Family Reunion Crash Course: Family Dynamics - dummies

Family Reunion Crash Course: Family Dynamics

By Cheryl Fall

Your family members have unique personalities and sometimes these personalities can clash — big time. Clashing personalities can result in hard feelings and unexpected reactions among family members. This phenomenon is called family dynamics.

Your cast of family characters may include such personalities as Mr. Negativity, Nosey Parker, Miss Congeniality, the psychic, and the know-it-all. No matter what you call them, you likely have some relatives who like to climb on the soapbox and stir up family controversy.

At your family reunion, you get to see these personalities interact; in some cases, you may need to try your hand at conflict resolution. This article reveals common conflicts in family dynamics and some ways to deal with them.

Aunt Patty won’t go if Aunt Bev will be there

One relative may refuse to attend because someone she dislikes will be there. Well, you may be thinking, “Fine. With that attitude, don’t come to the reunion!”

However, this approach isn’t necessarily a good idea. Instead, chat with Aunt Patty and explain that her attendance is important not only to you, but to everyone else — especially the guest of honor (if you have one). Be sure to mention that the reunion can’t be complete without her.

Remind Aunt Patty of an old Chinese proverb: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Harry and Alex are fighting again, but their parents do nothing

Those unruly kids have progressed to punching and kicking each other. You’re probably thinking, “I’m going to lock the little offenders in a dark, cramped closet.”

Unfortunately, you can’t.

Even if you think that you can better handle the situation, you can’t parent other peoples’ children. Instead, you need to parent the parents. However, before you approach the parents, determine who is bothered by the situation. If you are the only one annoyed by the children, try to ignore them and move on. Visit with the folks on the other side of the room for a bit. If several other people have disgusted looks on their faces, you need to act fast.

The most painless way to handle this problem is to pull the parents aside and explain the situation. Let them know that the kids’ behavior is unacceptable but somewhat expected, considering the exciting atmosphere. Kids tend to get worked into frenzies, especially in front of willing audiences.

Tell the parents that in order for the whole family to enjoy the reunion, everyone — including the children — needs to exhibit good behavior. Give the parents several opportunities to correct the situation before you take the most drastic action, which is asking them to leave. Do this only as a last resort because it’s their reunion, too.

Cousin Sue changes Junior’s dirty diapers in front of everyone

So the gang is just about to dig into the chocolate cake when Cousin Sue decides to change the baby’s diapers. Gross. If you set up a diaper-changing area that is well away from the dining area, everyone will thank you. Keep the changing area supplied with a padded changing surface, a little stack of diapers, baby wipes, and trash container.

If you set up a changing area, make sure that you point it out to parents. Most parents prefer not to change dirty diapers in front of the whole family.

Fifi and Fido make boo-boos

Cousin Bob brings his uninvited four-legged guests. He considers them his “babies” and won’t go anywhere without them. One of the furry ones makes a mess, but Cousin Bob seems oblivious to the malodorous pile. What do you do?

First, point out the problem to the owner of the pooch — in this case Cousin Bob — and ask if you can assist by providing him with a plastic bag and scooper for cleanup. Hopefully, he’ll take you up on your offer.

But, if he decides not to clean up after the pets, you really don’t have an option — you have to put up and clean up before someone steps on the smelly landmine. Grab a plastic sack, scoop up the offending piles, and deposit them in the nearest trash bin. If you can handle this task before anyone else sees, smells, or steps in the muck, you’ve done beautifully.

That’s not the way it happened!

Memory is a strange thing. Many people can witness the same event at the same moment, but each person remembers it differently. Some people have memories that last only as long as the blink of an eye. While at the reunion, you may try to gather family stories for your genealogical research. Of course, you want these stories to be accurate. Explain this fact to the people at your reunion, but if they can’t agree on the details of a particular event, simply ask them to move on to the next great memory.

Helen and Linda are squealing like greased pigs

You hear loud squealing and raised voices. It’s not kids, but some grown-ups! What to do? First, find out what they’re squealing about. If they’re just overly boisterous with their reminiscing, join in the fun! If they’re arguing, pull them aside and explain the purpose of the reunion — to enjoy being with family, not to listen to two grown women fight.

If they continue arguing, here’s a sure-fire cure to be used only as a last resort and only if you have a tape recorder handy. Grab the recorder, microphone, and a blank audiocassette and record the squealing. Then play it back for them so they can hear what they sound like. They may even get a good laugh out of the situation.

If nothing works, ask them to leave if they’re going to continue their argument. They can return to the reunion after they get the fighting out of their system.

Uncle Bill won’t participate — as usual

If Uncle Bill isn’t typically a social person, leave him be. You don’t want to make him uncomfortable. Some folks are happier observing the goings-on rather than participating in them. Perhaps he will join in the reunion festivities later. Encourage his participation, but don’t push.

Uncle Frank told you it wouldn’t work

Uncle Frank is torn between being the family psychic and the family know-it-all. Throughout the reunion, he stands over your shoulder and tells you how to manage the activities.

If whatever you try to do doesn’t work out, he is usually the first person to remind you. But don’t let his remarks irritate you. Instead, ask him for advice on handling the next situation. If you give him a chance to take the helm, he may back off. He probably doesn’t want to turn the tables and risk being criticized.

Mr. Negativity wants to settle an old argument

One common situation at family reunions occurs when Mr. Negativity tries to settle old arguments. In fact, an issue may be so old that only Mr. Negativity himself remembers what he’s talking about. Some issues are so trivial that you wonder why folks bring them up in the first place.

Simply put, a family reunion is not the place to settle a family feud. You need to pull Mr. Negativity aside and explain once again the purpose of the family reunion — to enjoy and celebrate the family.