The past few weeks I’ve written several posts at A Biblical Marriage, trying to negotiate the dangerous “minefield” of holiday stresses– finances and traditions, and unrealistic expectations so far, overcommitment and exhaustion to come. But I realized I had more to say, because when you mix it all together it can really cause explosions!
Traditions provide continuity and a fun staple of family memories, but it’s unreasonable to expect them to remain the same forever. Sandy Coughlin wrote a great post about when it’s time to change, and included this profound statement:
“Tradition is a beautiful thing if it doesn’t overwhelm you. But with traditions come a lot of expectations. And with failed expectations come a lot of stress and guilt.” The Reluctant Entertainer
I was seriously upset the year my kids decided to ditch a tradition that I loved. Our first house was a small frame house on piers. We had a large gas space heater that normally kept us plenty warm in our temperate southeast Texas winters. However one year it was freakishly cold, dipping into the teens, so we left the heater on that Christmas eve, shut off Sis’s bedroom, and moved her to a pallet on the floor where Sunshine and the Boy had bunk beds. Well of course they all ended up on the floor and had a big slumber party. It was an accidental start to a tradition that lasted several years, and I just *LOVED* it. It seemed so like the Waltons!
Fast forward to 1995. We moved to a larger brick house with central heating. All the kids — ages 10, 11, and 14–had their own rooms. When I started talking about getting the music room ready for them to sleep there they all let me know really quick that they wanted no part of that lame idea! Sweet and fun as it was, its time had passed, but Mom wasn’t ready for it to go. (I did let it go, but pouted about it.)
Any time something changes– it could be the ages of your children, the height of your ceilings (We had to stop having a 9′ tree.); the time your Sunday School starts (this was a killer; we had to stop having pancakes on Sunday morning!); or family members’ jobs, you might have to change and adapt your expectations. We don’t “do our tree” with the kids on Christmas morning after breakfast anymore, but I still fix our “Christmas morning casserole” and Mr X’s parents come eat with us.
Another area we can have a lot of unrealistic expectations is in the area of finances. If you are living on a shoestring and barely making ends meet through the year, it’s silly to expect a huge haul of gifts for the children (or ourselves) at Christmas, but we still do it sometimes. Those insecurities about our parenting slip in and we can feel like parenting failures if we can’t get our kids the latest big thing. Be careful about this!
Now let’s get personal. We all have “rules,” ideas that we think should be carried out. They are the cause of many upsets in marriages. Back at A Biblical Marriage, LeRoy and Gina wrote a great post about figuring out their vacation rules in Tips for Successful Travel with a New Spouse. Scott wrote a hilarious one about choosing our battles. Sometimes we don’t realize what our rules are until they are broken; we are furious, and our spouse is bewildered! Know your rules, and figure out if they are worth keeping. Here’s a true story of my best friend:
The first year she and her husband were married, she thought they should make and decorate Christmas cookies. She mixed them up, rolled them out, and they were ready to go. He was watching football or something and wasn’t interested. She was furious and dumped them all in the trash! He was flabbergasted and didn’t have a clue what he had done wrong.
The holidays seem to magnify any weakness we have or that we see, and they make for some of the most stubborn ideas about what the rules are. Have you seen family misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and fights over these issues? I’ve seen several.
- I have to cook ALL the food, from scratch. (Result: I’m exhausted, and if you don’t eat it all I take it as a personal affront and am mad at you.)
- My sister got a diamond necklace for Christmas and I want one too. (Oops… didn’t budget for that, so I guess we go into debt, or have a resentful wife and a husband who feels inadequate because he can’t get his wife what she wants, which can both spiral into bigger problems.)
- You stayed with your in-laws LAST Christmas.. it’s our turn! (Keeping score is a sure way to result in family strife.)
- I’ve got so many parties to go to, programs to decorate for, rehearse, and perform in, that when I finally get home, I’m too exhausted to give my husband and children the attention they need. (What is my first priority supposed to be?)
- We have to eat Thanksgiving dinner ON Thanksgiving Day at noon. (Oh well. The Boy works in a Country Club restaurant and holidays are some of their biggest days. If we stuck to that rule, we would miss out on him.)
- We have to have a whole turkey and Grandma’s dressing. None of that new-fangled Food Network stuff!
You get the idea. Avoid Holiday Explosions! Examine yourself and figure out your rules. See how they measure up to THE rules. Adjust yours if necessary. Be flexible and understanding. Extend grace! Remember the Reason we are celebrating, after all, and pray that everything you say and do will point people TO Him and not AWAY from Him.