Some of you have warm, fun, and loving extended families. I’m so grateful for the extended family God gave to Lisa and me on both sides. But many of you are about to spend a special holiday with a family that makes you prepare like you’re going into combat.
Whether you love your extended family or tolerate them, I think there will be a lot in this blog post for you.
I was only 17 at the time, but the elderly man’s actions seemed pathetically stupid even to my young mind. I worked for a public utility, collecting payments at the local office. The senior citizen came up to my window, said something sarcastically mean about his wife (who was right next to him), trying to elicit my laughter, and then paid his bill and left.
I was young, but even back then I thought, “How stupid! He’ll never see me again, but he’s going home with his wife who now is angry at him. Why would he try to connect with me while pushing her away?”
The principle is this: pay first attention to who you’re going home with. That’s particularly true over the holidays as you visit with extended family members.
If you ignore your spouse to get involved in extended family drama (or even to enjoy the festivities), you’re playing a losing game. You couldn’t “heal” or “fix” your family as a single; why do you think you can “fix” them now, when you see them so rarely?
A far better agenda is to demonstrate authentic marital love and intimacy. Put each other first. Serve each other, in front of the family. Don’t ignore each other. Wives and husbands, if it’s been more than an hour since you’ve touched, go touch. Seek each other out. If your spouse doesn’t connect well with your family members, don’t leave them to fend for themselves. Your first goal is to make sure you love and serve the one with whom you’re going home.
You don’t have to participate in extended family drama. You don’t have to sacrifice a special holiday to play referee in a dysfunctional game that has no discernible rules. Decide that you and your spouse, and your kids, will enjoy and spend this holiday together, not separately at someone else’s (even Grandma and Grandpa’s) house. You’re not going to your extended family to escape your immediate family but to serve your immediate family. If you have a healthy extended family, revel in the celebration, but don’t let even that tempt you to ignore your immediate family. If you have a great time and your spouse feels ignored, it’s been a wasted holiday.
Looking back as an empty nester, I’m shocked at how few holidays we actually get with all our children together. Since they grow up and get married, you’ll be doing well if you have more than a few dozen Thanksgivings and Christmases over the course of your life with all the kids together. Why sacrifice even one when there are so few? Why not try to make each one special? And the best way to win the kids back to future Thanksgivings and Christmases is to make childhood Thanksgivings and Christmases extra special. (How I wish I had read this 25 years ago…)
Keep your kids close. Keep your spouse closer. Genesis tells husbands to leave their mother and father and to cleave to their wives. It doesn’t say “But on holidays re-cleave to your extended family.” There should be a different tenor once you’re married. “I belong to him now,” or “I belong to her.” Let your extended family see that.
I’m writing this as the father of a young man who just got married. I can’t tell you how much Lisa and I would delight in spending every holiday with Graham and Molly, catching up on their lives. But I want Graham to spend his holidays doing what is best for his marriage, and eventually, what is best for his kids, even at my expense. That’s the biblical model.
It’s kind of you to include your parents and extended family over the holidays. Just don’t let that kindness overshadow your primary obligation—to affirm your spouse, to love your kids and to make many happy, meaningful memories for your immediate family.
Be kind, be considerate, be loving, share the Gospel where appropriate, but keep the focus on the ones with whom you’re going home. Before the day arrives, ask yourself, and pray about how you can make this holiday special for your husband, your wife, and your kids. If they’re going to a place that you know makes them feel uncomfortable, plan something extra special to let them know you’re still thinking of them.
It’s foolish to let a holiday be a “hit” against your marriage, instead of a stepping stone to great intimacy and warm memories. In the end, the tenor of your marriage relationship will serve your extended family even more.