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Family Picnics and Other Natural Disasters

Picnics and barbecues are supposed to be part of the bonding glue that holds families together.  But sometimes having to smile a lot, be jolly, curb your tongue, converse with people you don’t normally associate with and being on your best behaviour is physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausting.  Coupled with high expectations for the day, it can also be the detonation that drives the family apart.  Put a group of family members in a close knit situation and it can be the dry kindling to a lethal bush fire.

That was not the case yesterday on Father’s Day in Western Australia.  For once everything went smoothly, the shopping, the cooking, the preparing, packing the esky, letting my sixteen year old son drive us there in his car, choosing the right spot with enough shade, setting up the table and sitting down to wine and beer and good conversations.

Two essential ingredients to the smooth running of a good family picnic are wine and beer.  There should be enough to go round and enough to soothe the savage memories of the ghosts of previous picnics gone by.

One such disaster was when we traveled in separate cars to a far away country destination where my daughter turned right instead of left at a crucial T-junction and we ended up 200 kilometres apart. Choose a location within a ten kilometre radius and you can’t go wrong.  We all backtracked and got to a closer destination, but tempers were frayed, nerves were shattered and the wine was warm.  It didn’t turn out well.  Keeping it simple is part of the perfect picnic process.

A once-in-a-lifetime family picnic turned out not so well for a friend.  Her mother was visiting from over East and the reluctant clan had been called and gathered from far and yonder.  These were strangers who had not seen each other for decades.  The mother was narcissistically inclined, sat in the kitchen with a cup of coffee, barking out orders left, right and centre and my friend who was desperately trying to please her mother wore herself out trying to prepare the picnic, prod her husband out of the armchair, keep her mother happy and remain sane during the process.

By the time they got to their destination she was ready to go home, crawl into bed and sleep till her mother departed for another land.

Her mother poured a large glass of wine, plonked herself down in a deckchair, and declared, “that this was the most relaxing day of her holiday so far.”   My friend begged to differ.

A good family picnic is when at the end of the day no-one needs to ring the police, call an ambulance, phone their therapist or consult their lawyer.

Family Picnics and Other Natural Disasters

Sonia Neale

Sonia Neale was recently awarded the Inaugural Barbara Hocking SANE Australia Fellowship to study and research Borderline Personality Disorder overseas in the USA, Canada, UK and Ireland. Her previous Psych Central blog was called Therapy Unplugged. She is the author of two books, The Bad Mother’s Revenge and Death by Teenager, both published by ABC Books/Harper Collins. She lives in Western Australia, is married with three adult children, has studied psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has a Certificate IV in Mental Health and is studying for a Psychology/Counselling degree. She currently works as a peer support worker in the mental health field.

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APA Reference
Neale, S. (2010). Family Picnics and Other Natural Disasters. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 Sep 2010
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