Christmas with college and adult kids can easily turn into a fiasco if family members are not careful to put other people first. Selflessness is the key to family harmony at all ages—but especially with college and adult kids simply because when someone has a bad attitude or is selfish, parents really have no recourse with grown kids. (It’s not like you’re going to send a twenty-four year old to his room!)
My advice for this is not going to be the most helpful for families with grown kids THIS Christmas. But families with younger children really need to grasp the idea that whatever is happening in your home among siblings now is likely not going to magically go away when they are adults.
Of course, little spats and disagreements do not linger, but, quite frankly, selfish children become selfish adults. Kids who do not learn how to defer to siblings, parents, grandparents, and others will not just miraculously defer to those people when they are grown. So my advice to have family unity in Christmas futures: focus on character training—selflessness, deference, and more—while your children are young. Initiate traditions that teach kids to give to others. Don’t let your kids be mean to each other!
Stories and Songs on Christmas Eve
So for those with kids coming home from college or grown kids coming over for Christmas, here are some suggestions for building family unity at Christmas time:
1) Continue with past traditions that bind your family together—that special Christmas Eve story, the special cornbread stuffing, the Oreo dessert in the “blue bowl.” While some of these things might seem small, they make our families unique and give even our grown kids a sense of belonging. (See Continue Earlier Traditions and Other Traditions With All or Part of the Family.)
2) Consider having a sibling gift exchange—Once our second child got married, it was starting to get expensive for the kids to buy for every sibling and sibling-in-law, so the kids decided to draw names and just get one “medium” sized gift for the person each one drew. I thought this would detract from our family closeness, but just the opposite has happened: they sneak, surprise, trick, etc., to try to keep the person from knowing they have that sibling (or sibling-in-law). They go to great lengths to get something that is special to that person. This has made our Christmas Eve even richer.
The Family voting on the number of presents that Mom lost or will give to the wrong person this Christmas!
3) Consider getting group gifts—gift cards for the kids to do something all together after Christmas, a shared gift that can be passed from house to house, etc. (See Group Gifts post.)
4) Make kids’ favorite foods—Everybody in our family knows that Jonathan adores snickerdoodles, Kara loves Rice Krispie treats, and Lisa (our daughter-in-law) despises bananas. Find out everybody’s favorites and buy or have these. (See our free Kids’ Faves worksheet to find out what makes your kids tick!)
5) Reminisce—Our family loves to talk about Christmases past—“Remember when Mom shocked everybody by getting Josiah his first drum set?” or “Remember when Mom threw the cinnamon sticks across the room when we were making that cinnamon stick ornament?” or “Remember when Mom and Dad took us to that Christmas opera on accident and we sang everything we said the entire way home?” The kids love to talk about how many Christmas gifts I lose, give to the wrong person, etc. (See their voting picture below!) Sharing memories increases family unity!
Our High School and College Kids!
6) Do some things that you have always done—while we don’t read a half dozen Christmas stories or sing a dozen carols on Christmas Eve—we still do at least one of our favorite old stories (check out several of the stories that I will be sharing throughout the month—they are online for free!) and a couple of songs. It is hard to keep a lot of people’s attention (and not all kids-in-law are used to a two hour story and song Christmas Eve!), but even a portion of what we used to do binds our hearts together.
7) Play group games—Group games can definitely be challenging with fourteen adults, but we work hard at making sure our Christmas times with our grown kids are very special—even if it means working ahead of time to get games and activities ready for a fun-filled time together. (See Christmas Eve Games for some ideas.)
8) Make new kids (kids-in-love!) feel like a part of your family. Talk to the personally about the upcoming gatherings (as opposed to just talking to your own son or daughter). Find out what they love—and bless them with it. (See Mistletoe and Chap Stick post.)