Relationships

One Thing I Always Do at Family Gatherings

A Tip for Family Hangs

This year, I figured out a trick for big family hangs…

Often, in the past, we’d hang out in a large group of parents, in-laws, siblings, cousins, etc. At the end of the trip, even though we had technically spent days together, I’d feel as if I didn’t get quality time with certain people because the crowd was so big. It almost felt like we’d been at a cocktail party, where you chat about this and that, but don’t really talk.

A Tip for Family Hangs

But then on our family vacation this summer, my dad and I decided to sneak out to dinner, just the two of us. We left the rest of the crew at home, and we went out for fish and carrots and chocolate mousse in little glasses. We talked about everything, from work to raising kids to books to Seinfeld quotes. It was such a special evening for both of us.

A Tip for Family Hangs

Funnily enough, it actually reminds me of a kids’ behavior tip: If the boys are acting out overall, we try to spend 20 minutes on the floor with them, just playing and chatting, and it helps so much with their behavior because they feel connected and don’t need to seek our attention. But it feels so great with parents/in-laws/siblings, too!

Now my dad and I will jokingly ask for our “20 mins” on a trip and go for a walk together or grab a glass of wine at a neighborhood spot. My mom and I went to a movie when she visited last month, and my sister and I got pedicures this Thanksgiving; it’s always wonderful to get that one-on-one time.

Things you could sneak away to do with a special person:
Go for a stroll around the neighborhood.
Browse a nearby bookstore.
Try on makeup together or do masks!
Go out for tea or coffee.
Get a manicure or pedicure.
Even just steal away to a quiet room in the house together for a cozy chat.

Thoughts? How do you connect with family? I’d love to hear…

P.S. The weirdest best part of trips, and going to the White House holiday party.

(Photos of my dad at Fitzroy in Cornwall.)

  1. Lacey Parr says...

    My sister in law took me to Costco when we were visiting last week and let me take full advantage of bulk deals. And we chatted about so many things and even sat in the driveway afterwards til we got cold. We talked about so many important things that couldn’t have been adequately discussed with all the kids and everyone else around. Dates are good for marriages, children and family relationships!

  2. My sisters and I always go for a walk together. It’s the only way we can have interrupted conversations.

  3. Lynn says...

    This made me tear up. I wish I could do this with either of my parents. It’s hard when you come from a very broken family. I would love to have a mom or dad I could spend 1:1 time with, but they will never be the type of people I can do this with – they hurt me too much over my lifetime for me to move past that pain. I am learning to cope and working on accepting it, but it’s a hard pill to swallow. I hope one day I can have a child that wants to do this with me so I can rewrite history.

    On another note, I would love to see more posts that address family from all walks of life – not everyone has relationships like this. Especially this time of year, the holidays are hard for a lot of people. It would be cool to see some content around tactics for surviving the holidays with family, setting boundaries, etc., or posts that offer insight from therapists on how to cope.

    • Danielle says...

      I feel you completely. Sending so many hugs and letting you know you’re NOT alone. The holidays can really highlight the dysfunction and voids in our lives. I agree that some posts about this reality for many, many folks will hopefully make an appearance!

    • Divya says...

      100% this! I’ve been a reader for many years, and have never commented – but this is so so so important. Not everyone has happy and healthy relationships with their parents, and some of us also don’t have our own families yet either.

  4. Sabrina says...

    My mom and I have been using gift wrapping as our holiday time together. It’s cozy and Christmas-y and makes perfect sense why other fam can’t be around – can’t ruin the surprise!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that sounds really fun :)

  5. Kelly says...

    Oh my gosh, you put this so well THANK YOU. Parenting is so hard!

  6. Em says...

    One aspect of parenthood that I wasn’t expecting was the loss of connection and quality time with my parents. I see them each twice a week, but my toddlers are always there and my brain is frazzled; it’s too hard to have quality time and a good conversation. My husband and I work opposite shifts and I am in school, so it’s been so hard to get away for brunch with mom or dad. But, I really need alone time with them! Thanks for posting this, I think this will be my new year’s goal…to get one on one time with them.

  7. Kelly says...

    i often feel the same way at big family gatherings (we had 33 for thanksgiving so it’s pretty big!). we played a super easy game this year that made me feel like the group actually connected together and everyone got a moment of attention. here it is: give everyone a blank sheet of paper and put out some colored pencils or markers. Everyone has to draw a turkey but not put their name on it. then after dinner, hold each one up and everyone has to write down their guess as to who drew it.

    so simple, but i think we actually learned stuff about each other, like that my cousin’s daughter is a pretty good artist! and there’s always someone with a slightly naughty twist (just my family?). It gets everyone laughing as the guesses and the rationale come out. Kids and adults can play together…it was a big hit and could be done for any season!

  8. katie says...

    Growing up, I always got invited to go to the bank with my Grammy when we were visiting my grandparents. I loved going to the bank with her! She would chat with everyone and sometimes let me press buttons on the ATM and pick up as many forms & envelopes as I wanted (deposit slips, etc.) so I could play ‘bank’ once we got home. I treasure the memories of this little errand over the years…sometimes it doesn’t need to be an exciting special thing, just getting to do something ordinary with a family member you don’t see all the time can feel really exciting as a kid.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s really sweet!

    • Terri says...

      I love this! What a sweet, simple memory with your Grammy. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Anna says...

    I’m home visiting my parents this week and it’s so nice to carve out that one-on-one time. My mom and I got coffee this morning and my dad and I are going to a movie tonight ❤️

  10. Ana says...

    This is great advice! My sister and I live in the same city and whenever my mom visits the three of us go out to dinner together on her last night visiting. We both have small children so we often don’t get an opportunity to truly connect without being distracted or interrupted while she’ here, but we all look forward to our dinner tradition where we can chitchat and laugh and take a load off, just the three of us.

  11. Kadie says...

    Goodness, I love this idea! Time always seems to go by way too fast during the holiday season, but this is a great way to slow down and really absorb relationships with those closest to us. I also really needed to hear the “kid tip.” My daughter is 2.5 y/o, and I need to make stopping to get on her level more of a priority rather than brushing her off and getting upset about her normal behaviors.

  12. Pam says...

    This is wonderful and so special to have that one on one time with another.
    My fondest memory of the last summer I spent with my mother was staying home with her while my husband and kids went to a family party. The two of us instead watched lifetime movies and ordered takeout. We talked about how implausible the stories were and gossiped during commercial breaks. It was the best and now that she’s gone, a part of me is still with her curled up on the sofa scanning takeout menus.
    You realise how valuable it is to carve out time with those closest to you because it’s the memory of those commonplace things you’ve done together that keep the presence of their spirits with you when they’re far away or no longer here.

  13. Annalisa says...

    This post just solidified my thoughts on spending time with now high-school/college sisters! Each is so beautifully unique that I just want to soak up all the time I can with them listening and learning who they are.

    Up next: plan four “20 minutes” over the Christmas holiday, unique to them. Thank you!

  14. Jackie says...

    I really needed to hear this! Our girls are 4 1/2 and 2 and my oldest gets wild – of course when we’re not paying attention to her. It makes us upset but reading this makes me realize that her behavior is totally normal and we should re-engage to help ground her. It’s hard to not be able to take a moment and do something not kid related for YEARS on end. But I guess that’s how it goes? Thanks Jo :)

  15. Jen Noble says...

    My sisters and I have started to forgo giving each other any presents on our birthdays and instead travel to visit each other and hang out! We go shopping, get pedis or manis and do lunch/dinner. It is so fun to give the gift of time and strength our relationships.

  16. Amanda says...

    Thank you… coming off a wonderful and intense Thanksgiving hosting family, I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt so depleted and sad. So many people, but I didn’t really feel connected. I know I need that, so I’m going to clear the afternoon just for fun and being together with my son.

    • Capucine says...

      This year, weather circumstances conspired to be just my brother and I at Thanksgiving, with our kids and my husband, and nothing was cooked ahead. We spent the day cooking together and it was the easiest, most satisfying holiday ever – it really opened my eyes. It’s tough switching between people to tune in to their emotional state and angle for a moment of real connection, exhausting. Just us three adults together working with our hands all day, no need to adapt to or rotate between talking to everyone there, and the kids conflict-free making wrapping paper and playing board games. I think my new ideal holiday would be doing it once with each family individually in our extended family so I can really connect and not have everyone together at once! Quite the revelation to realize everyone together is like making gruyere cheese puffs from scratch – delightful, but light, soon gone, and exhausting to make!

  17. C says...

    Joanna, you’ve posted about your dad before, but I’ve always thought you looked more like your mom. In this photo I see the resemblance! He has the same caring eyes as you.

    Thanks for sharing and reminding us to treasure those special times. I would give anything to have my dad back for a dinner date or a stroll or 20 quiet minutes together. Xo

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      awww, that means a lot to me, C. thank you!

  18. Gretch says...

    As a teacher, “extra” time is rarely a luxury, but I think I’ve been using a version of this to manage my more attention seeking students for years. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes if you can connect and give a little extra attention in the classroom, it helps with I individual students, which changes the general class behavior as well.

    • Agnes says...

      Thank you, as a child counsellor I love this. I see ‘attention-seeking’ as ‘trying to get a need met.’ You see this, meet the need and things can move on. Kudos to you :)

    • Fellow teacher here and I do the same. A glance, a smile, a welcome to the classroom, or a complement about something that’s going well (especially if it’s been a challenge) can make such a difference for the individual student and then the class as a whole.

  19. Ashley says...

    This Thanksgiving, I washed dishes while my 12 year old nephew dried. We had the most fascinating conversations about subjects he was an expert in, and it really was the best thing ever.

    • Amelia says...

      What a happy comment. Reading this made my day.

  20. Felicia says...

    I think about this all the time!

  21. Eva says...

    I envy these family relationships. I just don’t have this friendship-like connection with any member of my immediate family. Now with a daughter of my own, I want so much to build that connection with her throughout our lives. I’m often thinking about what creates each dynamic. I think honesty and vulnerability are important. My parents (definitely my dad) tried too hard to be proper/right/respected, so there’s always been a wall there.

    I’ve noticed friends of divorced parents tend to be very close to one or both (even calling a parent their best friend, which I cannot fathom) and I wonder if it had to do with that baring of emotions that inevitably comes up.

    Would love to know what’s nurtured that kind of closeness for others.

    • RS says...

      Eva, you are not alone on this. I feel exactly the same way–I envy those with very close family relationships and I hope to foster that connection I lack with my children as they grow. Will be following the responses you receive.

    • Capucine says...

      The interesting flip side of this article is that busy gatherings that prevent real connection are a boon when it comes to people who aren’t loving. I confess, the idea of a dinner date with my dad made me cringe. I don’t have that parent, either – the hustle of large gatherings blessedly protects me from having anything resembling a deep conversation! So does having young children, I can and do back out of conversations to go check on so-and-so; they are my smoke screen I get absorbed in to avoid the predator questions angling for my sore spots. I’m wistful Joanna has had to invent ways to get close time with a parent, I only know inventing ways to dodge that exact thing.

    • Court says...

      Hi Eva! I am 32 and my mom is one of my best friends. I probably wouldn’t have said this growing up because she definitely was the parent in the relationship, but we have always been close. One of the main reasons for this is there has always been an open line of communication between us. My mom always sat down and ate dinner with me, played lots of card games, was at every event, chaperoned things, drove me places, and was just a constant in my life (she also worked!?). As I grew older, my mom called me everyday. Now, if I go a day or two without speaking to her, she usually calls to check in. She texts my husband and me often to check in. On the last night of college, my mom came to celebrate my graduation. She stayed in my apartment with me and went out with my friends and me. I think her being so consistently “there” for me and allowing open communication has forged this relationship.
      It’s not always flowers and sunshine. She can be overbearing and nosy, but I have never once questioned whether she cared or wanted to be 100% involved in my life. She is HANDS ON. I hope this helps!

    • LS says...

      Just chiming in to say that this is my experience, too. You’re not alone. These family articles are hard for me to read because I’m not particularly close with my family of origin, but also, I feel, helpful for me to read to get ideas about how to forge that dynamic with my own young kids moving forward.

  22. Mindy says...

    This is such a good point. I flew around the world to see my Dad for his birthday in Perth, Australia from San Francisco. There were 9 of us out there, which was really special, but I spent 2 weeks out there and never felt like I got a minute just with my father, which was a real shame. By the end of the trip, I felt like a child for not getting enough attention from Dad and sad at the same time. For our last meal, I actually asked if I could sit next to him but my step-mother still took a lot of his time. Wish I had thought of doing this! Families are tricky :)

    • agnes says...

      I feel like when it comes to family gatherings, you always always need a plan and anticipate, so you don’t get frustrated. Take the lead, organise, propose, everybody will probably be relieved…

  23. Joanna, I see your boys in your dad’s face :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      That makes me happy :)

  24. Greta says...

    Seven years ago, my husband and I got married on December 23. So many people were shocked that we would want to get married so close to Christmas. They said we would never have an opportunity to celebrate our anniversary by ourselves. In fact, we have found our anniversary to be the perfect excuse for alone time during the busy holiday season!

    • Christina says...

      THIS is life advice if I’ve ever heard it!!! Greta, you minx!!!

    • Emily says...

      Yes! Our anniversary is Nov 22, which usually falls on Thanksgiving week. It’s the perfect reason to run out for dinner just the two of us and leave the kiddos with my parents!

  25. Elizabeth says...

    I love this idea, too! And will keep in my back pocket for future family gatherings. On a completely unrelated note, do you ever wonder how many times you’ve appeared in the background of a stranger’s photos? Like the two women in the background on either side of your dad?! And I’d especially love to know what’s being said by the companion of the woman to the left. Am I the only one who thinks about these kinds of things??! ;)

    • Neela says...

      Wouldn’t it be wild if one of them was a CoJ reader?!

  26. AK says...

    I love this! Also Dad’s ill pinky ring, gangster.

  27. Rae says...

    These are great! For a few years while I was growing up, my parents had a small table and chairs in their bedroom, and my mom would make a snack and pot of tea to share with me or my older sister. I have three other siblings, but two were in the baby-toddler stage, and one has severe mental and physical disabilities. My sister and I would take turns every month or so being the sibling monitor while the other sister had tea time. The quiet after closing the bedroom door and being invited to sit at the table using “nice cups” for tea and conversation was really precious. The theme continues as adults – my brother’s health or behavior usually takes center stage during family events, but my family as a whole tends to be good about finding another family member to pick blueberries in the backyard, walk the neighborhood, or run to the grocery store. Keep the posts coming. <3

    • Caroline says...

      I love this comment Rae. I can picture perfectly the ‘nice cups’ that always feel so special when you’re little!

    • Astrid says...

      wonderful that you got some time to yourself with your mother

    • Kelly says...

      your mom was prob thrilled to have some time with one of her big kids too! a win for everyone.

  28. Lark says...

    What a wonderful idea! I’ve always tried to squeeze in one-on-one time with each of my three kids (20, 18, and 17 years old), but never thought to do it while we are on a trip somewhere or spending time at a family gathering. We travel twice a year to the Monterey Bay area to meet up with friends who come in from Washington D.C. I think I’ll try to start having one-on-one time while we are on those trips so we can check in with each other in a setting away from home. Thanks for planting that seed in my head!

  29. Lizzy says...

    My family always comes together for Christmas, 12-14 of us in one house for 3-4 days. We enjoy group dinners, and often hike or sled as one group, but it is the quiet moments I spend with just one or two other people I don’t get to see for the rest of the year that I spend all year looking forward to. Most mornings, I am one of the first up, and will put on the coffee, then settle into the living room with my book and the wood burning stove lit, and one or two of my cousins or aunts will trickle out, pour a mug, and read in companionable silence with me for an hour. In the evenings, when everyone breaks up to do various cooking/chores/taking care of kids, a few people always end up sitting around our card table puzzling. Whether I’m working on the puzzle or helping with dinner, the sight of a few people I love dearly gathered close and pressing pieces together never fails to make my heart buzz with joy.

    • Lulu says...

      Oh Lizzie I loved reading this!

  30. I was in the fourth grade when my parents divorced and my dad took up running. I started running right alongside him because it was quiet time we (two introverts) could spend together, away from the hullabaloo of large, new family life. Every time we were together for a few days, for the rest of his life, we would sneak out and go for a run, just us two. We had some really amazing talks on those runs and sometimes we ran in silence, enjoying each others company while taking in our surroundings. It was really special and it is one of the things I miss the very most now that he is gone.

    • As a fellow runner, this is so touching. I’m sorry for your loss.

  31. Sarah says...

    This year at Thanksgiving, my family shared what we were most thankful for that year -and then, went around and shared what we were LEAST thankful for. The latter question was actually a fascinating way to get inside my family member’s heads and passion! For example, my cousin who is currently teaching through Teach for America was least thankful for educational inequality. My brother-in-law who helps keep our country safe for a living was least thankful for the collection and misuse of Big Data. I shared that I was least thankful for 7+ years of bad sleep (thank you, beloved but anxious child). I just thought it was an unexpected peek behind the curtain of each person’s life, and I got great ideas for follow up questions for later conversations!

  32. lauren says...

    My dad and I have slipped out for coffees ever since I was in high school – we lived in suburban southern California and would pick a different strip mall each time (no cool city cafes in our town!) and then just talk and stroll for an hour or two. I didn’t dance with my father at my wedding, and he didn’t walk me down the aisle (no big dramatic reason, those rituals just weren’t for us!), but I *did* sneak out before I started getting ready that morning to have coffee with him and walk around town, and it turned out to be one of the loveliest parts of the day.

    • Rach says...

      I just burst in to tears ready this. Such a lovely moment with your dad on your wedding day.

  33. Cassidy says...

    This reminds me of a trip I took in college! We had an extended family camping trip, and for 3 days and 2 nights, the big kids and adults went backpacking, while the grandparents took care of the little ones back at our large group site. We had 15 people on the hike, and we naturally broke into smaller groups of 2-5. It was so special to get to spend an hour or two with an uncle or cousin that I didn’t get too much alone time with. I cherish the memories of that trip because of getting that special time with certain family members :)

  34. brenna says...

    I absolutely love this Joanna. My Dad passed away quite suddenly in September and with 3 kids I know that any one on one time with your parent is miraculous and super special.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I’m so sorry for your loss, brenna. Xoxo

    • I’m so sorry for your loss Brenna. I lost my own dad very suddenly two and a half years ago. It hasn’t necessarily gotten easier, but I’ve learned to live again. Hang in there.

  35. Mae says...

    “…. because the crowd was so big. It almost felt like we’d been at a cocktail party, where you chat about this and that, but don’t really talk”….. My feelings exactly every time after we have large family get-togethers; leaves me exhausted and I feel like we haven’t really reconnected at all. Thanks for your advices, I’ll make it a point to set aside some real quality moments, even just for a few minutes, with people I love dearly.

  36. Sarah Mc says...

    During my graduation from college, in the middle of a weekend full of pomp and circumstance and family and events and All The Things, my dad vehemently insisted that the family car needed an oil change and that he and I were going to go do it. So we did! Left everyone for 40 minutes while we got the oil changed and then came back… honestly 13 years later it’s one of the most memorable moments of the weekend!

  37. Madison says...

    My three year old is wise beyond his years because he already knows how important this one on one time is. Over the long weekend at one point he asked to stay home with daddy while mama and Coda (his almost two year old brother) went to the beach for a walk. The next morning he wanted to go Christmas decoration shopping with just mama so Coda could have music time with dad. We like to say he is the wisest member of our family and that he keeps us all in balance.

  38. Laura says...

    My family is large, loud, and loving, but that means that similarly, it’s hard to find one on one time to connect. When hosting the family for holidays, my grandparents always had a large puzzle on a card table in the living room. It was the perfect excuse to remove yourself from the large group for a few quiet minutes with whomever else was placing a few pieces. All ages would engage but it also didn’t take a serious time commitment, just a few minutes of conversation and connection here and there.

  39. Ceridwen says...

    I love this idea. Really meaningful to have that one on one time. Also, that carrot and fish dish looks incredible!

  40. Cassidy says...

    This reminds me of an extended family camping trip I took in college! For 3 days and 2 night all the adults and big kids went backpacking while the grandparents took care of the kids back at our large group site. We had around 15 people on this hike and you would naturally break into smaller groups of 2-4 while hiking all day. So I would get to spend an hour or two with a cousin or uncle or whoever that I rarely got to spend alone time with. I cherish those memories of walking and talking with family though the woods :)

  41. Ann says...

    I love this so much. I’m going to make a point to do this with my family over Christmas. My brother and I always bring our dogs to our parents’ house for Christmas, and we walk them together every evening. I’m going to make a point to carve out one-on-one time like that with my other siblings this year.

  42. Andrea says...

    A few months ago at a huge family baby shower I was so hot from being in the kitchen the whole time (hot flashing sure as shit didn’t help, sorry) and it was loud and I was just “done”! I finally had my plate and my precious daughter in law who was hosting and knows me well said she needed a break and said come with me! She said let’s go to the coolest room in the house which happened to be her beautiful master bath and we sat on the floor, door closed, me finally getting to eat and just relaxed and talked! It was wonderful! Sounds crazy but what a memory!

    • AJ says...

      This is so lovely

  43. Lauren E. says...

    I love this idea so much. My dad and I have such different conversations when it’s just the two of us.

  44. Arlene Schusteff says...

    This year, I tried something different. I was really tired of cooking a big Thanksgiving meal and setting a beautiful table only to have people devour the food and then want to leave the table. So much work! I decided that we should play some type of game. I knew my gang wouldn’t love the “what are you thankful for” that is common at Thanksgiving. Instead, I printed questions on index cards and we went around the table answering them. They were funny, serious, and appealed to our entire age range of 15-80. I found most of them on Pinterest (search conversation starters). Here are a few…would you rather never laugh again or give up your iPhone? What TV show would you like to join the cast of? What irritates you most in people? Would you rather have more money or more time? This was a wonderful thing to do and we ended up sitting at the table for more than 2 hours!

    • Amy says...

      Love this Arlene!

  45. Sarah Beth says...

    I often feel like this, too, especially at the end of my annual family vacation, which has my dad and stepmom, my four siblings, several partners, and my two kids all shacked up in one big, but crowded, house. This summer, my dad, who was training for an Ironman, asked if anyone wanted to go for a run with him. Everyone demurred, but he finally got me to agree after promising to go whatever speed and distance I wanted (I could barely run! I’d just had a baby!) I grudgingly went, and it turned out to be so much fun that we went for runs together two more times that week. It was such an easygoing way to chat, about running but also my kids, my siblings, our work, our long family history at this particular beach town– I’m already looking forward to taking runs with my dad next summer. Running is usually my alone time, but it was even better running together.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that, sarah beth :)

    • Running is usually my alone time too Sarah Beth, but my dad and I always carved out time for a run when we were together. I’m so glad we did. We lost him suddenly two and a half years ago and I’m so thankful for those runs now. Go an extra mile for me and my dad next time <3

    • Cait says...

      Yes! My dad and I have had some of our most real, fun, and healing conversations while running together as adults.

  46. Alexandra says...

    Yes! Last summer when we visited my husband’s family at the cabin in rural Minnesota, there was a crowd of 20, but we did stuff in small groups, and that really helped to connect the teenage cousins and other relatives who see each other only once a year. My favorite time was when I took my lovely mother-in-law on an outing to some antique stores and a drive across the countryside. We had time to chat and enjoy each other’s company without the distraction of a number of other people. My mother-in-law visibly enjoyed it so much, because normally family members don’t really take the time to hang out just with her.

  47. Lauren says...

    Sometimes if we are riding to dinner at a restaurant or another outing and need to take multiple cars, I will ride with my Dad and my eldest son. It’s good quality time and no one feels slighted since we are ultimately going to the same place!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that :)

  48. Erica says...

    We call this ‘special time’ in our family. Every day my 7-year-old will ask either my husband or me or sometimes both, “Can we have special time?” We set a timer and it’s our job to be STOKED on whatever he wants to do. It’s a fast way to get connected and put away all the boring adult things that keep us from truly connecting.

    • Nina says...

      Hi CoJ fam! Unfortunately I missed out on an out-of-town multi-family Thanksgiving this year. But when we get together I make sure to corner the (much) younger cousins (I’m 69) and talk, talk, talk!
      These kids are so much fun to talk to and I’m always amazed at the wide range of topics they are aware of and concerned about.
      Sometimes they reveal a topic they’ve been hesitant to discuss with the primary adults in their lives. This is the time to just listen and offer suggestions IF THEY ASK FOR IT!
      It’s fun to track their growth and interests over the years and gives us a truly organic connection!

  49. Tracy says...

    Every time I travelled home, my dad and I would always go on long walks. We solved all the world’s problems while walking the streets of the neighborhood. I really cherished those walks and know he loved them as much as me. He passed away two years ago, but even now I’ll take off on a walk and invite him along, telling him about my life and enjoying the time and space to be in his memory. I can’t encourage others enough to make the time and space to just be with the people you love as much as you can.

    • Alison says...

      I do this too. My dad passed away 11 years ago when I was in my 20s and we had talked about everything under the sun, so much, over the years that I didn’t know how to stop doing that with him. He loved hiking and sailing, and the ocean and the wind, so sometimes when I’m outside working in the yard by myself and it’s windy or when I’m driving alone alongside the ocean I’ll talk to him. It’s surprising when sometimes it feels like he’s right there, or maybe that’s not a surprise at all :)

    • Jenn P says...

      My dad taught me to ski, and we used to go as a family every winter. He passed away 2 years ago as well, and nowadays when I’m skiing and I hear (what I know is just the echo of my skis off the mountains) him behind me, I take that run to ski with him.

  50. Meredith says...

    Despite coming from a loud, laughing family, I still have some social anxiety. Time and distance have made those special connection moments equally more important and challenging. When visiting I plan my alone time with siblings and parents around the places they feel most comfortable. With mom it’s treating her to a mani/pedi where we just gab. Quality time with dad is running errands and solving all the worlds problems while stuck in traffic. No matter the location it’s the one-on-one conversations that I always carry home with me, on thaose long and sometimes painful flights to my other „home“

  51. Maryann says...

    I love this idea and also try it with my parents and my own kids on family holidays. This feels particularly important now as my dad has Alzheimer’s and he is slowly leaving us. This Thanksgiving, he and I ran/walked a turkey trot race. We chatted both shallow and deep and when we crossed the finish line, my dad gave me a high five. The memory of the trot might be kind of fuzzy, but I like to think that the feeling of being together while doing it is permanent.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that, maryann. it sounds really special.

  52. Emily says...

    I often get together with a big group of high school friends around Christmas time. After, my mom will ask how so and so’s job is going or if they’re moving etc and I usually don’t know because in a big group we just chit chat but don’t get real updates! One on one or smaller groups is a great idea.

  53. cate says...

    somewhat related, but would love some tips on getting alone time on big family trips. Whenever I’m with my husband’s family, I always need some time to decompress and go for a walk or run by myself. Whenever I mention it, everyone else decides it’s a great idea and they want to join too! Can’t seem to find a non-rude way of saying I’d like to be alone.

    • agnes says...

      Sometimes, just saying you need your time alone will make it clear for the others and you will be that person in the group, who needs time alone. There is always the one who cooks or the one who does the dishes or the one who tells great stories… You can be the one who needs time on her own,

    • lomavistagirl says...

      My mom used to solve this problem by offering to go grocery shopping. She happily escaped our large family visits for an hour or two without anybody being the wiser.

    • Bex says...

      This happens a lot in my family! The only real way to get alone time on trips is to tell them outright “I need some time alone to recharge, but then I’m game to do XYZ!” Nobody has ever had a problem with it. In fact, sometimes it helps our extreme extroverts to realize they need a few minutes to themselves as well!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      the grocery shopping hack is genius!

    • Kristen says...

      My sweet stepfather-in-law walks to the grocery store at least once a day when he’s visiting us! He never had kids of his own and is used to calmly reading the newspaper for a couple of hours each morning, but he’s game to stay at our small, wild house and wrestle with his grandsons whenever his wife wants to. To me, those daily trips are a sure sign of love…and we’re always coming up with things we really need from the store to give him a break from the madness.

    • Laurie says...

      I always say I need to run to the drug store. Nobody ever asks to come along and I’ve never had a follow up question! And then I look at magazines and eat mentos. ;)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Haha, Laurie, yes!

    • Amanda says...

      It has taken me years to figure out how to carve out time alone when on family vacation with my partner’s family. His giant athletic family is pretty overwhelming for bookish (NOT sporty) me. Enlisting his help has been key. He can make sure his family knows I need some time without it being a big deal, and can redirect things if it looks like I’m going to be strong armed (in an inclusive, well-intentioned way) into a game of tennis. It has also really helped to get our own rental car, rather than sharing a car with other folks. It’s a big expense for a car that just sits there most of the time, but for the couple of times that I go do something on my own, it’s totally worth it. Oh, and I like to bake, so sometimes I just opt out of other activities to make some cookies or something. Nobody can argue with warm cookies.

    • CandiceZ says...

      Haha they LOOoooooove You! And think you’re so cool and smart. Lol. Sweet, funny, and I’m sure makes you feel a little batty at the moment. I’m with Grocery Store for the win! I’m particularly fond of Siesta too.

  54. celeste says...

    One thing I’ve done the last couple of years: take a photo of everyone at the table. Especially the kids table or seniors. Our oldest babies are 11 and 10 in our family and in 10 years they might not want to come home. And my husband’s grandfather’s now gone.

  55. What a great tip! I get easily overwhelmed by the loud craziness at big family gatherings. Definitely going to try to slip out with just an aunt or a cousin next time :)

  56. Katie Weltner says...

    YES! One-on-one time is key. We have a small table away from the chaos of the kitchen/dining room where we keep a cribbage board – it’s a nice way to sneak away for a 20 minute game. And it gives me something to talk about with the relatives I don’t know as well :)

    Plus, I SKUNK ‘EM EVERY TIME

    • Annie says...

      I love this! As we’re doing work on our house, one goal is to have a game/puzzle table somewhere. I love the idea of leaving a puzzle in progress for people to spend a little time on, to unwind alone or chat one-on-one.

  57. Jen says...

    Love this!

  58. agnes says...

    Thank you so much for that great idea/piece of advice. I love having a crowded house but I’m more of an introvert so I get exhausted after a few days. That’s something I should do, escape with one friend and get my energy back! Your parents are so young, that’s lovely (my dad is 90, which is lovely too, just different ;-)

  59. sarah-mai says...

    I feel this so much. I was just thinking that today…I just saw my family but I’m still missing them in a way that feels more than just the norm. I love this idea!