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Stress and the holidays: 5 ways to remember the gospel in your parenting

Holidays are often the few days a year when we go home and spend the night with our parents. During college, we longed for the serenity and familiarity of home. But, in recent years, a lot of us have been pulling a family of our own in to our parents’ driveway, and home doesn’t have quite the luster it used to have.

The holidays are often the few days of the year that wreck the sleep and attitude cycles of our kids that will leave us spending weeks, if not months, rebuilding.

  • Our parents (or grandparents, in-laws, etc.) probably won’t send our kids back to their bedrooms when they wake up at 4:30 a.m.—and we aren’t there to give instruction, because we’re asleep like every sane human being should be.
  • Their crazy uncle will probably say some prejudiced or insensitive thing around them that they’ll attach to, and we fear they’ll never be rid of it without very expensive therapy.
  • Or maybe the kids will have a 24-hour cycle of television and movies, seemingly undoing years of our conscientious parenting practices.

Our kids may learn new words and new levels of disrespect for their authorities, and our relatives might disregard all rules, social and familial, all in the name of loving our kids. What’s more, they will probably get more Christmas presents than we’d like them to get. Yet, as I consider how stressed out these situations make me and how I often react, I am convicted. In Christ, there’s a better, more grace-filled way to respond. Here are five suggestions to prepare you and reshape your thinking before you take off for that holiday vacation.

1. Rethink your legalism. When things don’t function exactly like they do in our home, we can react with snide little comments that are meant to show our moral superiority as a parent—comments like: We don’t let them watch tv when they first get up. We don’t let them eat junk food indiscriminately. We have a bedtime of 8:00.

Reacting like that is indicative of the sneaky sin of legalism: passively aggressively claiming your morality as superior to anyone else. When we react this way, no one in our family will call us on it because they’re usually trying to figure out how to walk on eggshells around us. In addition, legalism won’t win a single soul to our perspective. Instead, like me, there will be a still small voice in your heart that will be crying out: you white-washed tomb.

As believers, we ought to respond in light of the gospel. Soul-satisfied, gospel-contentment is the better testimony to all that there is a King who rules our hearts and who helps us walk in patience toward one another.

2. It won’t kill your kids. A few grams of sugar or a few hours of television won’t hurt our children in the long run. I know it seems like they’re more apt to be disrespectful because our parental authority is undermined, but three days at Grandmother’s house isn’t going to be the thing we think about if we have to bail them out of jail when they’re 17.

And we need to remember that they’re children.They’re not perfect, and it’s about how we respond to their sin that makes a difference at this point in their lives. Sure, try to set them up for success, but don’t rush to panic and frustration when they fail. The few hectic days of vacation may actually be some of your kids’ best memories.

3. Take the opportunity to shepherd your children. This is actually what we want as parents. We will be able to see what influence is being exerted, undo it, turn it by interpreting it for them, and train them how to handle it. Isn’t this a better place for them to learn these things than in places where we don’t know the parents and environments that are influencing our children?

Anticipating these training moments, we have what we call a pep talk—the standard “who you are and whose you are” speech—before we head out on vacation. We remind our kids there are things that relatives will do that we don’t do in our home, but that we respect the wishes of others when we share their home. We remind them to be positive influences on their cousins and other family members. We remind them about the chain of command. Then, after it’s all said and done, we strive to help our kids interpret how they’ve been influenced.

4. You’ve been training them well, give your kids the space to influence others. While we’re there to shelter and protect our kids from the world, our families might be the only gospel-centered presence our extended family encounters until next year. Strive to make that gospel-centered exposure less about a begrudging lists of do’s and don’t’s and more about something that stands out to your family members as the only time of the year that they were able to tangibly see another world—one that made their heart skip a beat because they saw it’s power and joy and peace.

5. Play offense. All the things that usually annoy us, like too much TV time or too much junk food, is usually a defensive measure, designed to pacify and buy time. Instead of sitting back and letting our dissatisfaction stew, we ought to step up and play offense.

  • Start a wrestling match or play hide-and-seek outside.
  • Gather the kids and tell a fun story.
  • Draw a picture, put together a puzzle, play pretend spies or army or cowboys or whatever your “thing” is.
  • Bake some cookies, and let the kids help.
  • Take the crew on a walk around the neighborhood and point interesting things out to them.
  • Start a football game where every grownup has to stay on their knees.

Take the initiative to maximize your influence on the little (and big) people around you. Show your kids and the adults with you that you don’t have to be uptight to be a good parent—or a Christian. You can have fun, enjoy the moment and still be an intentional shepherd of your child’s heart.

So, whether or not you donate all of your kids’ new Christmas presents to the church nursery this week or wait a month, and whether or not your kids find a few new words for their vocabulary, remember whose you are.  And remember who you are.

It shouldn’t surprise us that our parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles aren’t fully on board with our parenting methodologies. And in a world of sin, there will be some muddying of the waters and confusion in children’s hearts. We’re there to make sense of the chaos, not prevent it; we’re there to undo the curse, not micro-manage it. The gospel-believing parent knows the curse is everywhere and is sometimes most evident in those we love. And there’s no room in gospel-centered parenting for a gospel-centered scrooge.

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