Thanksgiving is swiftly approaching and Christmas is soon to follow. And we all know what that means: hanging out with the extended fam. If this thought strikes a little fear in your heart – you are not alone. Like a lot of Christian parents, you probably spend the majority of the year protecting your children from worldly influences – in the media, among their peers, etc. But family get-togethers sometimes throw you a curve ball. Here you are hanging out with people you and your children should – in theory – feel safe around, and wham-o you get broadsided by some difficult situations. The goal of this article is to help you not get broadsided, learn how to extend some grace to yourself and your extended family, and make it through the holidays unscathed, and, hopefully, merry.
Here are a few of the most common situations we run into during the holidays with family:
1. A homosexual relative
2. Differing media/technology standards
Gay relative: It can be tough for us as parents when a loved one, a close relative, chooses to live a homosexual lifestyle. And it can be even harder for us to explain it to our kids. This scenario becomes increasingly difficult if the loved one brings along his or her partner. If your family get-togethers include a gay relative, this is a teachable time you can use for good. We need to teach our children to love the sinner, yet hate the sin. The absolute best way you can do this is by using the Bible as your guide!
Here is where you can start: “separate the precious from the vile” (Jeremiah 15:19 KJV). You can explain that each of us struggles with different areas where we are not making choices according to the Word of God. Read Romans 1:26-27 with your children, and share that sadly sometimes this is the case with the ones we love. It would also be good to share Proverbs 6:16-19 if they or you are struggling with a wrong attitude toward your relative. Teaching your children that we all have areas in our lives that are “vile” is important, because while practicing homosexuality is a sin, so is lying and pride. The last thing we want is our children looking down on others because of their struggles. We can still show the genuine love of Christ to our relative, yet not condone their chosen lifestyle. That is the balance we want our children to grasp.
Important note: if this relative (or any other) has a history of any kind of abuse or other issues that could put your children in danger, the situation should be taken much more seriously. Remember: the safety of your children should be your number one priority – NOT the fear of being the only ones not attending a family function.
Differing media and technology standards (especially applies to older children): You work hard all year monitoring the devices you give your children – filtering movies for explicit content and searching high and low for ‘safe’ video games. You’re exhausted just trying to keep up with it all, when right before Thanksgiving dinner is served, your 10 year-old nephew waltzes into the crowded kitchen bragging on his x-box win. You cringe when you notice your 12 year-old son’s frustrated expression – his younger cousin excels at a game HE is not even allowed to play! If you happen to be the only parents in your extended family who monitor and set firm guidelines on the media and technology your children/family consumes, this situation can be tough, and sometimes haunts you for months. There are several things you can do ahead of time to prepare your kids, to minimize the effects of cousins with seemingly unlimited liberty. Have a family meeting prior to your extended family gathering, and discuss the following:
- Express your love for your children, and how you have been set by God to be a guardian of purity for them during this season of their lives
- Share openly with your children about why your family has the media and technology standards that you do (NOTE: now is not the best time for “because we said so”)
- Make it clear that while your family values keep you from using certain apps, listening to certain music or watching some TV shows, not everyone has those same values. We have to understand that everyone is in a different place. As a family, you have to make decisions that you believe are best for you, and not worry about what others will think
- Allow your kids to express how they feel when cousins (or anyone else) puts them down or is condescending toward them for not having an iPhone. Let your children know you understand how they feel, and if possible share a story from your experience where you felt like the odd one out.
- Come up with discrete escape routes. Talk through options for getting out of situations like an inappropriate movie being chosen for the kids’ movie time. Maybe there is a code word you and your kids have for this circumstance. That way they can bow out as discretely as possible and also give you a heads up.
- Try to end the family meeting on a light-hearted note. Get your kids chuckling, or even just loosening up if this topic was particularly tense.
- Go around the room and have each person share something they both love and can’t stand about media and technology. (For example: I love that I can reach my spouse anytime I need to – but I can’t stand how my ringtone options are limited to silly bells! Why hasn’t our technology progression gotten us better free tones?!)
One thing to keep in mind going into the holiday season is broken families aren’t anything new. Throughout the Bible we see examples of families that weren’t the picture of perfection (think Isaac & Rebecca), and yet God used them. That’s what makes this time of year so beautiful – it gives us opportunity to reflect on all that Jesus did on the cross. In spite of our failures, in spite of the sin in our lives, He came to die for us (and our families). He’s given us much to be thankful for.