In Under the Tuscan Sun (1996), a memoir about her experiences in Cortona, a small quintessentially medieval city, Frances Mayes eloquently fostered the fantasy and romance of life in Tuscany: “My idea of heaven still is to drive the gravel farm roads of Umbria and Tuscany, very pleasantly lost.” Italy seems to be on everyone’s bucket list these days, so when the prospect of having a reunion in Tuscany is suggested to family members, it creates a mystique that immediately threads them together.
But family reunion relationships can be complicated. Each unit develops its own internal culture, its practices and ways of approaching the world. In our family of childhood, typically parents and siblings, we learn the look on dad’s face that tells you and your siblings that he’s really serious this time, the funny way that your brother communicates that only you and your siblings understand, the inside jokes about your favorite uncle, the way that mom cooks your favorite dish that no one else can match, the seating arrangement at your dinner table, the rituals that are unique to your family.
By the time we’re adults, most of us also have a family of adulthood—our spouse or partner and our children, if we have any—that develops its own culture, which may be different from our family of childhood. When people have reunions with their family of childhood, their family of adulthood and the families of adulthood of their siblings, there is potential for a clash of cultures and differences of opinion about the important things in life.