WE’RE TEACHING THIS
By Autumn Ward
When it comes to Christmas, there is a lot to look forward to. Candy canes, tinsel, twinkling lights, and—oh, right. The gifts. If you’re like most people, you’ve probably spent some time thinking about the gifts you’re hoping to receive this Christmas. Maybe you’ve even made a list so your friends and family know exactly what to give you. But while it’s fun to unwrap a gift you’ve been waiting and hoping for, have you ever been given a gift that took you entirely by surprise? A gift you didn’t even know you wanted until you opened it? A gift that was completely unexpected? Unexpected gifts have been at the heart of the Christmas story for more than two thousand years, beginning with the very first Christmas. And believe it or not, it was God who began the tradition. For the next few weeks, we’ll talk about three times God surprised the world with a gift that was entirely unexpected. And, as we do, we might just discover how much those gifts continue to matter today.
THINK ABOUT THIS
One night last December, I found myself sitting at the kitchen table making Christmas cookies – by myself. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that was not the plan. That was not our tradition.
Now that my kids are teenagers with busy schedules of their own, no one else was home but me. So there I sat, clinging to my tradition, making cookies alone – and feeling pretty sad about the whole thing. (I’m sure I let everyone know how sad I was when they got home.)
One thing parenting has taught me about traditions is that they are easy to start and hard to let go. So what happens when the kids get older and you find yourself experiencing more transition than tradition?
The first thing I had to do was accept that transition is a part of life. It’s evidence that my kids are growing up and growing up is a good thing. It’s ok that they don’t want to watch Frosty the Snowman or make ornaments out of felt anymore. Now that they’re college and high school age their interests have changed – they are transitioning. Knowing that, if we want to stay connected with our kids, tweaking a tradition or even starting a new one needs to happen.
Second, their dad and I had to decide which traditions were worth clinging to and which ones we needed to let go. We did this by simply asking the kids which traditions meant the most to them. This helped so much! I was surprised by some of the things they said, like getting a peppermint milkshake in our PJs while driving around looking at Christmas lights had to stay. That one still gets two thumbs up! Making the gingerbread house on the other hand...it could go. (And while we’re at it, the Christmas cartoons could go too!) Who knew? They knew! Deciding on traditions with the kids gave us permission to let go of some things – guilt free – and stop trying to force moments to happen that they had outgrown.
Finally, I had to remind myself the purpose of traditions in the first place. Traditions are meant to keep us connected to the ones we love and give us a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves – not make us feel exhausted, frustrated and disappointed (maybe even a little depressed). As long as I have a relationship with my kids, things are good. We don’t have to make Christmas cookies to stay connected or to have a relationship or even to have a wonderful Christmas. We just need time with each other.
Now that I have one kid away at college and two teens at home, being together in the same place at the same time is difficult, which makes keeping up with our traditions difficult. I’m learning to make the most of the time I have with my family rather than pout over the time I don’t have.
If we have some minutes in the car, we turn up the Christmas music and sing together. So what if we’re not gathered around the fireplace like we did when they were younger. Since watching the holiday Hallmark movies is one of my kids’ favorite things to do, I make sure and record them so when we find ourselves together I can pop the popcorn and have a spontaneous movie night.
I allow my kids’ friends to join the fun because my kids really like being with their friends. Rather than look at it like their friends are invading our traditions, I’m thankful my kids and their friends are letting me hangout with them. It’s all in your perspective.
The point is we’re together, staying connected with the ones we love during the holidays. After all, when you really think about it, it’s the relationship with your kids you should be fighting for, not the tradition. So keep a loose grip on those traditions but hold tightly to the hearts of your kids.
As parents, it can be tempting to assume which holiday traditions are most important for our family members and which ones aren’t. This Christmas, try asking your son or daughter...
• Which Christmas traditions do you hope we keep going for a long time? • Which ones would you be okay with ending?
• What is one new tradition you’d like to start this year?
By starting the conversation, you may be surprised at what you find. Sometimes traditions that seem silly to us are the most meaningful and memorable to our kids. Remember, fight for the relationship with your kid, not the tradition.