by Steve Watters
Remember that moment when you got the joke in the song “I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus?” It’s one of those “pull back the curtain” songs that reveals the role parents play in Christmas. It’s a song that’s creepy for kids who don’t really have a category for their mom crossing paths with Santa Claus and doing something that would have been quite awkward if “Daddy had only seen.” But while that’s a song that goes from creepy to kinda sweet for children who then grow into parents creating Christmas experiences for their own children, there’s another song with a “pull back the curtain” line that I think goes from odd to dysfunctional.
Can’t wait for school to start again
I still remember as a kid noodling over the lyrics of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” The song drew me in early on because it celebrated the beginning of the Christmas season, when the decorations were starting to come out around town and then it stressed the warmth of seeing the festivity in your own home as “the prettiest sight to see.”
The song goes on to talk poetically about Christmas gifts that kids named Bonny and Ben and Janice and Jenn desire, but then whisks away to the chorus with the non sequitur line “And mom and dad can hardly wait for school to start again.” When I first heard it, I thought I was hearing it wrong (like the way I used to think Elvis was singing “You’ll be due when I ride on a Christmas of white,” in Blue Christmas when he was actually saying, “You’ll be doing all right on a Christmas of white”). Why in the world, I thought, could those parents not wait for school to start again when it was only just beginning to look like Christmas?
As I got older, I started to get the wink-wink humor from parent to parent in the concession that even at the onset of the Christmas season, their kids could be overwhelming them and causing them to crave the more manageable routine of school days. As parents, my wife and I started jokingly singing this line to each other when our kids plowed into the month of December bouncing off the walls with excitement, passing along copious gift suggestions and wanting to know all the details of Christmas activities we had planned.
The reality we began to grasp was that in the parental fine print for “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” were the words “some assembly required.” We had moved from the recipients of Christmas joy as kids to the producer role as parents. In this we were sobered to realize just how much of a gauntlet it could be to manage the Christmas expectations of children. We could dream up amazing gifts, decorations and activities requiring significant dollars and time and still feel like our kids didn’t appreciate our Christmas sacrifices.
I suspect many parents find themselves at this place each year as what seems like the gauntlet begins and then they’re tempted to wish it away and want school to start again for their kids. But that’s giving up. And when you give up like that, someone or something else will guide your children through Christmas—their peers, electronic entertainment, or product marketers. As Christian parents, we’re called to be faithful and to lead our families and that means leading them faithfully through Christmas. So what does that look like? I see at least three efforts parents should commit to as they lead their children in the Christmas season.
Set the pace
One of the main reasons the Christmas season can seem like a gauntlet for parents is because marketers try to convince kids that their branded product or experience is true Christmas magic and then leave parents as simply the pawns paying the bill, assembling the products and buying the batteries. The same can be true for many of the events, entertainment and activities that clutter the December calendar and turn parents into holiday taxi services.
This is where your leadership is needed. Recognizing this tendency, your kids need you to set the pace, the expectations and the focal point of the month over and against the flood of marketing messages. They need you to take ownership of the calendar and the primary messages of the season.
In our family, we’ve found that Advent reading is a key way to do this. Each reading sets the primary focus for what’s ahead and grows anticipation for something greater than anything we could buy. At first it felt like just one more thing to add to the calendar, but increasingly Advent reading has become the primary pacesetter for our Christmas season, providing a guiding star for us as parents as much as for our kids. For more on Advent reading, see “Advent for Families.”
Lead the fun
While Advent reading is key for helping set the pace for the Christmas season, there’s no need to limit December to quiet reading time. This is the most wonderful time of the year. Your family has much to celebrate in the coming of Jesus. And you have opportunities for time together unlike any other time of the year.
Unfortunately, it’s in that time together that family members either find their agendas clashing or find themselves drawn into isolating digital devices. This is where dads especially should be intentional. Instead of passively reacting to whatever is going on in the house, this is the time to initiate. Be the Christmas fun captain for your family by leading a brisk walk, driving to see Christmas lights, playing a board game, building a fire and reading a book, stringing popcorn and cranberries or any number of priceless activities that you can initiate.
Of course, you don’t have to initiate everything. If you pay attention, you’ll notice your kids inviting you into the fun—asking you to play games, build puzzles, wrestle with them, build forts, see their Lego creations or other connecting activities. Look for ways to say “yes” to as many of these spontaneous relationship-building opportunities as you can. Your kids crave this more than your gifts. Remember, you are your child’s favorite toy.
Expect a mess and be ready with the gospel
As you seek to set the pace and lead the fun, you also have to expect messiness. You should anticipate disappointment, conflict, headaches, interruptions, messed up plans, gifts that break, spilled egg nog, and all the other things that make parents fantasize about school starting again.
Instead of seeing the mess as a sign of failure or a reason for discouragement, remember this is the mess Jesus came into. Instead of letting that mess put a damper on Christmas, recognize the opportunity it gives you to tell your kids about the fallenness and the brokenness Jesus entered into when he was born in that feed trough in what was likely a soot-stained cave beyond the comfortable lodging in Bethlehem.
And expect that you will likely be the source of some of the mess in your home. You’re just as likely to blow it at some point this season as your kids are. And then you’re really going to feel rotten because you’ll see your kids looking at you like you’ve become the Grinch stealing Christmas. But at that low point, God’s grace is sufficient. You can show the power of the gospel in humbling yourself, asking for forgiveness and confessing your need for the Savior who came into the world to bear the punishment we deserve.
Can’t wait to do it all again
This is our reason for joy at Christmas. We don’t have to dread the Christmas gauntlet or fantasize about it all being over already. We have much to celebrate and to lead our families in celebrating, and we have no reason to be anxious about the mess along the way.
We can lead and live in grace before our kids in such a way at Christmas that they’ll rewrite the song in their heads to say, “And mom and dad can hardly wait to do it all again.”
Steve Watters is vice president for communications at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he is also working on an M.A. in family discipleship. He is the former director of marriage and young adults at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. In 1998, Steve and his wife, Candice, founded Boundless.org webzine for Focus.
Steve and Candice are co-authors of the book Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies. Steve and Candice have four kids ranging in ages from 5 to 14. They speak, write and feed the blog FamilyMaking.com as they’re able.
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