By Philip O. Johnson, CFP®
In the movie Field of Dreams, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, driven by a voice that whispers, “If you build it, they will come,” cuts down his cornfield to build a baseball diamond. He’s rewarded by visits from Shoeless Joe Jackson and other baseball legends, but his most treasured experience comes when his father makes his way through the corn to play the game of catch they never had time to play when he was alive. More than his famous visitors, Ray values the simple father-son bond.
Connection to family is an essential part of our biological and emotional identy, and it must be nurtured if it is to remain strong. For many of my clients, there is a growing philosophy, “I’d rather spend some of my money uniting my family while I am alive, rather than have it just disappear after I am gone.”
Viola Hubbard, of Ahwatukee, has been a great friend and mentor in building family relationships. In years past, while her husband was living, they would reserve cabins for their children and grandchildren at Zion’s National Park in southern Utah. “We would set a date far in advance,” notes Viola. “Not everyone could always come,” she says, “but it is important to learn to have fun with those that can. We did hiking and horseback riding, but the best time was in the evenings when we would sit in a circle on the grass and tell stories and just enjoy talking.”
Here are some ideas for creating time together and cherished memories with extended family:
1) Set a repeating date. It is important, especially in large families, to plan activities far in advance. For many, a set date makes things easier (i.e. every other Thanksgiving, etc.) My wife’s family gets together each year for “July Pioneer Days” at her parents’ home in Snowflake. It has become a tradition that no one wants to miss.
2) When it comes to expenses, there is no “fair share.” Often, family gatherings get mired down by the finances required to make them happen. And, if the cost is too high, young families may not be able to afford to participate. When possible, I encourage the older generation to help foot the bill, if they have the assets. For example, grandparents could pay for airfare and lodging to bring a group together, and children and grandchildren could pay for their own smaller expenses.
3) Keep an itinerary organized, but flexible. Mix and match activities. Some are for everyone and some they pick and choose. Encourage each age group to have an activity by themselves so they can get to know each other better.
4) Wear them out and then circle them in. Viola notes that “it has been a good day when everyone is exhausted from fun activities, and then they come together in the evening to visit and hear stories. During one family reunion in Zion’s Park, all the children had to go put on bright-colored pajamas before they could come and sit in the circle in the grass before bedtime. It was a time for the active little ones to mellow out and listen to stories about when their parents were children.”
5) Focus on unity. Families may have diversity when it comes to political opinions, popular culture, and individual personalities. Family reunions, however, should be a time when the goal is to establish a common ground and respect for all present.
6) Build a family team. Viola has a motto for family gatherings, and it is: “YOU are responsible to make sure that you have a good time.” Never allow family members to expect to be entertained, unless they are providing the entertainment! Communicate that everyone is part of the family team and delegate responsibilities to all that are big enough to help. (This includes advance preparations, meals, activities, programs, and cleanup.) You may be the organizer, but that doesn’t mean that you have to do all the work!
7) The work is worth it. Most great family gatherings don’t happen by committee. It usually takes someone who is willing to step up to the plate and do a lot of the initial work to get things going. Is it fair? No. Is it worth it? Absolutely. When all is said and done, the time we devote to creating a strong family culture is one of the most satisfying things we can do. Or, as Viola likes to say, “If you plan it, they will come…”
Source: Focus Point, Iron Point Capital Management
Fun Local Activities for Family Reunions:
Arizona Museum of Natural History
MacDonald and Main Street, Mesa
This not-too-big museum offers lots to see, and even a “flash flood” occuring every half hour. It has the best dinosaur exhibit in town and a courtyard where visitors can pan for gold. Cost is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, and $6 for children.
455 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix
Home to more than 1,200 animals, the Phoenix Zoo offers everything from elephants and giraffes to macaws and meerkats, as well as a trail dedicated to Arizona wildlife. Animal encounters, keepers’ talks and feeding-time shows are scheduled daily, and overnight camping activities are held. Food, strollers, wheelchairs and a gift shop are available.
McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park
7301 E. Indian Bend Rd, Scottsdale
Located in the heart of Scottsdale, this unique park offers rides on the Paradise and Pacific railroad and an antique carousel and shops. Kids 3 and younger ride free with paying adult.
Usery Mountain Regional Park
4 miles west of Apache Junction and 5 miles north of U.S. Route 60 on Ellsworth Road
The lower Sonoran Desert park offers more than 3,600 acres of recreational opportunities including camping, hiking, picnicking, horseback- and mountain-bike riding. Other amenities include a six-course archery range with 4 miles of trail and various educational presentations and hikes.