74: Susan Alexander Yates | Creating Connection Through Cousin Camp & Extended Family Gatherings

Susan Alexander Yates

Susan is a mom to five children and grandmother to 21. She has been married to her husband John for 50 years.  They live in Falls Church, Virginia, a Washington D.C. suburb where John has recently retired as Senior Pastor of The Falls Church Anglican.

Susan has written 16 books and speaks on the subjects of marriage, parenting, faith issues, and women’s issues.

Susan blogs once a week at susanalexanderyates.com. She also writes for Club31Women.

Susan is a North Carolina Tarheel. She loves Monday night football, ACC basketball, shooting hoops with my grandsons, hiking and riding horseback with my husband, running and talking with girlfriends. You are not likely to find me at the mall; I’d rather be at the farm. You won’t find me in the kitchen by choice; I’d rather be outdoors with my golden retriever. My favorite time of the year is June when all my kids and grandkids are together for a week of “cousin and family camp” in the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia.

Susan and I chat about how her family vision of the love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself led her and John to begin hosting a Cousin Camp for their 21 grandchildren. We also discuss letting going of the expectation of being appreciated and creating meaningful family connections through extended family gatherings.

1:43 Susan shares about her new book Cousin Camp

Free Download:  Camp at Home: 100 Practical Ideas for Families

5:06 You have 21 grandchildren and have hosted a cousin camp for the past 11 years.  Take us back and share what led to the first cousin camp and what the week looked like.

“We had always prayed for our kids from the time they started coming…that they would learn to love the Lord with all their heart, mind and soul and then the second commandment, to love their neighbor as ourself. That’s sort of been our family vision as we’ve raised our children.”

“We’ve now had camp for 11 years, and all 21 of our grandchildren now come, but one of the hallmark traditions is the largest Sunday in our county, Warren County in Virginia. I bought a gutter the first year at the hardware store and then lined it with aluminum foil…and put rows and rows of ice cream and toppings and nuts and whipped cream all down the gutter.”

“The thing that’s been so beautiful is to watch the influence that the older kids have on the younger kids. We talk about peer pressure, and it always seems to be in the context of the negative, but I have seen peer pressure work in the context of the positive over and over again, at each camp.”

13:45 What are some of the nuts and bolts of cousin camp or really any gathering of people that you’re consistently doing from year to year.

Friends, Chuck and Kathy, taught them to plan an event differently.  Instead of program planning, plan according to the needs of the participants.

  • The grid of needs
  • Write down the names of participants
  • Identify needs in 5 areas of growth (spiritual, mental, emotional, social, and physical)

19:40 In Cousin Camp you wrote, “There’s one big expectation we all need to let go of, over and over. It’s the expectation of being appreciated. We want our adult children to appreciate us, and we want our grandchildren to appreciate us.” Expound of that a bit.

“There’s a lot of expectations we’ll have about camp and we have about life and we have about our husbands and our kids that get disappointed and that can either make us bitter, or it can make us people filled with grace.”

“It’s an unrealistic expectation to expect that your kids will appreciate you now. They will appreciate you maybe 20 years from now, but not right now. So I think that’s something we all have to get over.”

27:04 The goal is to create connections that last.  Share with us some other ideas people you know have put this “cousin camp” idea into practice.

“I recommend that short is always better than long because you want something to be a big success the first one so that people want more next time. You don’t want them to be waiting for it to be over.”

35:41 What would you say to a person listening who loves this idea, but feels it’s too late to start.  How would you encourage him/her to move forward?

I”‘d say just the first principle is it’s never too late to do what’s right. It’s never too late. Even if you come from a painful family situation, our God is a God who redeems.”

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