Not every extended family is created equal.
The holidays are fast approaching. If you are like most families, you are already making plans for the holidays. Who will you spend Thanksgiving with? Who is coming to your house for Christmas? Who did you spend Thanksgiving with last year and have you given enough time to this relative and . . . why can’t we just stay home and enjoy each other?
My husband and I have decided that living hundreds of miles from either side of the family can have its advantages. While we miss our families terribly and wish our girls
could have gorwn up surrounded by grandparents, cousins and aunt and uncles, visiting relatives on the holidays was a seldom enjoyed luxury. We were able to develop our own traditions, eat the food we wanted, open gifts the way we wanted and use the holidays as a time to relax. Now that we are on the other side of the child rearing years, we realize what we have missed.
As our parents age and time draws near for them to leave this earth, we find ourselves tempted to grab a tally sheet. Have we spent enough time with each side of the family? Should we have spent more time with certain people? Better go see so-and-so – we may never get another chance! Did we let our girls spend enough time with different family members? Once our girls start families of their own, what will we do if our daughters can’t come home for a holiday?
As we wrangled over this recently, I thought about our attitude toward our girls when they were growing up. Jack and I had an “equal but different” philosophy. Every parent is tempted to try to keep things equal. If Johnny gets a bike, so should Josie. Sam got a cell phone at age ten so Stephanie expects one then too. You let Jessica take piano lessons, why can’t I take piano lessons, whines Jennifer.
Keeping everything equal quickly becomes impossible and foolish. Why? Because every child is different. Sam may be more responsible at age ten. Maybe he had after school activities that necessitated having a cell phone so he could call home. You didn’t let Jennifer take piano lessons because she was in the band and played the oboe.
With our girls, we looked at their gifts, their maturity level, their activities, and their needs. We then made decisions accordingly. We also looked at our finances, where we lived, what opportunities were available, and what else was happening in our lives. Since we only had one driver in our family – my husband who worked many hours like any minister does – we had to make some hard decisions and limit the girls’ activities. We made the best choices we could at the time.
The “equal but different” policy applies to extended family too. You can’t treat both sides of the family the same. You equally love them but you have to treat them differently because they are different and they are surrounded by different circumstances. You might live closer to one side of the family. One mom might have greater health issues. One set of parents may just make it difficult to communicate with them. One side of the family may not be able to house you, making it necessary to stay in a hotel you can’t afford. Sadly, there may be family members it is best to avoid letting your children have a face-to-face. The dynamics become even more complicated with second marriages and dual custodies.
You make choices in order to compensate. You call one mom more but visit the other one more because you’re closer or there are specific needs you have to attend to. You send gifts in the mail to your sister’s family but send a check or gift card to your mother-in-law. Equal – but different. Each according to what they need. Each according to their unique personality. (Yes, families as well as individuals have personalities!) Each according to their availability and unique set of circumstances or family dynamics.
Jesus did this for us. He treats us, not according to the next person, not according to what we deserve or don’t deserve, but according to what is best for us and what we need. He uses us according to the gifts He has given to us.
So this year, as you plan the gifts you’ll give and which extended family you’ll visit, approach your decisions this way. Instead of comparing one side of the family to another and keeping score of whether you’ve treated everyone the same, consider how you can express God’s grace in the best way to each family member. What will communicate His love to each person most effectively? Ask: how can I show Jesus’ love and my love to each family member this Christmas? No comparisons to anyone else. If you have to make choices, do the best you can with what you have. No comparisons to what you’ve done in the past or what you might do in the future. As a Bill Gaither song says,
“Yesterday’s gone and tomorrow may never come. We have this moment to live.”
How will you best live this moment with those God has given you to love?
Most important, how will you celebrate the holidays in a way that best honors God and celebrates all His gifts, particularly His Son Jesus Christ? Take your eyes off your family and consider, what will you do for Jesus?
After all, it is all about Him.
What are your holiday plans? Share with us! Give us creative ideas of how we can reach out to our extended family.