Editor's Note: Tightening family ties without getting tied in knots

This week’s cover story is about family reunions. Though I have a big family, and I would say we’re pretty close, I have to admit it’s been a couple of years since I attended a reunion for any branch of it.

My immediate family – my parents, my brothers and their families – usually gets together about once a month, and there are several aunts, uncles and cousins I see regularly throughout the year. But I felt a twinge of guilt last week when my 7-year-old commented that he has “cousins I don’t even know.”

He was thinking of some second cousins – the daughters of my cousin, who lives out of state – who had come with their mother to see us just after the baby was born in 2011. It was the first and most recent time he had met my cousin or her daughters; explaining our relationship was so exhausting I didn’t even get into telling him about the rest of that branch of the family tree. There haven’t been any fallings-out or animosity towards one another, we just don’t see each other all that often.

I figure my children have met about half of my 10 cousins, and felt bad when I thought of all the second cousins and cousins once removed who shared my childhood. But then again, the last time I went to a family reunion for my mother’s side of the family, I only knew about half of the people there, too. I guess there’s more than positioning on the family tree that determines the closeness of the relationship.

Plus, it made me feel a little better to tell my boy he actually has cousins I don’t even know – my husband and I have been together since 1998 and I have yet to meet all of his cousins, second cousins, etc.

Family reunions are hard. People are busy, it’s tough to fit one more thing into the schedule, and planners never know for sure who will show up. If your family doesn’t get together regularly, you can be faced with the awkward sensation of introducing yourself to people who look vaguely familiar and then taking turns tracing back the tree to figure out your connection – then once you realize your relationship, there’s the new awkward feeling of not knowing what to talk about.

Stories are a good place to start. Though I’ve established I’m no pro at family reunions, my parents both come from big families that got together rarely, so every few years of my life I found myself at a wedding, funeral or reunion being introduced to second and third cousins I’d never met (there are some I probably still wouldn’t know if I met them on the street). The trick is to find some member of the family you both know and share a story. In one shot, you start to know the person you’ve just met, and often find out something you didn’t know about a person you thought you did. Funny stories are the best.

If a family reunion is in your future, have fun, eat, talk and share family photos. Take lots of pictures. End it with hugs and promises to visit you know you’ll break. Go home feeling like your family is bigger than you thought.

Enjoy your MidWeek.

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