How To Survive Family Gatherings

Writer LUCY LORD | July 18, 2014

If we’re to be honest, we’ve all had at least some experiences of awkward or unpleasant family gatherings to share. But family reunions are supposed to be stress-free and joyous, so here are some tips to help you survive and truly enjoy your family holidays.

I’ve just returned from a skiing holiday with my husband, parents, brother, half-sister, half-sister’s new husband, nephew (from sister’s previous marriage), father’s first wife, father’s first wife’s partner and brother’s best friend. I think it’s fair to say that the people who looked after us in the chalet were fairly bemused by the family dynamic (and wondering why there were so many Mrs Lords!). And that’s just close family. Mum is one of six siblings, Dad one of seven, which means I have enough aunts and uncles to know there’ll always be people looking out for me, and enough cousins to know I’ll never be short of drinking buddies. Mainly it’s great having a ready-made bunch of Mafioso-like allies, but with so many different personalities, shared histories, jealousies and preferences (come on – surely we’ve all got a favourite cousin?!), it’s pretty inevitable that tempers will occasionally run high.

So how to minimise the damage and maximise the fun? Even if your family isn’t as ridiculously huge as mine, I hope some of the wisdom I’ve gained over the years pertaining to surviving family gatherings will be helpful.


You may have noticed the inclusion, in the list of relations on my recent holiday, of my brother’s best friend. He was there because my brother’s girlfriend was pregnant, so a skiing holiday was not ideal for her, and little bro needed an ally. Anyway, what a godsend the friend turned out to be. I lost count of the number of occasions he poured oil on troubled waters. He, of course, being the only non-family member, was on his best behaviour; the rest of us were shamed by his presence into not being quite as awful as we might have been otherwise! This works just as well on other occasions, especially Christmas, where a little fresh blood goes an awfully long way to diluting the (sometimes festering!) gene pool.


Don’t feel that everybody has to do the same thing, all the time. On the skiing holiday, our differing abilities meant that we tended to break up into little groups (can you imagine the horror of eleven mixed-ability adults trying to ski in one big troupe, the fastest waiting impatiently at the bottom while the slowest desperately tried to catch up?), then all met up again for lunch and dinner. On a family holiday last summer, some of us wanted to go to the beach on days when others wanted to stay by the pool, and again, this worked out just fine. It’s not nearly so awful having dinner with the same people every night if you’ve spent the day apart! At Christmas, children get bored with sitting at the table for hours on end while the adults get increasingly merry – let them go off and play with their presents; others (children or not) may want to leave the table to watch TV. You get the picture – flexibility means a better time for all.

With the freedom to bugger off whenever either of them wanted, the pressure was off, they had a wonderful holiday and have now been married for nearly thirty years