Heading out to see extended family this summer?

You’re not alone.

57% of Americans say that they spend at least part of their summer traveling to be with family. That same poll reports that 65% of them say that those experiences are always a great time. That means that for a lot of us, time with extended family is a priority. That means for a lot of us it’s a great time. But it also means that for 45% of those taking the time to go be with family, there can be some stresses and challenges to deal with.

Extended family comes with a host of great perks. Extended family includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and chosen family. All of those people can play a remarkable role in your and your children’s lives. Family can give you a built-in sense of community and support.

In dedicating time to spend with extended family, you also get to experience the wisdom, flexibility, and growth opportunities in spending time in a multi-generational setting. Oftentimes in our culture today, we tend to hang out the most with people in our immediate age range or within a particular affinity group. For our kids, they are usually in classrooms completely comprised of other kids their own age. While there can be a familiarity and a natural connection to those in our same ages and stages of life, it can also, unfortunately, truncate our opinions and experiences. Those who have lived more life than we have or who are in seasons we passed through a handful of years ago have so much to contribute to our lives, as we do theirs.
Susan V. Bosak of the Legacy Project writes that children who enjoy intergenerational relationships with extended family and other adults “develop higher self-esteem, better emotional and social skills (including an ability to withstand peer pressure), and can even have better grades in school.”

She also finds that it is great for the elders. She writes, “Active, involved older adults with close intergenerational connections consistently report much less depression, better physical health, and higher degrees of life satisfaction. They tend to be happier with their present life and more hopeful for the future.”

With so many great outcomes of spending time together in extended family settings, what are the things that can get in the way? There are challenges that can come, even when the best of intentions are in place.

  • Conflicting Perspectives and Values: Just because they’re family doesn’t mean you[‘ll always see eye-to-eye. Politics, finances, what content and experiences you allow your children to have versus the choices some of the extended family has, it all comes into play when you’re spending dedicated time together.
  • Family Dynamics: History, issues from the past, a breadth of personalities, it all comes into play when you’re spending time together. Even though there are patterns you thought you were long past, they have a way of showing up again when you’re back in the fold.
  • Individual Preferences and Limits: There are the group dynamics present, and then there are also the individual lines everyone has. Those can be challenging enough to deal with within the context of your immediate family, and it can get even more tricky when you’ve circled up as an extended family circle.

So how can you make your extended family time the best it can be this summer, highlighting all the advantages and mitigating the challenges? Take some time before you go to communicate and plan in these areas:

Spending: What is the budget for each family for this time together? While one group might have more discretionary income, for another family group, they may need to stick to a tight budget. Get ahead of the money talk and make sure realistic expectations on spending on excursions, food, and other features are understood and managed ahead of time.

Activities: When you’re dealing with an extended family group that represents a number of different ages and stages, the idea that everything will do everything all together every day is likely unrealistic. Babies and toddlers need naps. Older family members might need extra downtime. As you think about what would make this time together the most fun for the most people, build in margin to accommodate a slower pace.

Responsibilities: In any extended family group, there are likely those members who know how to jump into the kitchen and get a meal on the table, sweep through the cabin and clean, grab all the beach towels, and get them into the wash. But it doesn’t mean that those who are consistent about doing those things should be the only ones doing those things. When everyone else is having a great time and a bit of a vacation, the doers in the group can start to feel some resentment if they feel like they’re on the hook for all the food, clean-up, and laundry. A couple of weeks before your time with your extended family, set up a schedule that includes kitchen duty, cleaning responsibilities, and whatever other chores and duties are necessary during your time together. Clarity of what is expected of each family group can bring much more harmony to the experience.

Kindly hold your ground when needed and exercise flexibility on the rest: If there is an activity or if there is content that your family isn’t comfortable engaging in, don’t feel guilty about saying no. You don’t have to explain yourself beyond saying that this is something you and your immediate family are going to abstain from. However, it’s also important to keep a sense of flexibility and accommodation when it comes to family time. Are you exercising an ethic for your family? Or is it a preference? Hold your preferences loosely in the extended family setting. Check out more ideas for healthy extended family relationships by clicking here.

When making time with your extended family this summer season, reserve the fireworks for July 4th, not for emotional fireworks at the family BBQ. Take some time to plan for and talk about the kind of family time you want. Then enjoy the fun, and, yes, the chaos, along with the sweetness and the memories of your family reunion. If you could use some help and coaching getting ready for time with extended family, and you’re an Altrua HealthShare Member on certain memberships, check out LifeWorks for in-person and telecounseling for ideas and guidance. If you’re not yet a Member of Altrua HealthShare, check out the features of the Membership and learn more about how Altrua HealthShare can be your solution for flexible, affordable healthcare.

  1. https://nypost.com/2022/07/08/most-americans-agree-that-family-is-what-makes-vacations-great-poll/
  2. https://www.legacyproject.org/guides/intergenbenefits.html#:~:text=In%20general%2C%20children%20develop%20higher,have%20better%20grades%20in%20school
  3. https://www.legacyproject.org/guides/intergenbenefits.html#:~:text=In%20general%2C%20children%20develop%20higher,have%20better%20grades%20in%20school