More Christmas Questions
About the Guest
Like a big, red Christmas bow, our extended family relationships can come unraveled during the holidays if we're not careful. Dennis and Barbara Rainey lock arms to tackle your toughest holiday questions like: I feel like I can't live up to my mother-in-law's expectations. What should I do? How do I handle holiday guests who want to drink or smoke at my house? Do I put cohabiting couples in separate rooms or together? What about same-sex couples visiting?
Barbara RaineyAfter graduating from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, Barbara joined the staff of Cru® in 1971. With her husband Dennis, whom she married in 1972, the Rainey’s cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry committed to helping marriages and families survive and thrive in our generation. Barbara is a frequent speaker and guest on FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s award-winning nationally-syndicated daily radio broadcast. She is the author or coauthor of...more
Dennis RaineyDennis Rainey cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry of Cru®. Since the organization began in 1976 through 2017, Dennis’ leadership enabled FamilyLife to grow into a dynamic and vital ministry in more than 109 countries around the world helping families discover the joy God intended for their relationships with God, spouse, and kids. Dennis has authored or co-authored more than 35 books, including best-selling Moments Together for Couples and Staying Close and has received two Golden Medallion...more
Dennis and Barbara Rainey tackle your toughest holiday questions.
More Christmas Questions
Bob: Not everybody handles the Christmas season in the same way. Your traditions and somebody else’s traditions aren’t the same; right? What happens when the two of you get married? Here’s Barbara Rainey.
Barbara: We were no different than anybody else. Every couple comes into a marriage with two different sets of values—not just about life—but about Christmas. So, what my husband’s mother did and fixed is different than the way my family did Christmas and et cetera. So, I didn’t know those traditions / I didn’t know those recipes—I didn’t know any of that. It’s a ripe setup for spouses to be disappointed in one another, or to feel undervalued, or just a whole slew of things.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, December 10th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’re going to spend some time today answering questions from listeners about the Christmas season, about your marriage, about your family.
Dennis and Barbara Rainey are here. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We see the statistics over the holiday season—the season of peace, and hope, and joy—the statistics say, for a lot of people, there is not much peace, there—
Dennis: That’s why people go to the movies on Christmas afternoon. [Laughter]
Bob: A little peace and quiet.
Dennis: They’ve kind of worn out the relationships.
Bob: We’re spending time this week trying to deal with some of the issues that families face every year at Christmas. We’ve asked your wife to come in because we’re really asking her to be the expert on most of these questions because a lot of these—the weight of these issues is felt more by the mom than they are by the dad.
Dennis: They are. And I’m so grateful for my wife and the load she carried. I underestimated every year what that was.
But I look back on our Christmases, Bob, and it felt like a marathon sprint from the day after—
Barbara: It did.
Dennis: —Thanksgiving all the way to Christmas Day. I mean, it was some of the most challenging days because you are juggling Christmas parties, all the events the kids are being invited to—you’ve got office responsibilities. It seems like something is always coming unglued at Christmastime. It is a setup for a family to be at odds with each other.
Bob: Barbara, we’re going to direct these questions to you and let you give us your wisdom on this. The first question is about a young wife and a mother-in-law. I’m just thinking that—for a lot of young wives how Christmas comes off in her home—she can feel like she is being evaluated / being graded—
—like she better perform at the same level that her mother-in-law did when she was raising the husband. Did you ever feel any of that?
Barbara: Yes, I did. I felt it—not so much from Dennis’s mother—it was more self-imposed because—let’s face it—we were no different than anybody else. Every couple comes into a marriage with two different sets of values—not just about life but about Christmas. What my husband’s mother did and fixed, and the way she did Christmas, and the kinds of gifts they bought is different than the way my family did Christmas, and et cetera. I felt a lot of pressure to replicate things that my mother had done because I felt emotional attachment to those.
Dennis: And you knew how.
Barbara: And I—yes—I had seen them and experienced them.
Dennis: Yes, my mom had been practicing on me for 20—to almost 25 years. So, she was good at what she did. So, I’m evaluating you—
Barbara: Based on that.
And I didn’t know those traditions / I didn’t know those recipes—I didn’t know any of that. So, it’s a ripe setup for spouses to be disappointed in one another, or to feel undervalued, or just a whole slew of things.
Bob: Is there a conversation a husband and wife can have before the holidays hit or even right now, while we’re in the middle of the holidays—that can help head some of that off?
Barbara: I think, anytime you can have a conversation about expectations, you are ahead of the game—and the earlier the better. If you can sit down and say: “Let’s talk about the expectations for the holidays. Where do we want to go? What do we want to do? What things do we want to say, ‘Yes,’ to? What things do we want to say, ‘No’? How many activities can our kids do?” You won’t avoid everything, but it will help.
Looking back, I remember—that no matter how much I planned—and I’m a planner, and I’m an organizer—so, I planned a lot; and I organized a lot—but even though I am a planner and an organizer—
—I still was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things that just came in that I wasn’t anticipating—you know, Christmas parties for the kids and “Oh, yes, we’ve got to have a gift for the teacher.” It’s the night before, and you’re going: “Oh my gosh! What am I going to send with my fifth grader as a gift for the teacher?” It’s just a lot.
Dennis: And then, taking pictures for the Christmas card—that was kind of what kicked it off.
Barbara: Yes, that was another level.
Dennis: Was trying to get all the eyes open and the grins appropriate of the eight people in our picture. That was always a massive stress-producer; and then, getting them all stamped, addressed, mailed, and out the door. I think there is not quite same emphasis on Christmas cards today as there was back then.
Bob: Well, the activity level is one thing. But here we are—talking about a young wife, who may feel like her mother-in-law is kind of watching and grading her performance. Is there anything she can do about that?
Barbara: And her mother-in-law may be watching and grading her performance.
Bob: May be—right.
Barbara: She absolutely may be; but I think the word that I think of when I think of all of these relationships that can be so stressful at Christmas is the word, grace, because you don’t know why the mother-in-law is feeling what she’s feeling—and you don’t know that she is. You may be assuming that she is watching you, and she’s not watching you.
Barbara: Or you may be feeling like you need to do what she did so that your husband will be happy, and maybe he doesn’t care. So, it’s real easy for a wife—a young wife in particular—to put a lot on her that nobody else is putting on her—but regardless, if the mother-in-law is putting some pressure on—the best thing to do is to give her grace and let her be who she is.
She may be struggling because her son is grown up and gone. She may be struggling because this is the only relationship that she’s got; and it’s really important to her, and she doesn’t know how to keep a relationship with her son. She’s trying to figure out the whole empty-nest thing.
Or maybe her hormones are going crazy because she is in menopause, and she is having hot flashes. It’s so hard, when you’re in your 20s or early 30s, to be empathetic to your mother-in-law—it’s very hard to do.
Dennis: Yes, you should really evaluate the context of the mother-in-law, at that point. Is she divorced? Does she have any friends? Where are her relationships? And I would say—if something like this continues on—if it’s beyond two or three years, where it looks like it’s going to be a record that’s repeating itself and there is going to be pressure put on your wife, it may be time for a young man to step into his mom’s life and say, “Mom, we need to figure out a new game plan for how we approach this because this isn’t working.”
Barbara: And that’s where a young husband can be sort of an arbitrator or a mediator because he knows his wife but he also knows his mom.
And they don’t know each other so well yet—that relationship takes a long, long time. And so, if he’s wise, he will try to understand his mother, and honor her, and give her grace—but also, understand his wife, and honor her, and give her grace—and try to help them understand each other because that’s what’s hard. There is no way a young woman can understand what that mother-in-law is feeling. That is a hard season—that empty-nest season.
Bob: That young wife may also need to ask herself the question, “Am I being overly sensitive to what’s going on?” because a mother-in-law can come and say, “Can I help in the kitchen?” and the young wife hears, “You don’t think I’m doing it right.”
Bob: —“You think I’m messing things up.”
Bob: She really has to pull back and say, “Maybe, all Mom is asking is ‘Can I help in the kitchen?’”
Barbara: Help in the kitchen—right.
Barbara: That’s exactly right.
Dennis: The Proverbs speak about all kinds of different people. There is the wise person. There is the fool. There is the naïve person, and then, there is an evil person.
And there may be some, who are listening to our broadcast, who may have an in-law who is just mean—you know, just tough.
I was with a couple, not long ago. The husband had to call his dad and say: “Dad, it is inappropriate for Mom to call my wife. It’s just not working.” And this is a person who is dealing with some mental illness, and there has to be boundaries. And Christmas is one of those times where there has to be healthy boundaries built that are appropriate.
I wouldn’t get reactionary about this kind of thing. I’d make sure you’ve really prayed about it, and thought about it, and handle it in the best way possible; but you’ve got your kids, in some ways, on the line here, who are watching. It needs to be done with honor and with respect, but you need to protect your wife and your family.
Bob: Let’s talk about different values because one of the questions that came in has to do with different values around—well: “We’re having the whole family over to our house for Christmas. That means my brother and his girlfriend—who are living together—are coming to our house. Do we let them use the guest room? Do we tell them, ‘No’? Do we tell them to get a hotel? What do we tell the kids about my brother and his girlfriend when they say, ‘Well, they are not married!’? How do you handle that?”
Barbara: Well, we haven’t had to deal with that specifically—but we’ve had friends who’ve had to deal with a relative who drinks, or a relative who smokes, or a relative whose language isn’t the kind of language we would want our children to hear. And those are very difficult situations because you can come across—if you’re not careful—you can come across judgmental.
Barbara: And self-righteous and—
Dennis: Well, some of them are health issues.
For instance, our family—smoke creates asthma attacks—
Dennis: —for both you—
Dennis: —and our daughter, Ashley; and now, our grandkids. So, you’ve got health issues around some of these things. And then, when you start talking about somebody who drinks in excess, I can see how that could be an issue occurring at the holidays.
Barbara: But again, they all have to be dealt with individually because you have to have both grace—so that person doesn’t feel condemned, or criticized, or rejected, or unloved.
So, how you communicate your standards / how you communicate your values and what you say and do is more important than the choice that you actually make. It may be that the best thing that you do is you allow that uncle, who drinks more than you wish he would, to be loved and welcomed in your home; but it may be best that he never come into your home because of the way he acts if has too much to drink. There is not a hard-and-fast rule.
It is something that every couple has to evaluate and be really careful about the decision you make because, whatever your decision is, it’s going to communicate. And do you want to communicate love, or do you want to communicate rejection? And you just have to be careful, and you have to know that your decision is going to say something—it’s going to send a message.
Dennis: I think it’s very, very important that the husband and the wife—the mom and the dad—be in 100 percent agreement about how to handle these situations. That may be more important than what you do. And it’s back to the grace you are talking about.
If you are together and you are agreeing: “We’re just going to love this family” or “…this person over the holidays. That’s going to be our assignment. We’re going to talk to our kids in advance; and we’re going to say, ‘You know, you are going to see some things here that we don’t approve of, and we want you all to just love on them—
Barbara: That’s right.
Dennis: —“’because there is more than likely a hole in the heart that is trying to be met through some other type of behavior.’” And that’s really how a Christian ought to be known anyway.
Bob: But what if you are not in 100 percent agreement—as a husband and wife—and the husband is saying: “Let them use the guest room. I mean, they are living together as it is,”—and the wife is going, “I’m not comfortable with that in our home and the message it is sending for our kids”?
Dennis: Well, to the husband, I’d say: “You need to pay careful attention to what your wife is expressing. Make sure you’ve heard her; and then, hear her again. If necessary, a third time before you do something where you overrule what she is feeling.” And to the wife, I’d say, “Have you really found a way to express this so that he can hear—that he really understands what you are feeling and what’s at stake here?”
Bob: And what if it’s a relative who is in a same-sex relationship?
Dennis: Same thing—I think it’s the same issue. It is: “How are you going to handle it, as a couple?” I know some couples who have asked relatives to stay somewhere else because they did not feel comfortable with their children being exposed to something that was against their values.
I have also had friends who have rolled out the red carpet and—
Bob: Opened their homes.
Dennis: —opened their home up to express love. Again, I don’t think, on some of these issues—and people could argue with me—but I don’t think you can turn these into a formula and make an absolute statement.
Barbara: I agree.
Dennis: I think the overriding issue is what Barbara just said earlier. It has to be grace, love, compassion, and really, modeling the heart of Christ for people.
Bob: Alright, let me ask you about this one because one of our listeners wrote in and said: “You know, Christmas often feels like it’s all about the kids. Your objective, as Mom and Dad, is to make sure that the kids have a great holiday; but what about Dad feeling like he’s been ignored or Mom feeling like, ‘Where was the nice gift that I wanted that I didn’t get?’”
Did you ever have any Christmases where either of you felt like the other one didn’t really pay enough attention to what the holiday should have been for you?
Dennis: Well, I’m not sure Barbara’s willing to share what the Christmas gift was—
Barbara: No, I’m not.
Dennis: —not from a negative standpoint—I can sure remember one Christmas that was a bonus Christmas that—[Laughter]
Barbara: Okay, so, before you go to that, can I answer the question first; please?
Dennis: Yes, you can answer the question—I just was going to state it positively—
Barbara: You can state it positively.
Dennis: —for the husband who is feeling left out—
Barbara: But I’d like to give some context.
Bob: Give some context; alright.
Barbara: I think that—[Laughter]—stop laughing. I think that it’s a great question because I do think that moms very—without even realizing it—we do get so kid-focused. I mean, it’s easy to get kid-focused throughout the calendar year, granted. But it’s especially difficult at Christmas because you are doing a lot of class parties, and field trips, and all kinds of Christmas activities that you don’t necessarily have in another month.
And you are trying to do the traditions for the sake of your kids, and you’re trying to make decorating the tree special, and on, and on, and on—ad infinitum.
I totally get this question that this woman has written because I think it’s real easy for husbands, in particular, to feel overlooked at Christmas because they may be busy doing work / they may be just not interested. I mean, my dad never thought about what he was going to buy for my mother until Christmas Eve. He always came through—he always got her something nice—but he didn’t think about it until a day or two before Christmas.
And I think that is often the case with a lot of men. They just kind of ignore what’s going on. They kind of take a backseat. They kind of let the whole thing happen; and then, they engage at the last minute—come in for a landing at the last minute. And so, it’s kind of a setup for that situation to happen.
Bob: I have to tell you a story here about a friend of mine. He shared this at church. So, I think it is fair game for everybody. But he said he used to go out and buy his wife’s Christmas present at four o’clock on Christmas Eve—that’s what he always did. And he said he often went to the same store. There was a store he liked to shop at—an old store called Service Merchandise—do you remember Service Merchandise?
Barbara: I remember, yes.
Bob: So, he went out one Christmas Eve. He went to the jewelry counter, and he found a pin at the jewelry counter that he thought was a really nice pin—something that he thought would look nice. He bought that—took it home. The next morning, his wife opened that present. He said he noticed that she did not seem particularly thrilled by the pin. He paused; and he said to her, “Do you not like the pin?” And she said, “Well, it’s the same pin you bought me last year.” [Laughter]
Barbara: Oh gosh!
Bob: And he responded by saying, “I’ve never seen you wear it.”
Dennis: That’s what you call—
Bob: And she said, “Exactly.”
Bob: So, the next day, he took two pins back to Service Merchandise—[Laughter]
Barbara: He took two pins. [Laughter]
Bob: —to try to get a refund.
Barbara: That’s hilarious.
Dennis: Our listeners know what I call that—that’s a rookie mistake.
Dennis: It’s okay to make it in your rookie season—it’s not good in your 20th. [Laughter]
Barbara: That’s pretty bad to not remember.
Bob: So, what can a wife do / or a husband do to make sure that the other person is being remembered, and thought of, and valued during the holiday season?
Barbara: Well, you don’t start at the last minute.
Barbara: You don’t wait until Christmas Eve, or even the day before Christmas Eve, and then go: “Oh, my gosh! What am I going to get?”—or rely on one of your kids to come up with an idea or something—but you don’t wait until the last minute because a lot of what communicates love—whether you are a man or a woman—is being thought of. So, if you can think about it ahead of time—ask questions if you want to ask questions if you’re not sure—but think about it ahead of time—
—and invest some time and some energy in it. That’s going to make the gift more meaningful, and that’s going to help that person feel loved because attention speaks love.
Bob: Was there ever a particular Christmas where you tried to do that with Dennis?
Barbara: There was a particular Christmas because I realized that I had kind of given him more of the leftovers. I decided, one Christmas, I would really make a statement of love—and I did. I anticipated it ahead of time—I thought it through. I worked hard on it, and I planned out a gift for him that was more than one gift. It was several gifts that went out over a couple of weeks actually. Was it a week—a couple of weeks?
Barbara: It was called the—I did “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
Dennis: No, it was “The Twelve Nights.”
Barbara: “The Twelve Nights of Christmas”—that’s correct—it was.
Bob: Oh, I’m starting to get the—
Barbara: You’re getting the picture. [Laughter]
Bob: Yes. I think this needs to be a new Ever Thine Home® resource!
Barbara: Oh, you do! [Laughter]
Bob: Don’t you think? I think many of our listeners have—they would like to see your work on this for your product line; yes?
Barbara: Yes, probably not. [Laughter]
Dennis: It was a Christmas to remember.
Bob: That’s about all we’re going to say about that.
Barbara: That’s ALL we’re going to say about that—[Laughter]—I can tell you that.
Dennis: You know, but here’s the thing—Barbara has done a good job of teaching me to listen.
Barbara: By the way, I only did that once. Only one time, he got “The Twelve Nights of Christmas.” No pressure on the women—that’s why I wanted to—
Bob: That’s a once-in-a-lifetime occasion?
Barbara: A once-in-a-lifetime—yes.
Dennis: Rats! [Laughter]
But men need to use their iPhone®—instead of doing email as their wife is talking / instead to make notes of, when she drops a hint, of what she’d really like. It’s not always necessarily expensive. It can be something you put together:
a coupon book of certain tasks or chores that she’d like to have you do around the house. I did that one year for Barbara in an attempt to kind of clean up a honey-do list that I allowed to linger too long. Some of those things can be a statement of love because your wife may really appreciate acts of service and doing things on her behalf.
But listen and write them down because Christmas Eve is not the best day of the year to be thinking about what to buy your wife. You’re not going to, more than likely, hit it out—
Barbara: You’re not going to win.
Dennis: —hit it out of the park on that one.
Bob: Well, we don’t have your Twelve Nights of Christmas in the Ever Thine Home collection.
Barbara: No, we don’t.
Bob: Dang it! But we do have what you’ve been working on for homes and for holidays. I’d encourage our listeners, “Go to EverThineHome.com to see the new set of ornaments for your Christmas tree that Barbara has created, her Adorenaments® that are focused on the Savior names of Jesus—
—all in the shape of a cross.” These are beautiful ornaments for the Christmas tree. You’ll also see the Christmas and royal names of Jesus from previous years.
We also have a topper for your Christmas tree—The Bright and Morning Star tree topper—and a lot of other resources Barbara has been working on/developing. Go to EverThineHome.com, and you can see all that is available. You can order from us, online; or you can call 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.” And we can answer any questions you have about the resources Barbara has worked on, or you can order by phone.
I have to tell you we have had some encouraging things happening, here at FamilyLife, over the last couple of weeks. We’ve had a number of listeners, who have come to us to make yearend contributions, already, during the month of December. The truth is—
—many of our listeners wait until the week between Christmas and New Year’s to make any kind of yearend contribution, which always makes for an interesting week as we wait to see what is going to happen during that week of the year. So, it’s nice to get an early yearend contribution.
Then, we’ve had some listeners, who came along and said that they would agree to match every donation that comes in in the month of December, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, up to a total of $2,000,000. So, we are—we’re encouraged by what is starting to happen this month; but as I have mentioned, this is a critical month for us. What happens in December sets the course for what we are able to do, as a ministry, in the year ahead.
So, would you consider supporting this work with a yearend contribution right now? Go to FamilyLifeToday.com—make an online donation—and know that that donation is going to be matched, dollar for dollar, when you do. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can make your donation over the phone.
Or mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. Our zip code is 72223. And again, we are grateful for your support of the ministry. We always look forward to hearing from you.
And we hope you can join us back tomorrow. We’re going to talk about the origins of Christmas. Phil Vischer is going to join us, and we’ll have some fun with him. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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