Q: My father is a retired engineer and has virtually everything he wants, so it's almost impossible to buy presents for him. He insists we shouldn't get him anything for Christmas. But I want our children to learn to be giving, and we all want to honor Grandpa. Do you have any advice?
Jim: They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Well, the way to a father's (and grandfather's) heart is through the almost-lost art of handwritten notes.
Dads won't often admit it, but most of us love handwritten notes from our children. The messages don't have to be long and complicated, either. Just a few quick lines that speak from the heart -- something special he's done, a fond memory, or tell him the influence he's had in your life.
Your dad is much more likely to throw away store-bought cards unless there's something meaningful written inside. Dads love to hear that they've made an impact in their kids' (and grandkids') lives and that you appreciate that influence. You can't buy a more meaningful gift, and -- unlike another tie -- he won't throw this gift away.
And if you're a dad, remember this: Your children will treasure the personal notes that you write to them. You probably connect with your children when you're roughhousing or wrestling on the floor. But don't forget to express your love through tenderness, too. Write a few quick lines that highlight what your children are doing well and what you love about them.
Handwritten notes with their unique flourishes and scribbles connect us with the person who wrote them. Texts and emails are useful, but they don't connect us at a human level. Christmas is a great time to put pen (or crayon) to paper and say, "I love you."
Q: Every year we host the extended family for Christmas day. And every year my wife gets more stressed about it all. I don't even know what to say to help her -- any ideas?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: The holidays should be times of celebration and fun. But all too often Christmas becomes a source of stress that we just don't need.
I think a primary reason is expectations, real or imagined. In other words, we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by what "should" be included in a celebration (and women are especially vulnerable to this). Sometimes those expectations are very specific: "Christmas dinner always includes these nine dishes because that's how Grandma did it." Sometimes they're more subtle -- particularly if they're self-inflicted. ("I just know everybody expects me to cook a more extravagant meal than Aunt Betty did at Thanksgiving.") And the bigger the gathering, the more perceived pressure.
I would suggest sitting down with your wife as soon as possible and talking about all of this. Ask her what stresses her the most. Discuss where those expectations are coming from -- and are they even real? Does Uncle Bob actually want or expect three dessert choices, or is pumpkin pie sufficient? Is it necessary to have two elaborately wrapped gifts for each person under the tree? Strategize together about what can be included versus what could be, and what will be good enough.
And here's the kicker: plan ahead and "man up." Ask your wife now for some very specific tasks that you (and the kids) can do to help out. Load/unload the dishwasher; take out the trash as soon as the can is full; refill the punchbowl and ice trays; etc. I predict you'll see the stress level ease as your wife recognizes she won't have to do everything herself -- or even everything she expects.
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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