Family reunions are a wonderful way to connect with your roots, catch up with distant relatives and reminisce about the good old days, but, if you're not careful, they can also be a shortcut to a stress-induced meltdown. (There's a reason most families only do them every decade or so.) Here are some tips on how to enjoy the familial insanity.
Be active at the planning stage
Most reunions are planned many months, if not years, in advance, which means there's plenty of time to get involved (read: have your say). Don't be afraid to politely voice opinions early on, whether you're in favour of a new restaurant or a new city. Often you'll find other family members agree, but were just too timid to say anything.
When offering a helping hand, it's best to have a certain task in mind. "Even if you don't wind up doing the job you mention, being specific will establish the scope of your offer," says Ceri Marsh, an etiquette and parenting expert. In other words, you won't wind up hosting a brunch when all you wanted to do was prepare an appetizer. When faced with a pot-luck scenario, always get in on the action - the best line of defence against Aunt Martha's famous aspic is making an alternative that you can enjoy.
Bring a wingman
For many people this will be a spouse, but a sibling or cousin will also work. Most of the trickier parts of a family reunion - Uncle Albert's terribly non-politically correct rants or cousin Franny's halitosis - are easier to negotiate as a team. A lesser-known wingman such as a newish spouse can also be helpful when you forget the name of your mother's second cousin. "If I haven't introduced my wingman within three seconds, that's a cue that I don't remember the name of the person I'm speaking to, so the wingman should introduce him or herself," Ms. Marsh says. Other advantages to the team mentality include respite from awkward silence and the all-important SOS signal.
Don't be too cool
Unless you're a Jolie-Pitt or a Jagger, family reunions are inherently uncool, so just go with it and have a good time. "Don't be a stick in the mud," says Cheryl Fall, author of Family Reunion Planning Kit for Dummies. She emphasizes that many activities that may seem lame (a potato-sack race or an a cappella family rendition of Que Sera Sera) often turn out to be a lot of fun. Also important to keep in mind while Grandma is pinching your cheeks or Grandpa is passing gas is the fact that without them, there would be no you, so hang up the hipster hat and have fun.
Indulge in some much needed me-time
If the reunion extends over a full weekend, it's okay, and even advisable, to break from the pack. "Having time to yourself will help you decompress and enjoy the festivities a lot more," Ms. Marsh says. If you're travelling with a spouse, take a romantic hike or get a couple's massage. If you're alone, feel free to pass a few hours in peaceful silence - you'll appreciate it later when you have to break up a fight between five shrieking cousins.
Leave the new squeeze at home
"If it's early days in a relationship, I would go alone," Ms. Marsh says. Being around family doesn't always bring out our most evolved, attractive selves, and on the other side, what's the point of introducing some poor sap to 27 aunts if you may not be dating in another two weeks. Of course, if you're comfortable with it, it's okay to bring a new girl or boyfriend. "Why not?" Ms. Fall asks. "Family reunions tend to bring out the best and worst in a family, and at least they're going to see it all at once."
And don't do this: Get stinking drunk. "It you already have a reputation, getting drunk will only confirm it, and if you didn't, well you do now," Ms. Fall says.
Special to The Globe and Mail