Making Family Get-Togethers Work

By Bonnie Baker Cowan

With summer coming, family get-togethers at graduation parties, reunions, vacations and cottage weekends bring together different generations with varying lifestyle needs. These gatherings can include at least three, sometimes four generations, especially with ‘beanpole’ families now being the norm. With Zoomers living longer and couples having fewer children, the beanpole phenomenon is the result of multiple generations with fewer members in each.

Depending on which generation is hosting the family reunion or vacation this summer, it can be a juggling act in dealing with different personalities, lifestyles and age differences.

Three areas of concern dominate the juggling act: eating, sleeping and playing.

Sleeping may be the easiest, especially for older Zoomers, who have the same sleep schedule as the very youngest grandkids. Afternoon naps are a common bond as well as retiring early for the night and rising early in the morning.
Eating presents an entirely different challenge, partly because of the sleeping schedule. Mealtimes tend to revolve around the schedule of children, and if it’s naptime, mealtime is often compromised.

Different ages and appetites also challenge meal planning. Cynthia of St. John’s, has eight grandchildren ranging in age from 19 to six. “We have grazers, vegetarians and everything in between,” she laughs, “and that can wreak havoc on the idea of everyone sitting down at the same time to the same meal.”

Dr. Staci Illsley, a Vancouver psychologist, specializing in children and adolescents, gives this advice about meal options. “If the grandparents are hosting, everyone else is a guest and it’s not the job of grandparents to please everyone. They can offer choices for lunches and dinners, but they should also set boundaries,” she says.

Whatever the meal plans are, make them as effortless as possible. Simple foods on the barbecue make mealtime fun and easy, especially if your son-in-law offers to do the flipping. Making sure there’s lots of fruit, ice cream and sundae toppings for dessert is easy on the host and gives kids the chance to make their own sundaes or ice cream floats. And make mealtime even easier by asking everyone to contribute a dish or one of the courses.

Playing can mean different things to a three-year-old and a 63-year-old. For the three-year-old, playing means “with a lot of toys.” For a 63-year-old, playing can mean a good hand of bridge. Dr. Illsley suggests parents be encouraged to bring children’s toys to the get-together so there aren’t any expectations that the grandparents are in charge of entertaining everyone.

However, there are lots of activities for all age groups to enjoy together. A five-year-old can go on a scavenger hunt or a hike or a swim with a 75-year-old. Depending on age and physical activity, all age groups can enjoy a fun game of bowling, tennis or golf.

Going on a trip is another popular form of family get-togethers. Planning the trip in advance with the lifestyle needs and expectations of everyone involved is a good strategy to ensure that every member of the family has a great time. Choose a destination that meets the needs and interests of different generations. Make sure you have your own room, preferably far away from the parents with the new baby! It’s okay to be selfish. You’ve earned the right.