Q: My new husband and I are excited for our first Christmas as a married couple. But we're having differences of opinion over how we should celebrate. Is that normal?
Jim: Christmas is an exciting time of year for most newlyweds. But transitioning from "his traditions" and "her traditions" to "our traditions" isn't always easy. He probably has a few ideas from his childhood, and so does she.
The Christmas tree is just one example. Some people love the convenience and year-to-year consistency of artificial trees. But others feel it's not Christmas without the smell of a real tree and the sense of nostalgia it gives to the holiday.
Marriage is all about communication, finding common ground and serving each other. Whether it's deciding on a tree, when to open presents or where to have Christmas dinner, you need to intentionally come together in a way that makes the season meaningful for each of you.
I'd suggest taking a date night to make lists of what each of you did in your families growing up, and what was most meaningful to you. Share your favorite memories. It's like a recipe: Find ways to blend together a little of "hers" and a little of "his" to create a Christmas that's "ours." And look for new ideas -- things neither of you have ever tried before -- that can be yours beyond what your families did.
Most of all, even if your Christmas tree is fake, don't let what the holiday means become artificial. It's a celebration of the greatest gift ever given. To help your relationships thrive this Christmas, visit FocusOnTheFamily.com.
Q: I want Christmas to be a time of family bonding, but everybody seems to get caught up in their own thing (usually including technology of some type). If/when we are all in the same place at the same time, there's generally a screen involved (a movie or TV). How can we change this pattern?
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting and Youth: This takes a lot of intentionality, especially since entertainment technology is so pervasive in our day-to-day lives. Tech isn't bad; it just needs limits.
Building relationships takes time and the intentional effort to be actively engaged with someone else. Families I've counseled who see success in this area have made proactive decisions to establish balanced limits on tech as a household. Those parents go beyond the what ("no phones at the dinner table") and help their kids understand the why -- and then enforce the standards consistently.
I suggest that you sit down as a family and draw up guidelines and a menu of options for alternate activities. Kids, especially, may not be pleased with the shift at first. But they should get on board as they see that you are prioritizing time with them and you all experience increased connection. Involve the children in jointly developing a list of creative ideas that may or may not include technology. Consider everyone's age, preferences and personality, and take turns selecting things to do together.
Board games, hikes, video game tournaments, cooking, hide-and-seek, building snowmen, caroling in your neighborhood -- the list is endless. A key idea to keep in mind is creating versus just consuming. For example, eating cookies is more fun if you baked them together. Or, instead of just watching a movie, make and edit one of your own with your collective phones.
This Christmas, try to be an intentional parent who uses reasonable and helpful limits to work toward being more connected as a family. That's a gift for everyone!
P.S. Intentionality is one of the "7 Traits of Effective Parenting" (see www.focusonthefamily.com/7traits).
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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