When we were first married, the holidays were a really stressful time for us. We went to [five] different Christmases at [five] different houses.
We wanted to spend as much time as we could with our family, and we didn’t want to disappoint anyone, so we made it happen.
We were trying our best, but as soon we had to leave somewhere, there was always at least one comment that made us feel guilty.
We knew that they intended well and we truly are thankful that our family loves us enough to want us around.
But we would still leave the house feeling so discouraged because, in reality, Jesse and I had spent absolutely no time alone together; we were simply trying to accommodate everyone else.
Then we hit a turning point.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. Our son Sutton was 1-1/2 years old and we rushed home a ridiculous number of times to pick up food and gifts to take to the next house. And then the next house. And then the next.
Jesse decided on our final trip home that night that he pretty much despised the holidays and it made me so sad. He had always loved and looked forward to them when we were dating.
We were stressed out with each other and far from ‘merry.’
And honestly, that day had looked so much different than what I had dreamt of time and time again as I imagined celebrating my son’s first real Christmas.
When we finally came home for the night, it was completely dark. Sutton’s toys were piled up, untouched, in the corner. He didn’t get to open or play with anything that day and he was passed out by the time we got home.
Our house was a disaster because I had rushed to cook and bake everything for each house and didn’t have time to clean before we left.
We also spent an inordinate amount of money on 19 kids, 10 siblings and 3 White Elephant parties.
We were completely exhausted, frazzled and frustrated.
It was in that moment when we both realized that, although we both desperately love our families, we are our own family now. We have to set healthy boundaries in order to invest and nourish this little family we have created — even during the holidays.
Jesse and I have always clung to this verse in our marriage, but somehow forgot to implement it into the holiday season: “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Gen. 2:24
We are own family now.
And while it is absolutely crucial for me to teach Sutton that Christmas is about Jesus and loving and serving others, I also don’t want to create strife or forfeit our family principles to people-please or to simply fulfill society’s standard of what Christmas is supposed to look like.
We love being generous and we love giving gifts. It is one of our favorite things to do as a family. I love making all of the holiday food (like our famous cranberry jalapeno dip!)
We also absolutely adore spending time with our families and we look forward to a time of relaxation with them every single year.
But, you guys, when we spread ourselves so thin, neither we nor our families, actually get that relaxation. We are so busy and exhausted that they actually get very little of our energy or attention.
Every family is different and every family has unique boundaries. In our family, we personally still do our best to see everyone because we really do love it.
However, now, we have split the days up. The timespan spent at each home is shorter and we don’t allow guilt to consume us if we can’t make it somewhere.
Sweet friends, I want you to consider this.
When you exceed your budget by hundreds of dollars, simply to fulfill America’s expectation of giving a gift to everyone in your family (which they will likely take to Goodwill in 6 months), you are forfeiting your boundaries and possibly making an unwise financial decision for your own little family.
When you and your spouse are at one another’s throats because you have to put on a false smile for your in-laws who you swear have it out for you, you are sacrificing the health of the one you were intended to cling to for the family that you were intended to separate from after you said, ‘I do.’
Here’s what I’m not saying:
I’m not saying that you should say ‘no’ to everything and everyone. Scripture reminds us that those who are faithful in very little are also faithful with much.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy gifts. We are called to be generous with the money that we have because ultimately it is God’s, not ours. I don’t necessarily equate that verse to giving gifts on Christmas, but I do think there is something special about the joy that comes from placing presents under the tree for those we love.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t make small sacrifices to spend time with your husband’s family or that he shouldn’t spend time with yours.
Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
It is important to place your spouse’s needs above your own and to place other people (even extended family) above your own needs as well. Our reward for doing so may not ever come on this earth, but they will be waiting for us in heaven.
I encourage you to love your extended family so well throughout the entire year that the holidays aren’t a question of whether or not your family is important to you, simply because you can’t attend one Thanksgiving dinner.
Here’s the thing: Jesus has given YOU freedom. Even on the holidays.
This year, let us leave behind the obligation and lie that we need to be all things to all people.
Instead, let’s focus on honoring God with our lives while clinging to our own little families during the holiday season.
Slow down. Go to church or make a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy the day inside with your little family. Simply do your best to love and serve those around you without allowing pressure or obligation to consume you.
And most importantly, spread true joy and the love of Jesus with those you come across. It might even be a lot easier this time around because you’ll be rested enough to do so.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!
A version of this post originally appeared at sparrowsandlily.com, published with permission.