Summer is a magical time in Canada.
We only get a couple of months of perfect weather to shed our many layers of clothes, go to the beach, eat ice cream outdoors and travel the blissfully snow-free roads to visit distant friends and family.
Summer is the perfect time to enjoy nature and get together with the people you love. But as you may know, planning family reunions can be a pain in the neck.
Getting multiple households on the same page and arranging an event that everyone will enjoy can feel like herding goats.
Here are some of the best tips I’ve found for planning a stress free family reunion:
1. Listen First
Before you get excited about any one plan, location, or theme take the time to have conversations with your family members and ask them what their ideal family reunion would look like.
Get opinions from everyone before you make any suggestions yourself.
You don’t need to get everyone to agree right away.
You just need to hear everyone out so that each family member has an opportunity to volunteer ideas and/or voice concerns.
Don't forget to discuss the estimated budget the event or weekend will need and what everyone is willing to spend. My family adds up the cost of food and activities and divides the cost per family. Everyone chips in a little to have a lot of fun together.
Including the entire family in the decision making process from the beginning ensures that no one will feel ignored or excluded when a plan comes together.
Don’t try to do all of the planning yourself!
Not only will this give others the impression that you are a control freak, it will burn you out and take all of the fun out of something that should be really joyous.
Letting go of critical reunion planning tasks isn’t easy. If you don’t do something… there is a chance it won’t get done. But trusting your family members enough to involve them in the process is vital.
You can keep everyone up to date by creating a private Facebook group or using a group text to discuss details.
3. Find the Right Location
Location is everything and it is one area where disagreements are likely to pop up.
Who will be the host? Where is most convenient? Which destination will involve the least amount of driving for everyone?
If you are hosting, don’t be shy about asking family to come to you.
If another family member is willing to host everyone, give them lots of leeway in deciding the details.
And if you’re all going to rent an Airbnb or stay at a hotel put transportation concerns ahead of local attractions. It can be unfair to ask relatives to drive long distances for a water park or a golf course they’re not interested in.
4. Make a Date
Get it set in stone as early as possible.
People need time in advance to book off vacation time at work and make travel plans.
Consult with the whole family early on and make a list of “blackout dates” that won’t work, before suggesting a date and getting everyone to sign off on it.
5. Plan Activities
Although there is always a lot of talking and catching up to do at family reunions, the best memories are made while families are having fun together.
This is one reason Saint John is the perfect location for your family reunion. There is so much to do here!
Cooking together is always a lot of fun. Why not start out at the City Market in a scavenger hunt for fresh ingredients that will go into the family dinner?
Rockwood Park is beautiful in the summer. It is easy to access nature from within the city with a network of groomed trails for family walks and lots of places for picnics.
For a (slightly) more rugged hike, you can head out to the Irving Nature Park on the west side and watch the waves crash against the shore.
You can escape the summer heat by going tubing down the river – or just spread out on the sand at one of the many beaches in town or on the outskirts of Saint John.
If getting dusty and dirty outdoors is not exactly your family’s thing there are boutique stores, stylish cafes and quaint old shops along the Saint John waterfront.
Don’t overschedule your family reunion, but make sure to plan some summer activities that everyone will enjoy.
6. Capture the Memories
The truth is, sometimes we’re just too busy making memories to record them.
In the organized chaos of a family reunion, people forget to bring out their smartphones to take a picture. Everyone assumes someone else will do it.
Even if someone gets the shot, they’re often disappointed with the quality of the photos.
If getting high quality photos is important to you, the best solution is to appoint a designated photographer who will be present to get the shot.
If there is someone in your family with a good camera and an eye for composition, ask them if they would be willing to be “on call” to take candid photos.
This is a significant responsibility. The designated photographer can’t go off and do their own thing or else there will be no photos of key events for photo albums. The other downside to having a family member photograph the event is they will not be able to be in any of the photos (see my photoshopped body in my family photo below).
The results are worth it, though. Good quality, high resolution photos of your family’s natural laughter and joy together are priceless.
If you can’t find a photographically gifted family member who is willing to do the job, you can always level up and hire me!
I’m a professionally trained photographer with fifteen years of experience in capturing happy family moments. My specialty is candid photos and I have some great equipment and editing software that will ensure that your family’s Facebook photos are the best on the block.
Make the Most of Each Moment
However your family is choosing to get together this summer, I hope you are able to squeeze every drop of joy and laughter from the time you’ve got.
It takes work to make these moments happen. Family reunions don’t just plan themselves. It can be complicated and stressful to get everyone on the same page.
But ultimately it’s worth it, because the memories we make together last even after the warm summer days are gone and we find ourselves struggling to start our cars and scraping frost from our windshields.
As a little personal side note, I come from an extremely large family and have been to multiple family reunions. Last year, we all met in the small northern New Brunswick village of Perth-Andover where the family farm still resides. It was my eldest aunt's 80th birthday. We celebrated with too much food, cold drinks, lots of laughs and stories, bonfires and fireworks. Grabbing a big family photo of everyone was important. I actually photoshopped myself in because that is the life of a photographer, lol! In the second photo here, you can see the old family reunion photo hanging in front of the cake. I am 4 years old in it. My family and I love comparing the old photos to the new ones and the added members that have been born into our group. We treasure these photos and I'm happy to share them here.