The other day I was talking to one of my daughters, and I misunderstood something she was asking me to do—midway through our conversation, I realized I had handled the whole thing wrong. She had needed my help on a school project, and I’d been absent and unhelpful. When I realized what she was asking and how unhelpful I had been, I felt awful. So midway through the conversation I stopped her and said, “Hey, I just realized I have been completely misunderstanding what you were asking me to do and why. I’m so sorry—I didn’t say what I should have said. Can you forgive me and can I please have a do-over? I really want to help you on your project, and I’d like to respond a totally different way.” You know what’s amazing about kids? She grinned and forgave me and we started the whole conversation over again. The next time, I got it right.
We are big fans of do-overs in our house. Mom is impatient? Let’s have a do-over. A kid is whining? Let’s have a do-over. Siblings get too mad too fast? Let’s have a do-over. Husband and wife get snippy with each other? Let’s have a do-over.
If we can learn to offer each other swift grace with no time spent in the dog house, what a happy place our family becomes. Instead of hurt feelings, we enjoy gracious forgiveness; instead of stuffed feelings, we allow quick repentance. We learn to believe the best in each other. We fill our families with the forgiveness, trust, and kindness our heavenly Father so generously exemplifies for us.
My favorite holiday tradition is the day we give our kids money and set them loose in a toy store.
They tear through the aisles, eyes glittering with desire, desperate to find the perfect toy. As they search, my husband and I watch them transform into the best versions of themselves. Compassionate, selfless versions. Big-hearted, open-handed versions that sometimes hibernate for weeks in normal life, but always wake up shining on this day.
Because on this day they aren’t shopping for a toy they want—they are choosing gifts for each other. This is Sibling Gift Day.
When our kids were toddlers, my husband and I began searching for ways to build a spirit of giving and generosity into our Christmas traditions—singing in nursing homes, buying gifts for families in need, baking treats for friends—but Sibling Gift Day has become our most bonding holiday tradition. Not only does it teach our kids the joy of giving, it also builds connection and affection in our family. Here’s how we do it . . .
If you’ve been married for even a single Christmas season, then you’ve already learned this: Spouses can envision very different things for holidays, without even realizing it. One of you wants to relax and keep it simple and never ever get out of their pajamas; the other wants to be Clark Griswold, and invite Cousin Eddie and every other relative to spend weeks partying at your house!
On our first few Christmases together, Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome and I ran into unexpected conflict over stupid things: should we invite 50 friends over for Ugly Sweater parties every other night, or go hibernate alone in a mountain cabin with no Internet or phone service or Ugly Sweaters (or clothing of any kind); should we drive thousands of miles cross-country to visit every possible relative, or stay home snuggling by the fire; should we invite friends over for Christmas dinner, or have a quiet meal with just our family…and the list went on. Plus, we both had our own list of like 36 Things We Absolutely Had to Do in December Or Else Our Whole Holiday Season Would Be Ruined.
We quickly learned that we had to talk through ALL THE DETAILS of our expectations and calendar if we wanted to have a merry married Christmas. At first I, being rather a free spirit when it comes to holidays, ran away screaming when Kevin came at me waving a calendar and throwing out terrifying words like “schedule” and “plan ahead,” but I quickly realized how wise he was. And now that we have four kids and all of our family lives out of town, there’s no choice. We have to plan.
Kevin and I have learned that several weeks before Christmas (if you haven’t noticed, that’s NOW!), we need to have a little meeting together. We put the kids to bed and sit down in front of the tree (the calming presence of the tree helps me not hyperventilate). We grab our family calendar, pour glasses of wine (again with the hyperventilation prevention), and map out everything we both want to do over the holidays. First we talk about expectations and talk through our answers to the 10 holiday questions I posted last week—how we want our holiday to feel, what we are both hoping for.
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Then out comes the Evil Calendar. This is where we figure out how our expectations translate into life in the real world, with the limits of 24-hour days and the need to eat and sleep and bathe children. This is where expectations meet reality. This is where we figure out how to make our expectations actually happen. We are very specific—we pencil in everything we want to do over the holidays:
all the gajillion fun family outings we want to pack in
who we are going to invite over, and when
Christmas decorating and wrapping
all 537 Christmas and birthday and New Year’s parties we need to attend
we even reserve certain nights for relaxing at home, watching favorite movies and wrapping presents
These plans are not set in stone or signed with a blood pact or anything—we can always change them later. But they give us a roadmap to start from—and they make sure we’re working from the SAME map, trying to get to the same destination.
And you know what’s the best part about doing this? It doesn’t just unite us and prevent conflict and confusion, it also helps me to feel less overwhelmed. For example, your spouse might help you realize: Hey, I’m being unrealistic in my Big Holiday Pinterest Plans. If I’m going to decorate my yard with snowmen made from snow flown in directly from the North Pole, and carve an ice sculpture for a Christmas dinner centerpiece, then I’m either going to need my spouse to kick in and help me, or consider scaling back my decorating plans a little. This is especially helpful for me as a woman who wants to do ALL OF THE THINGS, but forgets that she does not have a body double, personal shopper, or house elf to help her. Kevin, wonderful husband that he is, usually offers to take a few Christmasy jobs off my plate when he sees how much I *think* I can accomplish in December—some years he has offered to do the wrapping for me; other years he’s suggested we get babysitters so we can go finish Christmas shopping together; other years he tells me to schedule in exercise and naps. (Really.)
But seriously. When you map out HOW and WHEN you’re going to accomplish all the different fun things the holiday entails, and when you come up with a plan for working together with your spouse to make them all possible, I promise: you’ll feel happy and free. Holly-jolly, even. All your Scroogey “Bah-Humbug-I’m-too-overwhelmed-to-enjoy-Christmas” feelings will vanish. This puts you and your spouse on the same holiday team, working toward a merry married Christmas!
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The sibling struggle is real, y’all. I offer photographic proof from my own home.
But then there are moments like this (when they don’t know you’re looking):
A few thoughts before we get to the scriptures…
Siblings are one of the greatest blessings—and challenges—of childhood. They reveal kids’ character as no other relationships do. Siblings force each other to learn how to be selfless, flexible, forgiving, resilient, patient, self-controlled, and a thousand other things. With God’s help and parents’ guidance, sibling relationships can develop into a lifelong source of joy and friendship. I believe this is possible because I saw what my parents, by God’s grace, built in my family growing up (four kids who still really like and enjoy each other, even as adults—talk about a modern-day miracle!). We didn’t just have “good chemistry”; our closeness was no accident. Over the years, many tears were shed; countless apologies were made. Watching the work my parents put into our family, I learned a valuable lesson that I cling to now that I’m building my own family of four crazy kids: Close, caring sibling relationships don’t “just happen.” And it’s not just the “lucky families” who get to enjoy them. Any family can build close sibling relationships—any family! yours too!—if they are willing to put the work in, and do it God’s way.
Cultivating sweet sibling friendships takes intense, daily effort from every member of the family—first the parents, then the kids. Kids don’t just outgrow their mean, petty, selfish behaviors—they have to be taught and disciplined and reminded until they learn to act otherwise. If we the parents allow cruel words, insults, sarcasm, shouting, and even hitting and violence between our children, then those behaviors will continue. When we allow these behaviors to go undealt with for a long time, we are setting our kids up for increasing resentment and antagonism that will only build, year by year. That’s the bad news. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Kevin and I are working so hard (SO! HARD!) to encourage close relationships among our four kids—and some days it’s just an exhausting grind. Sometimes I wonder if we’re getting through, if they’ll ever be as close as we dream they will be. But then we see sparks of hope, signs of progress—our miserly son sharing gum with his sisters, unprompted; the six-year-old, caring more for the two-year-old’s fair ride experience than for her own; the nine-year-old not losing her temper when a sibling leaves the cap off her favorite markers for the zillionth time. I see these seeds of hope and affection sprouting, and pray that as we continue to nurture them, they will grow into wondrous friendships that give us ALL joy our whole lives long. Kevin and I are determined. With the help of God and scriptures like the ones listed here, we will not give up.
We will not let this go.
Our kids will get along, and they will like it!
As my mother always says, “We’re going to love each other in this family, even if it kills us!”
Here are 13 scriptures to help siblings get along:
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21
“Do not say, ‘I’ll do to them as they have done to me; I’ll pay them back for what they did.’ ” Proverbs 24:29
“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2: 3–4
“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” Psalm 133:1
“The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Galatians 5:14–15
“ ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Ephesians 4:26
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Luke 17:3–4
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers…. Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:16,18
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