Most of us spend at least part of the Christmas season celebrating with extended family. Often times, those are joyful times of togetherness that we look forward to throughout the year.
But what happens when family gatherings are something you dread instead of anticipate at Christmas time?
Let’s face it: not everyone is blessed with a family of like-minded believers.
If you find yourself dreading holiday dinners with the family or in-laws, and are struggling to help your kids navigate a potentially stressful Christmas get together, let me offer you a little encouragement today: you are not alone!
Here are a few things to keep in mind this week if you’re rubbing shoulders with unbelieving relatives, or simply family members who do not share your values:
Make sure you’re not expecting too much of unbelieving family members.
Often times, we humans can hold others to a pretty high standard and be quick to criticize when we feel like they’re falling short of our expectations.
The truth is, unbelievers will not act like Christians. They will not necessarily value Biblical ideals or understand why you live the way you live.
It’s easy to take offense when we feel like others aren’t making right choices, or respecting our choices, but keep in mind that your unsaved family members are marching to the tune of our very unregenerate culture. Our job is not to “make them understand,” or point out everything they’re doing wrong. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit!
“These things I command you, that you love one another. If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love it’s own: but you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world…”
Remember that Christ’s love is the highest definitive of Christianity.
As a conservative Christian family, there are a lot of ear marks that set my husband, kids, and I apart from our unbelieving (or even less conservative) relatives.
The way we speak, the way we dress, our choices of entertainment, our worship and church attendance, our family values; those are just a few of the things that come to mind.
Sometimes it’s easy for conservative Christians to focus on the many values and lifestyle standards that we hold dear, and we sort of cling to those things as our marks of identification as believers. While it’s true that values and convictions set us apart, they are not what Christianity is all about.
The boldest statement for your faith or mine is the way in which we manifest the love of Jesus Christ.
Toward our spouse and children, and toward those who do not agree with or understand us.
“By THIS shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:35 (emphasis added)
Don’t make the mistake of becoming defensive.
Several years ago, a family get together just didn’t set well with me. I was weary of the needling statements about how many kids we have, about our lives as a homeschooling and ministry family, and, quite honestly, I was tired of being nice!
The thought that flew into my brain that day was, I can’t wait to prove them wrong!
Instantly, the Holy Spirit reproved me. It isn’t your job to prove them wrong, Kristy. Just let Me prove Myself right in your life.
The Holy Spirit, and the love of Christ, can do more to draw people toward the Lord than years of sermons or defensive explanations ever could.
I know it’s so easy – and so very tempting! – to rush to defend yourself in the face of questions, comments, and perceived misunderstandings.
It helps to keep in mind that people do not usually mean to offend; perhaps they are simply curious, or don’t realize that a particular topic is a bit sore. Give others the benefit of the doubt that they don’t intend to offend.
Don’t just respond – be proactive.
There are situations where definite action or prevention must take place, especially when family situations could adversely affect or influence your kids.
In those instances where a decision or action is needed, it helps to have some boundaries previously set with your spouse and children.
Here are a few boundaries our family has set over the years:
Regarding the safety of our children –
- Our kids don’t go behind closed doors, or leave the house, with other kids or adults other than Mom and Dad. The instances of child molestation within family units is staggering, so we parents cannot afford to be unaware in this area. Protect your kids! I highly recommend the Yell and Tell books; read these to your young children.
- Games and movies must be monitored by Mom and Dad. Our kids know that they need to get activities and viewing material okay’d by my husband or me. Values often vary greatly between families, so it helps if kids know that they need to respect their cousin’s restrictions or liberties, and get permission before they start a movie or a game.
- Our kids are still young (our oldest is 12), but we try to keep an open conversation policy at all times. If something is bothering them, they can talk to us about it when we are alone. Sometimes kids are exposed to language, activities, or topics that may raise questions or fears… and they need to be able to talk it out with Mom and Dad. Be available to coach and mentor your kids. Being around people of different faiths or walks of life is a normal part of growing up, but our kids need our help staying centered in Truth!
Regarding our family life –
- Jeremy and I have a mutual agreement that we don’t make major decisions or commitments with family members without first consulting each other. This single habit has spared us much grief in our thirteen years of marriage!
- As parents, we respect each others’ preferences and authority. It is absolutely necessary that Mom and Dad remain a united front! Sometimes grandparents or other relatives may unknowingly (or intentionally) push the boundaries when it comes to your kids, so it’s important to reinforce each others’ authority as Mom and Dad. What Daddy says goes, even if Grandma disagrees. 🙂
Whatever your family situation, I hope your Christmas celebrations are blessed this week!
If you’re looking for helpful resources for building strong families, I hope you’ll check out the family resources at RainbowResources.com.