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Sweet and Sour Family Reunions

August 4, 2009 - Dennis Gingerich
Earlier this summer my father turned 80 and all my siblings used it as an occasion to gather in Oregon for a family reunion. We rented a couple of large homes overlooking the Pacific Coast and enjoyed four days together with four generations of the Gingerich family. This coming weekend, we will be in West Virginia with my wife’s 88 year old father and all of her Augsburger siblings coming from the eastern half of the United States for a reunion.

Family reunions always seem to be a mixture of sweet and sour. It’s a wonderful time for reconnecting with parents, children, siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews and their children. You get a chance to catch up with everything that is going on in the lives of each other’s families. You may wonder why everyone waited so long to get back together again and wish for these get-togethers to happen more frequently.

But I know reunions can be a really challenging time too because often there is at least a family member or two present that bring back memories of unresolved conflicts and issues from the past. After all of the initial niceties and hugs of reconnecting with family, the old dysfunctional patterns of the past start surfacing again after a day or two together in close proximity. Old tensions can be felt. Those who used to be the dominant ones start dominating once again. The quieter ones may clam up and pull back into the former patterns of not wanting to make any scene. Some are wondering why they made the effort to attend and are ready to go home before the scheduled ending of the reunion.

Reunions can be tough times for families. Healthy adult family members that are coming back to reconnect with their nuclear families have most likely matured emotionally, become independent, maybe moved to new communities, developed fresh networks of relationships, established revised family patterns and preferences with their own children (and maybe grandchildren too) that are a mixture of in-law influence. Coming back together as a nuclear family can create a relational thunderstorm as newer habits, values, relationship styles now clash with the old. Believe me, there can be some lighting and thunder at these gatherings if the more expressive family members are present. But of course, the reserved family members rationalize “we are only together for a precious few hours or days, just keep your mouth shut and don’t do or say anything to ripple the waters.” But on the ride home, you can bet that those who are nearby will likely hear the gory details and a belated rehearsal of all the things that should have happened when so and so said or did that.

I’ve probably opened a proverbial can of worms on this topic and I don’t have any room left for giving a bunch of answers but I would love to hear from you and your friends. A blog is meant to be an electronic conversation so why don’t you make sure you sign in and leave your comments about how you are learning to deal with the taste of sweet and sour reunions.


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