Each summer when the sun comes out and the temperature heats up, all the invitations start coming: Barbecue! Bonfire! Beach day!
Some summer events we attend because we want to, and some we attend because we know we should. Top on the “should” list are usually family gatherings. Sure, it’s nice to see your long lost cousins every now and then, but family gatherings can sometimes feel forced and awkward.
Here are some tips for getting through it — and maybe even having fun along the way:
1. Remember, it’s just one day.
I’m from New England, so believe me when I say that I know summer is short and no sunny day should be wasted. But I also believe that for every sunny day spent at a family event, you’re rewarded with three sunny days where you have nothing to do but lie on a beach.
2. Don’t talk politics.
Do not. This old adage is more important than ever this year, with an election that started off bad and has gotten consistently worse. When politics come up (and you know they will), change the topic. If that doesn’t work, walk away to check in with Great Aunt So-and-So. The unfortunate reality is that you’re unlikely to change anyone’s mind during backyard banter, so trying isn’t worth the frustration.
3. Remind yourself why you’re there.
You may not agree with them all, and you might not like a few, but you’ve chosen to spend the afternoon with your family members. That means somewhere, deep down, you value these connections.
4. Don’t feel like you have to go deep.
As a writer, I’m a huge fan of the Deep and Meaningful Conversation. But a family reunion or quick catch-up isn’t always the right place. It’s completely fine to settle for small talk without feeling like you have to discuss the mysteries of life.
5. Accept that distance is OK.
If you haven’t talked to your uncle all year, chances are you’re not going to establish a great bond in one afternoon. That’s fine. You can still laugh (or roll your eyes) at his jokes and enjoy his company in this moment.
6. Lay off the alcohol.
There is little in life that is better than sangria on a hot summer’s day, but too much alcohol is a recipe for disaster. Often, having pleasant interactions with family takes a bit of restraint, and that slips away little by little with each sip you take.
7. Designate a wingperson.
Whether it is your partner, parent or friend, it helps to have someone in your corner. If there are certain topics that you don’t want to discuss, or certain people you don’t want to mingle with, you can count on your wingperson to help you avoid them.
8. Be forgiving.
My daughter just turned 2, which means that this summer I will hear, “When’s the next baby coming?” approximately 50,000 times. While it is certainly annoying, I try to remember that my relatives don’t mean any harm with their redundant and sometimes intrusive questions. They’re just trying to make small talk and survive the family barbecue too.
9. But know when to stand your ground.
Of course, there is only so much interrogation one can take. Have a quick and witty response on hand if someone continues to ask you about your marital status/reproductive plans/career path or anything else you aren’t obligated to talk about. At the very least, you can say it to yourself as you gracefully walk away from the offender.
10. Know that your family members are human.
When you’re a kid, it’s easy to let your family members seem larger than life, but as an adult you realize that they’re just a bunch of people. Where else other than family events could you toss a bunch of acquaintances together and expect them to have a good time? The key is extending kindness to your family members and accepting them for who they are — in all their flawed glory.