Q: Traditions and good Christmas memories aren't part of my experience. Growing up, Christmas centered around giving and getting gifts. Once the presents were opened and the wrapping picked up, Christmas was pretty much done. My husband and I want to change that with our own young family, but neither of us has a Christmas "heritage" to pass on. Do you have any thoughts that might help us?
Jim: I can empathize with your situation. I started my own family empty-handed in this regard, too. But I can attest that your predicament is far from hopeless. Perhaps this story will inspire you.
Johnny Carson once joked that there was only one fruitcake in the world -- it's just been passed from person to person since time began. For a couple of friends here in Colorado, that's not far from the truth. You see, they've been exchanging the same fruitcake with one another for nearly 30 years. Each Christmas, the friend who received it the year before returns the vintage cake to his buddy, along with a goofy "gift." It started as a joke, but for almost three decades it's been a quirky holiday tradition that's deepened their friendship. These friends discovered the spirit of Christmas isn't about gifts, but about the memories you create.
If you want to do the same with your family, I'd recommend trying something out of the ordinary. Volunteer at a shelter or visit a nursing home. Attend a Christmas Eve church service. Or maybe try ice skating for the first time. You might fall down in front of your kids, but that's the point. It's a memory they'll cherish for years to come!
It doesn't matter what you do. In fact, the more unusual, the better. Because when your goal is to create memories, even an old fruitcake will do.
Q: This will be a painful Christmas for us. For reasons we don't understand, our daughter and son-in-law no longer want any contact with us. We've respected their wishes and hope to make amends with them someday, but for now, how should we interact with our grandkids?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: You're in a hard place, and our hearts go out to you. Without knowing all the details, we can at least affirm that your decision to respect your children's wishes is appropriate and provides the best chance for reconciliation. Our licensed counselors would consider it a privilege to hear more of your story and offer some helpful direction. Please call them at 855-771-4357.
In the meantime, do what you can to maintain your perspective. Set boundaries of your own so that you won't be hurt by your daughter's and son-in-law's attitudes and actions. Don't allow your personal worth to be defined in terms of your acceptance or rejection by your children. Guard your heart and avoid falling into a trap of bitterness. Seek counsel and the support of trusted friends in dealing with your pain. And, by God's grace, there's always a chance that the relationship will change someday.
As for your grandchildren, look for opportunities to express your love in small, unobtrusive ways. You can maintain your influence in their lives by sending them cards two or three times a year -- on birthdays, at Christmas and on other special occasions.
Don't send money or gifts, because that may be perceived as an attempt to manipulate. Instead, just say something like, "We're thinking of you and praying for you. Love, Grandma and Grandpa." If nothing else, this will lay the groundwork for reconnecting with them once they're grown and are able to make up their own minds about having a relationship with you.
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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