Family Gatherings

By Ty Salvant

As we begin the new year, reflect on how your family gathered last year. Was it engaging and fulfilling or frustrating and disappointing? Do you all eat at the same table? Do you meet at the same house? Is it family only or are friends invited? Does your family follow the same routine? Do you leave feeling loved, seen, and appreciated, or do you leave feeling frustrated, invisible, and triggered? Are you going out of obligation or because you enjoy it? 

This year, consider options and discuss them to enhance your experiences. Consider why you gather and what you hope to get from the interaction. Create a form your family (by your definition) can complete with these questions:

  1. What do you like and dislike about our family gatherings?
  2. How would you like to spend our time together?
  3. How often and how long should we meet?
  4. What timeframe is best?
  5. Should we rotate houses or meet out?

Instead of assuming that the same person will host, start a group thread with the times you intend to gather – monthly, for special celebrations, accomplishments, etc. – and plan who will host, including the time and if it’s a potluck. 

Families want to gather and enjoy each other’s company. Sometimes, we can do what we’ve always done, and it’s fulfilling. Circumstances change – dietary restrictions, children’s sleep schedules, etc. – causing us to modify our gatherings.

You may consider incorporating these activities at gatherings:

  1. Draw a picture of your favorite holiday memory and share stories
  2. What was the best/worst gift you ever received? 
  3. Play a game
  4. Create a new tradition
  5. Learn something new about each person in attendance

Priya Parker shares in the “Art of Gathering” that “90 percent of what makes a gathering successful is put in place beforehand.”

Sometimes, we spend so much time focused on the menu, gifts, decorations and aesthetics that we don’t focus on what happens when guests arrive. This year, spend focus more on your loved ones – ensuring their needs are met. If you aren’t a coffee drinker, inquire about their favorite accoutrements. If a baby or toddler requires a nap or a nursing mom, ensure a quiet room is available. If someone struggles around alcohol, make a collective decision to have mocktails available. Are there appetizers for your first guests? Will you play games, have conversation starter cards, activity stations or outdoor equipment? Do you need help setting up or taking down decorations? 

As hosts, it is easy to think that our job ends once the guests arrive; however, that’s when the show starts! Here’s to better gatherings this year. 

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