With Christmas coming and Thanksgiving behind us, we are now seriously in the Holy-Day season. And along with the exhilaration and anticipation of celebrating Christ’s birth can come some serious logistical challenges. For example, who is going to celebrate where? And when? As a covenantal community who rejoices in family and generational faithfulness, what do Papa and Nana (or Nina and Poppy, or whatever) do about having all the kids over? And what does each individual family unit do about going (or not going) to Grandma’s? I’m not pretending to solve any dilemmas here, but I will give you a few suggestions or guidelines to help out.
First, for the grandmas out there, myself included: The principle is always to set your children free. This means setting them free from manipulation, emotional appeals, demands, and expectations. And I understand that this is a tall order, especially at Christmas. Remember how you felt way back when you were first married? Did you ever feel the pressure of wanting your parents’ and in-laws’ approval? Did you ever feel their criticism? Do you remember how much you didn’t like that pressure to perform and how you vowed you would NEVER do this to your own children? Well, here is your opportunity. Make your home a place where your children WANT to come.
Daughters and daughters-in-law among you out there, here is my exhortation to you: Honor your husband and honor your parents and in-law parents. Bless the gray heads in your family by bestowing your children on them (in doses they will enjoy). The glory of old age is children’s children. Be a big, huge, gigantic, ginormous blessing to your parents and in-laws. Don’t be stingy at a time like Christmas. Whoop it up. Don’t have “dibbies” on your own time, but bestow your attention and lavish your time on your parents. Find out how you can help with the big party, and then enjoy it all.
Now having said that, I totally agree that there is nothing evil about wanting to have your own family Christmas time together. I remember when we were first married, my husband said that he didn’t much care when we had our own family Christmas, but he wanted to make sure we did. So we did. We usually spent Christmas Eve with his family (which involved Chinese food and mandarin oranges and opening gifts at their house), had our own Christmas morning celebration, and then drove up the snowy road (80 miles) to see my parents and have a big Christmas dinner. Once the kids got older and wanted to stay home and play with their new toys, we would go up to my folks a day or two later. Now we still make a trip up there sometime around Christmas, but we don’t try to gather up all the kids and grandkids. Besides, it is a bit overwhelming for everyone when we do. And our children have their own commitments to their children and to their other set of grandparents as well as to us.
Many of the families in our church have all the in-laws and grandparents right here in town. It’s tricky to share with everyone because what if several siblings are married, and they all have in-laws in town as well. So as grandparents, we need to set the tone for the party. And the tone should include being easy going, bestowing, serving, sacrificing.
You can have a family meeting (phone, email, whatever works) and ask your kids if they would like to get together. Something like this: Why don’t you all talk it over and let us know. We are easy. We can do Christmas Eve, we can do Christmas Day, we can do Boxing Day, or any combination of the above.
If you still have little people at home, and the older married kids are in town, you can let the married kids know that you would love to see them whenever they can work it out, and that you would like to be flexible to include them whether it is Christmas morning, dinner, or whatever other traditions you have. The welcome mat is out, in other words.
I’ve seen some very creative solutions to this around here. One set of grandparents have all their children and grandchildren over on the 23rd for “Christmas Eve” and then celebrate Christmas on the morning of the 24th. This frees the kids up to do whatever they want for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and it frees the grandparents to go visit their own elderly parents on the 25th.
Some families with many “shoe-string” relatives in town have very LARGE gatherings. In case you don’t understand the concept of shoe-string relations, it would mean for us, for example, including my daughter-in-law’s family as well as her sister’s in-laws….and also my son-in-law’s parents and his sister’s family and her in-laws, and you get the picture. In Moscow, we have lots of this kind of thing going on, and they are all in way over their heads!
I realize some of you have difficult situations that include divorced parents or grandparents, or demanding parents who are not inclined to set you free. When parents are over-bearing, it is understandable if you have to draw a line. But I would encourage you to do it graciously, and make a point of connecting some other time if you can’t on Christmas. Some couples rotate, one year at his folks, the next year at hers. In all these things remember the principle to honor Christ as you honor your parents. Pray for wisdom and stick on the same page with your husband. If he wants to stay home this year, then joyfully cooperate. Don’t let such things create tension in the relationship. Pray for one mind on these things and remember our time here is short. In a few years things may be very different.