• Pam

Tips to Minimize Drama and Conflict at Family Gatherings


Summer is a time when many families get together after not seeing each other for a while. Family reunions, vacations, weddings, all seem to bring us back together from leading our separate lives. Depending on the amount of time you will be spending together certain conflicts or “drama” may arise. We are going to share some tips and strategies to try and minimize those occurrences and focus on making good memories.


Family gatherings are a great time to catch up with relatives you haven't seen in a while, but they can also be a source of family drama. If you're planning on spending some time with your extended family this summer, here are a few tips to help minimize conflict and make the most of your time together.



First, try to set realistic expectations. If you're not particularly close with your family or you have a history of disagreements, don't expect that everything will be perfect. Second, make an effort to spend time with everyone. Talk to your cousins, your grandparents, your aunts and uncles. Get to know the people you may not see very often. And finally, be respectful of others' boundaries. If someone doesn't want to talk about certain topics, respect their wishes and don't try to force them to open up. By following these tips, you can hopefully avoid family drama and enjoy some quality time with your loved ones this summer.




We just completed our family vacation, and it is the first time in a while that we ALMOST had every family member there. We were only missing 3 this vacation due to work and a new baby! Our annual vacation is held in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. We had family members from Alaska, Washington State, and Ohio with the rest of us living in Wisconsin and Illinois. Expectations is something I struggle with every year. We are so excited to see everyone and see the new children in the family that it is often easy to create some unrealistic expectations.




For example, the extroverts in the family want to be going hard and heavy with activities to include everyone! (We were over 40 this year). The introverts in our family need a break now and then to avoid being extremely overwhelmed as we have some VERY extroverted family members, and we all have very strong personalities. Can you tell I am one of the introverts?


Try and recognize who may be one of the introverts vs the extroverts. Extroverts recharge their batteries by being around people. Introverts are just the opposite we recharge our batteries with some alone down time. This doesn’t mean we don’t like to have fun and get loud sometimes it just means we need a break now and then to shut down and re-group.


When you have large family gatherings it may be hard to get some alone and quiet time if you are spending some extended time with them. We spend a week from Saturday to Saturday every year at the same cabins. Be open with your family regarding being an introvert or an extrovert and try to allow the space needed for the introverts to re-charge their batteries.




I am often accused of being the “activity director” even as an introvert I like to get us all together for some group activities. Each cabin takes a turn cooking the evening meal. Yes, your meal takes some time to feed 40+ people but it is a one and done. The rest of the time you just have to show up. We have been doing this for years now and my sister-in-law Sara, actually came up with this brilliant idea and gets the entire family together for dinner! Well, my sister and I along with our husbands have the annual fish fry on Thursday night. (Friday our last night is “must go” night, everything in the fridge must go and is potluck!) By Tuesday we are wondering if we are going to have enough fish for the fish fry.



In our family all it takes is a little competition and we get fired up. Hence every year on Thursday morning on vacation we hold a “Northern Pike Tournament” Rules, times the boats can go out and come back in, etc. Needless to say, we caught enough fish from 10 am to 1pm to have leftovers from the fish fry! As the oldest sibling somehow, it became my job to organize the fishing derby and get everyone placed in boats that wanted to fish. Just a note, I did catch the biggest northern in the tournament this year at 27 inches. It was our youngest brother as the captain of his boat and luck of the draw place all three sisters with him. We have a video of he and I catching fish at the same time, but I would have to edit quite a bit out to share! The point here is that even as introverts we like to have fun and enjoy our family just not 24/7!




If you are planning activities, make sure you allow some breaks for the introverts to maybe sit at the beach and read a book or a magazine or maybe disappear to their cabin for a little bit. This doesn’t mean they are upset with anyone it just means they need a break from all the people. In order to continue to enjoy the family these breaks are necessary. Please don’t take it personal because it isn’t.


One major reason family gatherings can sometimes be tense is because we have different expectations of how things should go. Maybe you are expecting to have deep and meaningful conversations with your relatives, when in reality they just want to catch up on the latest gossip. Alternatively, you may be looking forward to a relaxed weekend of doing nothing, when your family has other plans for you. It is important to have a conversation with your relatives ahead of time to ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows what to expect. This will help minimize misunderstandings and provide structure for the weekend.

Drama will most likely occur, but it doesn’t have to. Ours was at a minimum this year. The worst thing that happened is one of the young adults borrowed grandma’s scooter to make a “beverage run” and broke the key off! We got it taken care of and our mom was still able to use her scooter.




The important thing is how you react to the drama. You can make a big deal out of it and ruin the gathering, or you can try and let it go and make the best of it. One way to try and avoid arguments is to set some ground rules before everyone arrives. If there are certain topics that are guaranteed to cause tension, agree as a family to steer clear of them. You can also decide ahead of time what activities everyone will participate in and plan accordingly so that everyone knows what to expect. Everyone should have the option to partake or sit out the activity.


Another potential source of tension during family gatherings is when people start to get drunk. Alcohol can lower our inhibitions and lead to arguments, especially when people are already feeling tense. If you know that alcohol will be consumed at the gathering, try to keep your intake to a minimum. Alternatively, if you find yourself getting angry or agitated after drinking, it may be best to avoid alcohol altogether.




Another way to keep the peace is to be mindful of your words and actions. If you know that you tend to get worked up easily, take a step back and count to ten before expressing yourself. And if you find yourself getting caught up in gossip or negativity, change the subject or excuse yourself from the conversation. Just remember that at the end of the day, family is family and it’s important to make the most of your time together. My dad always told us, “Friends may come and go but family is forever”.




The key to happy family gatherings is communication. If there are certain family members that you know you don't get along with maybe start the conversation off by asking about their lives and what they have been up to. Don't go into the conversation looking to start an argument but really try and listen to what they have to say. This will hopefully open up the door for better communication and understanding between you too.




Additionally, try and be flexible when it comes to plan changes or things not going as originally intended. These sorts of things happen all the time so it's important not to let it ruin your entire trip or reunion. Lastly, remember that family is family and even if you don't see eye to eye with them at times, they are still the people who have known you your whole life. Families are there through thick and thin and I know in our family we always have each other’s back no matter what.




In review, here are some handy tips to make the best of getting together with your family:


1. Start planning early and delegate tasks to different family members

2. Set clear expectations for behavior and stick to them

3. Keep the reunion location and date a secret until the last minute

4. Make sure there is plenty of food and drinks for everyone

5. Plan fun activities that everyone can enjoy

6. Let go of any grudges or resentments and focus on having a good time

7. Delegate and Divvy Up Responsibilities

8. Keep Things Fun and Exciting

9. Don't Let Politics Ruin the Fun

10. Make Sure Everyone Gets Along

11. Allow the introverts in the family to take a break as needed.

12. Keep the mood light and avoid any conflict or drama



Finally, family gatherings can sometimes be overwhelming, particularly if you have a large family. If you start to feel overwhelmed, try to step away for a few minutes to take a break. It can be helpful to have an escape plan in mind, such as taking a walk around the block or going for a drive. If you can't seem to find a way to take a break, it may be best to leave the gathering early. In general, it's important to remember that you don't have to attend every family gathering. If you know that a particular gathering is likely to be stressful, it may be best to just stay home. In the end, your mental health is more important than any family obligation.


As we come to the end of this blog post, we would like to remind our readers that family drama is inevitable. However, there are ways to minimize the occurrences and focus on making memories. We have shared some tips and strategies that we hope will be helpful for everyone. What are some things you do to make your family reunions drama free? Let us know in the comments below!


(Four Generation Picture)


For more details on how we plan and survive our family gatherings check out the past blog post on how to hold a "Grandma Camp"


Take care and see you back here next week or on a future blog post. We are always looking for ways to support us Baby Boomers! Check back with us soon. To make sure you never miss out consider joining our email list.




Sources: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-introverts-corner/201111/how-survive-family-gatherings-when-youre-introvert http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-newman-ph

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