By Emily Pilkington
Holiday seasons can be daunting for parents. We often feel pressure to provide memorable experiences that bring family members together. Social media gives us glimpses into the highlight reels of other people’s homes. And instead of providing ideas or encouragement, the comparison can lead to guilt, shame, or the white flag of surrender.
For me, coming through an intense season of parenting, I’m finally ready to admit that I can’t do it all. The good news is that God isn’t asking me to. As a Christian parent, God is calling me to something far simpler: to follow him and provide both an example and opportunity for my children to do the same.
We hear this open-ended command in Deuteronomy 6:6-7:
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up.
As parents, we’re called to point our children to Jesus in the context of ordinary life—sitting at home, eating a meal, riding in the car, getting ready for bed. Doing so does not require a seminary degree, a background in child development, or the festive flare of Martha Stewart. We just need a willing heart and a little intentionality to make the most of the time we already have with our kids. Holiday seasons like the weeks leading up to Christmas are a great opportunity to give this a try.
What is Advent?
The four weeks before Christmas are called Advent. Advent comes from a Latin word that means “coming.” It’s an opportunity to reflect on both the humble birth of Jesus and also on the wait of his return in glory. It’s a reminder that we live in between the comings of Christ, the already, but the not yet.
During this season, we remember that waiting, longing, and angst are very much a part of the Christian life. Just as God’s people and prophets groaned and ached for the Messiah hundreds of years ago, we also groan and ache for Jesus to return and make everything sad come untrue.
As with everything in life over the last nine months, holiday celebrations around Advent and Christmas look different this year. These limitations and challenges also include opportunities for families to treasure God this holiday season.
Wondering how to celebrate Advent? Here are three practical tips for your family.
Looking for more ideas? Sign up for Emily’s online class for parents of preschool and elementary-aged kids: Treasuring God in the Our Traditions. It starts on November 15!
1. To say “yes,” you have to say “no”.
For our family, celebrating Advent is just as much about saying “no” as saying “yes”. This became all the more real to us the December we had a two year-old and newborn triplets in the NICU. You can hear more by watching this short video.
While we aren’t living between the hospital and our home this Advent season, life still feels overwhelmingly full. That means that sometimes we have to say “no” to good things so that we can say “yes” to what we think matters most. For our family, we have one simple goal for our children in the month of December: to help them celebrate Jesus’s birth with anticipation and excitement.
When we’re struggling with whether to say “yes” and “no,” we go back to this goal to help make the final call. Every family has different needs, bandwidths, and abilities to do things. Our “yes” and “no” will likely be different than yours. However, it’s still important to think through your priorities, especially if normal life already feels like a lot.
2. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.
Repetition is especially important with young children. If you have toddlers or preschoolers at home, you don’t need to come up with anything especially spectacular or creative. Something as simple as reading a familiar nativity account from a children’s Bible and acting it out with a kid-friendly nativity set can do more than you think.
When our son was two, we committed to doing this daily (or as often as we could). And by the end, we had a little guy who knew the story extremely well and couldn’t wait to make Jesus’s birthday cake.
3. Doing something is better than nothing.
Instead of getting bogged down by comparison or worrying that you won’t be able to do things perfectly, ask yourself, “What is the next step I can take?”
Maybe it’s attending an online Christmas Eve service for the first time. Or maybe it’s a weekly devotional, a daily reading and discussion, or one new picture book or one song. Give yourself permission for your next step to be different than what others might be doing. If you miss a day or a week or fall short of your goal, don’t give up or stop. Something is always better than nothing.
Looking for a good next step? Sign up for Treasuring God in the Our Traditions—An Advent Class for Preschool and Elementary Parents for fun, practical ideas you can use this Advent season.