Christmas is meant to be a time of great connectedness, joy and spiritual meaning about the birth of Jesus. At the same time, if your kids are now young adults who are no longer living at home with you, sometimes their expectations and yours have changed, and that can create tension. To ensure you have the very best experiences and memories during the holidays, you’ll want to first set healthy boundaries.
Right after Thanksgiving, it’s a good idea to get ahead of matters by having a direct conversation with your young adults about planning Christmas together. This can be over a meal, if you’re local, or a video chat or a phone call. Agreeing on a reasonable schedule of events and expectations can prevent a great deal of angst. Jesus said, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28). When we fail to plan, we plan to fail.
During your conversation, you can cover these key topics:
Location. Where will you hold the festivities? Often, people have to divide time between several homes. For example, your married daughter may want to spend the morning at your house and the evening at her in-laws’ house. Get everyone’s schedules and desires on the table, and work out something equitable.
Give grace and flexibility to your children, as they have their own concerns. Also be clear about what you desire in terms of location. If you’d like the young adults to spend more time at your home, certainly mention it. But if for whatever reason, other homes are getting more of your young adults, accept it gracefully and move on. Just be kind and make the best of it after you’ve stated what you’d like. No guiltifying allowed. You may also want to ask if there’s anything you can change that would make them want to spend more time with you. This is often a revealing conversation.
Meal. What will happen that day? Some people say, “Oh, whatever,” meaning Mom will be left to do the work to make a great meal while everyone else sits around. Clearly communicate what you’d like to have happen and how everyone can be involved. This may be a good time to make an agreement that all electronic devices will be absent from the table so the whole group can connect with one another and not be distracted.
Gifts. Talk about expectations for gifts. Will everyone give and receive presents? Will you all set a budget limit? Will you pick names? Whatever you agree on, make sure everyone sticks to the agreement.
Spiritual reflection. Since Christmas is the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus, it makes sense to spend time focusing our attention on our Savior. But your adult children may not want to participate in that aspect of a get-together. It’s best to communicate what you’d like to do and ask if they would be willing to join in. It can be something as simple as reading the Christmas story out of Luke 2, spending a few minutes discussing what the story means to everyone and then ending that portion of the day with a brief prayer. If they aren’t willing, will you still have it and they’ll simply excuse themselves? Come up with an option everyone can agree on.
Activities. Is watching television OK? It’s important to agree on whether that’s OK and what happens before and after it. No watching television during the meal; that’s time for relationship. And people are often surprised at what a great experience having real connection can be!
Ground rules. Your young adults are figuring out their own values and preferences. That is fine and something you can accept and embrace. At the same time, your young adults may have behaviors that you aren’t OK with, such as using inappropriate language. Bring that out ahead of time, and ask that when events are at your home, you need a ground rule that those things won’t happen. Be kind but also direct about it. It’s your home.
And be mutual about this as well. Ask them, “Anything socially we should do or not do to give you guys a great Christmas?” Who knows, maybe one will say, “Yes, can you not bug me about when I’m going to get a better job or get married or have kids? That gets pretty old with me.” Then promise to respect that wish.
The day of Christmas
No one can totally control what happens during a family Christmas get-together. You can plan, hope and pray, but life happens. But what if someone chooses to break the ground rules? In some sad cases, a young adult might disrupt the Bible reading because she wants to make a point that Christians are judgmental. Or another may drink too much and become belligerent with the rest of the group. They may sneak in a phone call, even though everyone agreed that phones would be off limits during the meal. Though we certainly hope these things won’t happen, we do need to plan for contingencies.
I suggest that you put up with one occurrence and give your adult child the benefit of the doubt, unless it’s something serious (violence or drug use, for example). But if it happens a second time, gently approach the inappropriate person and quietly escort him away from the group and to another room or somewhere outside. There, you can talk with the person and decide whether there’s hope that he will straighten up enough to be nice and not disruptive. If his attitude is so negative that it looks like the behavior will continue, you’ll probably need to ask the person to leave.
This can be difficult, but it’s sometimes the right thing to do in these severe situations. It doesn’t help the person, and certainly not the family, to have everyone’s holiday hijacked by someone who is taking over the happiness of the day.
While a brief conversation about keeping the boundaries you’ve agreed on for the day is one thing, you do want to avoid any major discussions at your get-together. You know “the talk”: telling your son he drinks too much, or letting your daughter know she needs to go to church more, or informing your young adult that she is sinning by living with her boyfriend. There is a time for these talks, but not at a holiday event. There’s too much stress and activity going on already, and I promise you, you won’t get the outcome you seek. If any issues are really bothering you, schedule a lunch, meeting or phone call in January when things are calmer and less frenetic. When in doubt, always love and extend grace (1 Peter 4:8), which helps protect you and others. God’s love for others, especially your family, changes hearts, minds and people, and can make Christmastime truly memorable for everyone.