Now is the time of year when families make summer plans to visit relatives, to have family reunions, and to celebrate family. Family reunions serve to keep the ties strong among the extended family members. We need this, our children need this. This is our tribe, our people. However, while most people are looking forward to the reunions, some parents are troubled regarding certain aspects of the trip or are reluctant to reconnect with particular people.
One’s reluctance to reunite might be due to a few unpleasant relatives scattered among the family group. Just like work and school, we cannot like everyone, nor will everyone like us. Plan to attend, but allow good manners and civil behavior rule the experience. Avoid known hot-button topics and dodge confrontational discussions with difficult people. Enjoy the fact that a family has room for many different types of people and that your children are able to learn love and tolerance by observing you in action.
But when don’t you go? A parent does not expose her child to a relative who has been convicted of sexual abuse. But what if that parent has only heard whispers, rumors, or has a gut feeling regarding a family member? That parent should err on the side of caution. The same goes for physical abuse or just plain verbal abuse. Some of these people have gotten away with inflicting pain and creating mayhem for a long time because they are master manipulators. Remember, no relative has “the right” to be around a child. If you are this parent, practice saying, “No, we won’t visit this year,” or “No, it’s not a good time to visit us.” If you try to explain, this person will simply argue and influence others to argue for him. You are the barrier between your child and the rest of the world, so stand firm in what you believe is best.
It may be that the reuniting family members are all perfect but the situation is wrong. Often times the burden of travel falls on the young family. There are long car drives or endless waits at the airports and cramped economy seating on the plane. For an extended family, reunion activities may be planned for older children but are not safe or age appropriate for the very little ones. Sometimes relatives forget the importance of school attendance and schedule reunions when classes are in session. And there can be a burdensome expense involved, one that would cause unnecessary debt.
Think through what you want and what your family needs from this or any reunion. Examine your misgivings. If this one event or this time isn’t suitable for your nuclear family, are their other ways to achieve the same goals? Could family come to you? Could you skip this reunion and save up cash for the next one? Or do you need to wait until your children are more travel-ready. Or, with a just a bit of forethought and planning, this year may be the best reunion yet.
Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.