By february, most of us are ready to consign the recent holiday season to photo albums as we move ahead with our lives. But before you pack away that last ornament and glue that last photo in the album, it is important to do some planning so that problems of the past holiday season will not be repeated toward the end of 1997.
The question of how to avoid the separation of family and holiday is one that strikes close to home--often the subject is close to home. It starts with an innocent-sounding question that can cause real trouble: "Are you kids able to come home for Christmas this year?"
For many young couples, the answer is a grudging yes, as they resign themselves to a day or week of frantic activity trying to spend time with "the folks." Afraid of giving offense, they begin a tradition, which, if they are not careful, can result in young teenagers having grown up in a home with no family customs. The only tradition they have is piling into the car on Christmas morning.
When a young man takes a wife, he establishes a new household, with a new center of gravity, which should lead to an alteration in his primary allegiances and concerns. It is a pattern established by God for the world in the beginning: "A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24).
As children leave home and marry, they must take care to establish a home with all the necessary roots. Such roots include the establishment of family traditions, which include birthday and holiday celebrations; at least some of those celebrations need to be within the nuclear family.
Of course this does not mean that married children should neglect their parents. But time with grandparents should be in addition to their new family traditions, not a substitute for them. For example, our children have grown up with the wonderful privilege of celebrating three Christmases within the space of a week--our own, one with my parents, and one with my wife's parents.
Children need their grandparents; it is a great blessing to have them around. But they also need parents who understand and live out the principle of governmental separation. Sons should grow up expecting to leave, daughters should grow up expecting to be given, and both should grow up expecting their parents to be demoted in relative familial importance.
This is not an insult to parents; it is part of God's plan that wise parents understand. They need to prepare their children, when they are young, to be mature adults outside the home. And they need to help their adult children grasp their new obligations. When the kids marry, an open-handed, open-door policy should be laid out: "You are always welcome to visit us any time. And we want you to know that invitations for holidays never have strings attached to them."
Parents should not have to adapt themselves to an "empty nest" that has somehow taken them by surprise. If they have been wise parents, they have been self-consciously planning for this end. Too many parents are blindsided by the inevitable. They may try to compensate by having the kids come over at every possible opportunity, tempting their grown children to neglect the establishment of their own family.
The irony is that parents who are able to let go of their children gladly are the kind of parents that children and grandchildren enjoy being with. When we freely give our children the freedom God designed for them to have, we find that we never really lose them.
It is important to lay the groundwork for changes in family celebrations early in the year, so that the alterations are not sudden and seemingly abrupt. It's not too early in February to discuss and learn a simple rule that can serve families well at Thanksgiving and Christmas. As is often the case, it turns out to be yet another variation of the Golden Rule: Do unto your kids as you once wished your parents had done unto you.