generation, too.
Take advantage of fun family activities that also give kids those teachable moments. A game of Trivial Pursuit-like questions, inspired by your family history and events, can be a lively and eye-opening competition. Getting everyone to collaborate on a painting of your family tree opens up the opportunity for questions and answers, as does a treasure hunt based on little-known facts about your genealogy. Or consider a crafts project that brings together the young and young at heart. “Children of all ages can work together to make a family ‘quilt’ by each decorating a paper square depicting a family memory,” suggests Barbara E. Brown, co-author of Family Reunion Handbook: A Complete Guide for Reunion Planners. “Learning to keep family history alive can be important in helping children understand and take pride in the accomplishments of the family.” Long after the reunion is over, happy memories will be the ties that bind.