You’re into preparation mode: shopping, cooking, invitations, fundraisers, junk mail, Christmas cards, special parties. And this is above and beyond the regular stuff on your plate: sports teams, concerts, work deadlines, homework help. And then there’s the unexpected: a child’s broken leg, another ear infection, a friend in crisis.

But for many there’s another source of underlying stress: Your in-laws or parents are coming for the holidays. Or you are going to be with them.

You may be anticipating this visit with great joy or with a bit of dread. It all depends on your relationship with them. Either way, simply having extra adults or extra children around will bring extra confusion and increase the level of stress.

Here are four tips will help to make this a good holiday for all.

1. Keep realistic expectations.

It’s easy to be form a mental picture of a perfect family deeply enjoying one another by the fireside at Christmas. Longing for this fantasy can set you up for disappointment.

There is no perfect family. We are all sinful people. You will disappoint someone in your family in this season. And someone will disappoint you.

It may be wise to discuss expectations before the visit. If you are the elder visiting, don’t go with your own plan as to how you will “help.” What looks like help to you may not be what your kids call help. Instead say, “I’d love to help you in any way I can but you need to tell me exactly what that will look like for you.” And this will be different for each one of your kids’ families.

If you are visiting your parents and taking your kids, ask your elders for one or two specific things you can do to help them. After the visit, be sure your kids write a thank you note to their grandparents. Thoughtfulness is a character trait we want to develop in our children.

2. Guard against a critical spirit.

Your mother-in-law may not load the dishwasher the way you want her to, or she may mess up your wash, or she may not pay enough attention to a specific child. It’s easy to be critical of her, and criticism becomes resentment. Realize that her motive was to help. She may have gone about it in the wrong way, but at least she tried.

On the other side, you may be the older parent feeling disappointed by the fact that your children are letting your grandkids trash your house. They are not disciplining them as you think they should. And you feel unappreciated.

Realize that your children are exhausted. The season of parenting little kids is one of the most stressful periods of life and young parents are usually worn out. Cut them some slack, especially in this season.

Holidays and family reunions are not the best time to deal with difficult relational issues. Those are better addressed during the year. Family reunions are times to celebrate what is good. The rest of the year is the time to nurture the relationships. During this season choose to believe the best in one another.

3. Plan specific fun.

One of my greatest treasures is an old tape on which we recorded an interview we did with my elderly grandmother. We asked her what it was like to grow up in the deep South. (She was born in 1889!) We asked her what was invented while she was a child, what life was like for her parents and grandparents, what toys she played with, who was President, and what was happening in the world. It was fascinating and today it is a part of our own grandchildren’s history.

Plan to video an interview with your elders. Have your kids come up with some of the questions. This is their heritage and one day they will appreciate it.

Another idea is to plan one or two activities to do together. One family I know makes gingerbread houses. It’s a multi generational tradition and provides fun bonding for all.

4. Keep the main thing the main thing.

Don’t focus on difficulties in your family during Christmas; remember that this holiday is about the birth of Jesus who was born to die on the cross so that our sins might be forgiven.

He knows we are broken. He knows not one single family is perfect. That’s why He came. He came to bring healing for all. This season we need to keep our focus on Him. We need to ask Him to give us a grateful heart for what He has done for us and to ask Him for the insight to see things to be grateful for in each family member.

Copyright © 2013 by Susan Yates. All rights reserved. Used with permission.