Sunday, May 31, 2015
Think positive: Family reunion game should stress the ties that bind
Every few years, a large family in New England holds a family reunion in the summer. Siblings, cousins, parents, grandparents, children, aunts and uncles convene at one family member's home to reminisce, eat, catch up on one another's lives, and nurture strong family ties.
At each reunion, the host tries to come up with an event that focuses on the family's history. Usually, this is an entertaining game or challenge. While the goal is to engage younger family members in learning something about their heritage, some effort is made to challenge old-timers, too.
My reader, the hostess this year, is in the throes of planning. She's thinking about a game in which attendees have to match up names to a particular branch of the family tree. The challenge, she writes, is that there have been quite a few marriages, divorces and remarriages within this group. She doesn't want to hurt the feelings of newer spouses by including the names of former spouses on the family tree.
While those former spouses aren't invited to the event, many of their biological children will be there. The hostess also doesn't want to hurt the feelings of those children by leaving the name of a parent off the family tree.
In the past, games have avoided the issue of a family tree, focusing instead on historical milestones or wagers about such things as how many lawyers vs. teachers there are in the family. This year, however, the reader wants the family tree as the focal point.
"Would it be wrong to simply leave the ex-spouses off the tree?" she asks.
Even at the risk of hurting the feelings of current spouses, if the hostess truly wants a complete family tree, it doesn't seem right to leave out the ex-spouses. They might no longer be invited to such gatherings, but she's right to think their children might be offended if their parents were banished from the family story. (No amount of Photoshop tinkering can remove the fact that these parents were once members of the family.)
The reader has a few options. She could speak to both the current spouses and the children of ex-spouses about her plans in advance. She could find a creative way to engage family members in their shared history without focusing on a thick and leafy family tree that has been pruned.
Since the goal of the party is for everyone to gather, share memories and have fun, the right thing to do is to find a way to accomplish that without awkwardness about who's included and who's left out of the family saga.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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