Two years ago I shared a post titled, “How Not to Make Your Grown Children Hate Christmas.” Over 50,000 people read, shared, and commented on that blog post. It hit a nerve. And let’s be honest, this year will be even harder for most of us.
So, let’s talk about this together, one more time, but the pandemic edition. ~ Suzie
A long time ago I made myself a promise as a young mama —
. . . when I was hauling kids into the car and packing the trunk with food and gifts at dawn.
When I was trying to leave one place so I could hurry to the next. When I longed for Christmas morning to be a little less pressure packed and maybe even at my own home. I made that promise when I realized there was always at least one person disappointed (and one year, downright angry) because we weren’t where we were supposed to be, at the time we were supposed to be there, even though we had spent hours in the car going from place to place.
Years later, I realize that I saw this from a fog of exhaustion. In reality, some family was flexible or at least tried hard to be. Some were not, and it wasn’t because they were vindictive or trying to make things hard for us. They just wanted Christmas to be like it always had been.
But this is the deal.
It wasn’t the same.
When our kids grow up, our families expand. We gain daughters-in-law, sons-in-law. We are now part of an extended family that spans beyond our own. We are no longer the only ones who want to spend time with our kiddos, and the grandchildren when they become a part of the picture.
Looking back, I see good memories. A ton of them. But in those early years it often felt like I was juggling everyone else’s expectations. We were the first to have children. We were the first to be married on either side. We were breaking new territory and sometimes it felt like I was “messing up” the way things had always been. For a girl who loved Christmas — every single thing about it — I realized one day that I no longer loved Christmas and that made me incredibly sad. For a believer this weighed heavy. How could I share the joy of Christ with my young family when I wrestled with resentment, uncertainty, and frustration?
It was during that time I made myself this promise as I looked into the eyes of my children: One day, when they grow up, I will do different.
When I was 31 years old, cancer gave us an incredible gift. I was going through chemotherapy. Radiation was next. That Christmas no one said a word about expectations. I’d see a flash when I laid down for a nap, my body tired from the chemotherapy running through my veins. I knew what they were doing. This might be our last Christmas together.
They were treasuring the gift of now and I will always be grateful for that unexpected gift that came out of a hard season.
But let’s not wait for a crisis to do something different or maybe let’s allow this current crisis to be a catalyst. Let’s recognize the power we have, whether intentional or now, to make this special time hard for those we love the most and change that.
So, where do we begin?
Be open to the “new”
There’s something beautiful about tradition, but there’s also something special about making new traditions. In non-pandemic seasons, that means that we don’t hold so tightly to a tradition that it becomes more important than our people. If a daughter-in-law loves seeing the lights, but that’s the night you’ve always opened presents, surprise her. See the lights. Have fun with that. Make hot chocolate. Make it an adventure. Open the presents later or the next morning. When you do this, you not only let your grown children know that they are more important than a tradition, but you just might make some new ones in the process.
In a pandemic, there are lots of opportunities for the “new.” Maybe you don’t get together in person, but you host a teleparty and watch a movie together, even if you are miles apart. Maybe you drop gifts at the door in a parade. Maybe you take a hike as a family outside.
Just let your family know you are open to new ideas, to new traditions, and you are listening.
Take the pressure off
Most of the time we aren’t even aware that we are putting pressure on. After all, you are excitedly putting together food, making your home welcoming, and looking forward to seeing them. One thing we can do is to make Christmas about our time together, rather than the day we celebrate it.
When we did this, we discovered our children worked really hard to be with us, because it was pressure free. There have been lots of times that we met on the 27th or 18th. There have been times Richard and I were alone on Christmas, as our grown children celebrated their own day with their kids, or were with their other families.
We decided to make those days special for us. We might take a hike if the weather allows, or do something that we love as a sweet indulgence (like watching Christmas movies all day long with hot chocolate and kettle corn). We let our kids know that we are perfectly able to have fun on Christmas Day, and when they do come we’ll have more fun. We don’t worry about a specific day on the calendar. Christmas is about Jesus first, and then it’s about the family. So whatever day they arrive, it works.
Recognize your own struggle
I get it. This year is the worst when it comes to being with family. I miss my own mom and dad. I miss touch. I miss being with friends around my kitchen table. It’s hard being six feet apart and wearing masks so my loved ones can be safe. I want things to be normal and it doesn’t appear like that’s going to happen any time soon.
But the reality is that our children are not supposed to fill the need of Christmas in our heart. They are not supposed to juggle and finagle and worry about who is mad at who. When they see us, they’ll see that we love them and Jesus is our need-meeter. He’s the one who fills the gaps.
Recognize what you can and cannot do
Romans 12:18, reminds us that, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” I can’t make everyone agree. I am not big enough to fix anyone who refuses to be flexible.
The only person I can “fix” is me. I don’t have control over a lot of things, especially in a pandemic, but I do have the option of bringing peace into this season. My good friend Holley Gerth says that “peace is not the absence of something but the presence of Someone.” I love that. I can soak in God’s presence. I can seek him as part of my everyday. I can put him front and center in this crazy, chaotic season we are in and walk into Christmas with that as my guide.
Last year it took 52 texts to figure out Christmas.
I didn’t start the texts; they did. They got sillier and more fun as we tried to figure out when to meet. There were inappropriate gifs and memes, but that’s who my kids are and I love it. It was a little more special last year because I had just found out I had cancer again (after all those years before) and their dad had just had an out-of-the-blue heart surgery. We found a date. We made some plans. We held them lightly.
In this picture, Richard is post-surgery and I’m about to have a double mastectomy in the next two weeks. It took flexibility and time to figure out how to make this happen, but when we got together it was wild and wooly, just as I anticipated, but beautiful.
One last thing
If you are on the other side of someone’s anger or disappointment this Christmas, I pray God’s peace wraps around your tender heart, and you see how beautiful you are to him.
If you are the one struggling to hold on to what “once was,” would you consider releasing that to discover something new in this season? You might be surprised at what you gain when you do.
Merry Christmas a little early, friends.
Reaching for a huge hug (I’m really missing hugs in this pandemic.)
Q: Traditions are important, but people are more important. What is one way you can be more flexible this Christmas?
Q: Read Romans 12:18 — How can you bring peace into your current situation (as far as it depends on you)?
“As I read this devotional, I walked with Jesus daily and fell in love with Him all over again.”
The Come With Me Devotional is an invitation to walk with Jesus and rediscover who He is, and how that knowledge changes us. What better time to do that than in this season? This gorgeous hardback devotional is a perfect Christmas gift for you or a loved one or a friend.
Another great resource for you
- Listen to this week’s More Than Small Talk #podcast episode. It’s a fun twist on Christmas with guest, Mary Carver with great and unique ideas on how to celebrate Christmas this season.