Last Updated on October 5, 2018

Exhausting, exhilarating, bonding, hysterical and oh yeah, did I mention exhausting??


We just had our annual “Yates Family Reunion.” We have 5 kids, all married and 21 grandchildren- 14 of which are 5 or under! So there were 33 of us gathered for five days at our little farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Good friends own the farm next door so we spilled over to their place for extra sleeping room but we still had babies in closets, children on floors, and adults sleeping on a porch.

Nearly every summer since our kids were little we’ve tried to get away for a week just to be a family. It’s a big commitment, takes a lot of work and can be inconvenient. But the results are well worth the labors. Over the years of blunders and blessings we’ve learned a few things which I hope will encourage you as you anticipate some family time this summer.


It makes a huge difference if you think through the time together ahead and come up with a schedule. Before planning a schedule consider the needs of those attending. These needs will change from year to year. Because we now have a lot of babies we have a scheduled nap time after lunch while babies sleep and older kids are on their own to do crafts, read, etc. Make a list of things to do during nap time for non sleepers and have supplies ready. When our own kids were in their middle years we had a morning Bible Study time with a special theme each vacation. One year at the beach we studied passages about the sea and when a huge storm hit, Jonah’s story took on new meaning! With so many small children now there is no way we can do this! I always post the week’s schedule so when a certain child asks, “What we are doing next?” I can send him to look at the schedule!


One of the needs weary Moms have is a break from little kids. So written into our schedule is “Mom’s Lunch Out” for one day from 11-2. The Dads are in charge of the kids and we Moms escape to a fun restaurant and shop. Of course, the Dads get to do the same thing the next day! This Mom needs a break from cooking. So ever since our kids were in high school we’ve assigned 2 to plan the evening meal each night. When they married they did it as a couple and thus began the great “cook-off.” (They shopped, prepared, and cleaned! I paid for the food!). Now as a bigger extended family we still share the cooking and meal planning. This summer each family was in charge of one evening meal and being on “KP” (kitchen patrol cleanup duties) that day. This enabled adults to know they didn’t have to be in the kitchen helping every day. They would have “guilt free” breaks! (Folks are on their own for breakfasts and lunch. I have plenty of “fixins.”) In a family with little children you are going to have early risers. I have a large tub filled with markers, scissors, papers, stickers, pipe cleaners, etc. which is laid out each morning to entertain small kids.


Each year we have “welcome goody bags.” I do the ones for the grandchildren and each adult couple brings something for each couple’s bag. This year the adults got a CD mix with a compilation of songs including their favorite which they submitted, a “woopee” cushion, homemade granola, nuts, and a selection of sermons on CD. The kids got water bottles (cost $1.00 each from the Dollar store) with their names on them in magic marker. (This is so they can get their own water!) They also got funky small balls, and mints. Probably our favorite tradition is creating “Warren Country’s largest banana split.” I bought a gutter from the hardware store and we line it with foil and fill it with ice cream, bananas, chocolate, and whip cream toppings and everyone digs in with their plastic spoons! Each year we go berry picking at a local farm and have a dance party in the barn. On father’s day one year we celebrated the Dads with a scavenger hunt. The children helped to make the clues. We ended the hunt with a prize to each young father—blind folded they were given the gift of a pamper filled with melted chocolate to eat! Yep, it had a deeper meaning.


With little kids it’s hard to finish a sentence. So several nights we have adult dinners. We feed the kids early and then the adults have dinner alone. Every year we take time to hear from each person. They share the highs and lows of their year and their prayer requests. Then we pray for that person or couple. Our kids have named this, “forced sharing.” We’ve been doing it ever since they were in high school. Of course they still occasionally roll their eyes at this tradition but today they would admit to you that it has become one of the most special things about our time together. And we’ve discovered that some of them have adopted this tradition with their friends! This year our daughter Susy sent out an email questionnaire that each adult had to respond to before they arrived. Questions included:

  • What is one surprising thing you’ve learned this past year about yourself, your spouse, and one of your children?
  • What is one thing you’ve been convicted of this past year?
  • What is one book you’ve read this year-why?
  • Describe each of your children in 2 words.
  • Share 5 highs and lows from the year.
  • What are you most excited about for this year? Least excited about?

What is the funniest bumper sticker or Youtube video you’ve seen this year?Our answers were brief, profound, and hysterically funny. Mac, the father of 5 kids, ages 3 and under (including quads) responded, ”Book? What is a book? I can’t remember!”


Generally, family reunions are not the best time to discuss a difficult issue. Family reunions are a time to celebrate what is good. It is better to deal with the hard issues at other times during the year. Recognize that you are going to disappoint someone and someone is going to disappoint you. We are all selfish at the core. So determine ahead to grant extra grace and to assume the best. And when you blow it, be quick to apologize and ask for forgiveness. Everything will not go as planned. Plans are always subject to change and flexibility is crucial. Your house will get “trashed.” Let it go. Have a clean-up party at the end of the time and if you are using someone else’s place leave it cleaner than you found it. Having the kids help with clean-up is a great way to train them in thoughtfulness.


It is a blessed family that gets together in today’s world. We do not want to take one another for granted. Thank your kids for being willing to come. Appreciate everything they do right. And teach your kids to thank their parents and grandparents for what they do and have done. And above all let us be thankful to God. Take time to praise and thank Him together before everyone piles in the car for that long trek home. He is good—always.

{Editor’s Note: Susan’s brilliant tips were originally shared with our readers a few years ago, but they are so helpful…we wanted to highlight them to be sure you had a chance to learn from her family reunion success!}

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