FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Questions for Christmas

with Barbara Rainey, Dennis Rainey | December 9, 2014
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The Christmas season can be particularly stressful for families. Dennis and Barbara Rainey answer your questions about the best way to handle the holidays. Hear them explain how to juggle in-laws, what to do about boyfriends and girlfriends of your children, and how to put long-held traditions to rest.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • The Christmas season can be particularly stressful for families. Dennis and Barbara Rainey answer your questions about the best way to handle the holidays. Hear them explain how to juggle in-laws, what to do about boyfriends and girlfriends of your children, and how to put long-held traditions to rest.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

The Christmas season can be particularly stressful for families. Dennis and Barbara Rainey answer your questions about the best way to handle some of the most common holiday stressors.

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Questions for Christmas

With Barbara Rainey, Dennis Raine...more
December 09, 2014
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Bob: In the first year of every marriage, almost every young couple has to wrestle with a very important question, “Where are we spending Christmas this year?”  Here is Barbara Rainey.

Barbara: My parents set a great model for us. When my brothers and I all got married, my parents didn’t expect us to come home anymore—even if we lived close—but they set the expectation that, once you are married and you have your own kids, you need to do Christmas at home. I appreciate that so, so much because it made it very, very easy for us to, therefore, do our own traditions.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, December 9th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll answer the questions you have today about families, and expectations, and the holidays. That’s coming up. Stay tuned.


And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Alright, we have already spent some time this week talking about Christmas, and money, and budgets, and gifts. We’re going to turn our attention, now, to talking about relationships because the truth is—Christmas can be a danger zone for relationships.

Dennis: Make or break it holiday. It’s why you need to have some safe traditions that you can go to that create positive family memories and minimize the possibility of people getting upset with each other.

Barbara: Well, you also need to know how to forgive because, if you ever need it, you need it at Christmas.

Bob: We have Barbara Rainey joining us again, as you’ve just heard.

Barbara: Yes, thank you.

Bob: And what we’ve done this week is—we’ve gone on social media—Facebook®/Twitter®. We’ve invited folks to submit questions about Christmas for this special “Ask Barbara Rainey” edition of FamilyLife Today, which I’m still concerned may be the new format for the program; but—


Dennis: And replace both of us.

Bob: That’s right. So, here is a question—

Barbara: I don’t think so.

Bob: —here is a question that came in, Barbara: “My husband and I love our parents, but we live far away from them. We have always tried to navigate the holidays by spending Thanksgiving week with my husband’s parents / Christmas week with my parents. But this year, we’ve got this problem. We want—and our teen and preteen kids—really want to go skiing over the Christmas break with some of our close friends; but the Christmas break is only so long. If we did it, we would have to leave my parents the day after Christmas. I know my parents would be crushed by that. Are we wrong for doing this?  How do we tell our parents what we want to do? 

Dennis: Did one of our kids send that in? 

Bob: No, they didn’t. [Laughter] 


Barbara: Yes, they didn’t. Yes. You know, that’s a real dilemma. I think a lot of families face that because, once you get into those habits where every year it’s a certain way—when you want to change that routine, it’s hard on everybody.

My simple answer is you’ve got to favor your family of origin. I think this husband and wife can explain to her parents, or both sets of parents: “We need to do this with our kids while they still want to hang out with us. They are teenagers or young teenagers, and we’re not going to do this every year forever and ever. We may only do this—this one year—but we need to spend time with our kids while they want to still be with us. They are only going to be home a few more years.” 

Dennis: Let me just say that this is an issue of expectations. And I’m just reading this question—evaluating how our adult children have handled this. What they’ve done is—



they’ve, actually, developed their own traditions with their own families around these holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas so that we no longer expect any family to come visit us at those dates. We have transitioned to a time where, if we want to be with our kids, we have to go be with them. When you cling, and you control, and you try to manipulate and force somebody to come home, you’re going to repel your kids from wanting to come home.

Bob: Well, it sounds like you are coaching the parents here—the moms and dads—

Barbara: That’s right.

Bob: —about letting loose of those expectations. But, in this case,—

Dennis: Well, we are.

Bob: Right—but the son and the daughter here are saying: “We do not expect this to go over well with our moms and dads. So, what do we do?” 

Barbara: Well, they have to realize that Mom and Dad may not get it. It’s okay that they don’t get it. I just think that she and her husband—if this is something they feel that’s really important that they want to do with their teenagers, and this would be a great memory for them—this couple and their two or three kids—to go do this for this one Christmas—



—I think they need to make that decision. They communicate it as graciously and lovingly to Mom and Dad as they can. If Mom and Dad aren’t happy, they’re not happy. They’ll have to just get over it, eventually, because the primary family unit has to stick together. To be catering constantly to Mom and Dad is unhealthy.

Bob: Somebody else wrote to us with a different relationship question. They say: “How do you handle boyfriends, girlfriends, fiancées—like somebody saying, ‘I’d like to bring my boyfriend home for Christmas and be a part of the family celebration’?”  And they are not engaged yet, but they might get engaged. Did you ever have that happen? 

Barbara: Yes, we did, actually. But I was of the opinion—and Dennis didn’t disagree with me—we didn’t sit down and have a long conversation that I remember—maybe we did—but I felt like, until there was a formal engagement and it was a sure thing that this was going all the way to the altar—



—I just felt like to have those boyfriends or girlfriends in our house—and that included in high school, too, because we have a lot of friends, who, when their children were dating someone, even in high school, they would go on vacations with the family, and they would come for Christmas, and they really included them much more freely than I felt comfortable.

So, I’m not saying that my way or our way is the best way, but it was what we felt comfortable with. I didn’t feel comfortable having this boyfriend or girlfriend join our family for these celebrations because it felt like, to me, that I was sanctioning their relationship and saying, “We want to include you in our family in a formal way.”  I just wasn’t ready to do that. We weren’t ready to do that until it was really official. So, we discouraged that.

Now, that didn’t mean that they never came over, especially in the high school years. Our oldest daughter had a boyfriend her senior year in high school.



He kind of came and went a couple of times during the holiday—I remember because we’ve got pictures in the photo album—but he wasn’t there all day for Christmas Day—it was a different kind of a thing.

Dennis: Yes, and there is a flipside to this, too, because one of the young men, who dated our daughter during that time—his parents kind of spotted our daughter as being a treasure / that she is a prize: “She is a good one for our son to get.” The mother started to invite our daughter to a holiday or two—

Barbara: That’s right.

Dennis: —and both of us felt very uncomfortable with allowing our daughter to leave our home and go celebrate Christmas with another family because we thought, in this one situation—we thought it was a set up for trying to arrange a relationship.

Bob: That they were rushing things a little bit.

Dennis: And truthfully, it was early in the relationship—still in high school.



So, I think, at these points, parents have still got to be parents. They got to be wise, and they’ve got to know “What’s up here?”  And they also need to have a sense of protocol on these matters—that it’s a pretty big deal for a young man to bring a young lady home for Christmas.

Bob: Well, Christmas dinner / Christmas morning—I mean, the family traditions that have been a part of the Christmas celebration are family traditions.

Barbara: They are.

Bob: And before you invite somebody into a family tradition—

Dennis: Yes.

Barbara: They should be in the family.

Bob: —they ought to be in the family.

Barbara: I agree.

Dennis: Yes.

Bob: That makes sense.

Barbara: That was exactly the way we felt about it.

Dennis: But we had a lot of conversations about that.

Barbara: Oh, we did because there were some of our kids that wanted to invite boyfriends and girlfriends and vice versa.

Bob: So, here is one of the questions about—what about when your kids get married?  How do you handle their going to the spouse’s home for Christmas?  All of a sudden, they say: “We came to your house for Thanksgiving. We’re going to my in-laws’ house for Christmas.” 

Barbara: And that’s where—

Dennis: Your feelings get hurt.



Barbara: Yes, but you have to grow up and realize that you have to take the backseat. I mean, it’s their unit that they are trying to establish; and you may not be at the top of their list.

Bob: Okay; so, let’s say—and this isn’t a question that a listener sent in—but let’s say that your son calls one year and says: “Hey, we’re going to be with my wife’s family at Christmas. They are going on a cruise. They’ve invited everybody. Her dad is paying for everybody to go on the cruise.”  And you go: “I get it—great. You guys have a great time.” 

Then, next fall, he calls and says: “Hey, her dad has asked us to come to Colorado for a ski vacation. He’s going to pay for the whole thing this year for Christmas.”  And the third year, he calls and says: “Hey, her dad…” All of a sudden, it’s like: “Wait. Wait. Wait. We’re now completely shut out of the Christmas picture every year.” 

Barbara: Because we can’t pay to take them somewhere; right? 

Bob: What do you do with that? 

Barbara: I think if it kept happening—I don’t know. What would you do?  Would we have a conversation?  We’ve had some things that are not quite like that—but we’ve had some things, where we feel like we’re not getting as many visits.



Quite frankly, it hurts your feelings. You just kind of wonder, “Well, do we not matter anymore?”—and we want to matter to our children. We want to be important to our kids when they are grown up.

Dennis: I think you’ve got to be honest. I think you’ve got to put the feelings on the table and have an honest discussion, but it’s got to happen, face to face. You can’t do it in an email. I’m just telling you—

Bob: Telephone call? 

Barbara: Well, if it’s—

Dennis: Only if you’re so far away there is not going to be any chance and it’s really reached a point where you’ve got to have a conversation. But everybody has got a context;—

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: —you know?  And you don’t know what they’re dealing with. So, what—I’m not saying we’ve done this perfectly, by any stretch of the imagination, because we’ve had our feelings hurt. But we attempt to put ourselves in our children’s shoes and go: “Let’s just take a step back here. What’s going on?  How can we serve them?  How can we help them win over the long haul?” 


Barbara: But I will have to say that there might come a point where you need to help your son and daughter-in-law or daughter and son-in-law understand kind of what it feels like to be on our end. For instance, when our sons both got married the same summer—six weeks apart—I began to notice a pattern. Our sons would call on the phone, and they would want to talk to dad. Or he would answer the phone; and they would talk about work, and they would talk about sports, and they would talk about all this stuff. Then, they would hang up. After a while, I’m going, “Do I not exist anymore?” 

And I actually got frustrated with Dennis one time—I’m thinking: “I’m sitting right next to you. Why didn’t you say, ‘Do you want to say, “Hi,” to your Mom?’”  I mean, I was right there waiting for my turn; and my turn never came.

Dennis: Oh, yes, she did. [Laughter]

Barbara: And I was so disappointed. I had my feelings hurt because I was so involved with my sons’ lives—involved in their weddings, spent my life on their behalf—



—and it was like I vanished off the planet. So, Dennis called one—I guess you called both of them, actually, and said: “You know, I know you don’t mean anything against your mom. I know you love your mom, but let me just help you understand what she’s feeling.” 

So, I could see a very similar situation over the Christmas thing. You know, here are your son and daughter-in-law or your daughter and son-in-law—and they are just having a great time going on all these trips at Christmas. They are young, and they have no clue what it feels like to be you—to be Mom and Dad, who are left behind in the dust.

So, if you could have a phone call and say: “Look, I don’t want you to feel any pressure. I just want you to understand what your mom and I are feeling. And this is what we are feeling. You know, I get where you are. I get you’re having these great opportunities, and we’re happy for you that you are getting to do all these great things. We just want you to know it’s hard on us, and we’d love to find a way to see you over the holidays again someday.” 

Bob: If it’s a blended family—


Barbara: That’s even more complicated.

Bob: —the degree of difficulty really does go up, at that point.

Barbara: Yes.

Bob: And we’ve talked about that in past editions of FamilyLife Today.

Dennis: You know, here’s where the Bible, again, has to tutor us. It has to teach us and instruct us. You’ve really got to listen because you are not going to like what it says here—but in Philippians 2, it says: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit. But in humility, count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look out, not only for his own interest, but also for the interest of others.” It didn’t say you shouldn’t look out for your own interest. It just said, “Don’t look out only for your own interest.”  And I think it may not end up being a Norman Rockwell Christmas, the way you envisioned and the way you two had planned it, when you started your family.



Bob: Somebody posted us a question about the sense of loss that a mom, in particular, may feel when the 20-, 25-, 30-[year] track record of family traditions is being broken by adult children, who are now off doing new things. Did you feel some of that? 

Barbara: Yes, I did just because I think we, moms, invest so much energy—emotional energy and physical energy—into making Christmas special. It’s just a wonderful time. There are so many opportunities to build memories and to do fun things with your kids. And when all of that’s over, it really can feel like a great loss because so much was built in those years.

Now, you come to Christmas and there is no body to bake cookies with you; and there is no one to go shopping with you; and there is no one to help you decorate the tree. I mean, my girls helped me decorate the tree all the time; and now, I’m doing it all.

Bob: Yes, Mary Ann and I look at each other and go, “Why even put up a tree?” 

Barbara: Well, I don’t anymore—

Bob: Yes.

Barbara: —because it’s not worth it to me. Part of the reason I did all of those things was for my kids.



Now, that my kids aren’t here anymore the meaning really—a lot of the meaning is gone. A lot of the emotional investment in all of those activities is not there anymore.

Bob: You do have a different kind of tree you’re putting up now? 

Barbara: I do have a different kind of tree.

Bob: With some special ornaments on them? 

Barbara: Yes, it’s really kind of different—it’s kind of fun. But yes, I actually have a twig tree. It came about because we were remodeling one Christmas. We just literally could not put up a regular Christmas tree, but I wanted to have something. So, we had this tree that had died, and I got out in the yard—Dennis helped me cut some of the branches off. We mixed Plaster of Paris—remember doing that? 

Dennis: Do I remember?!  [Laughter] 

Barbara: And I spray painted all the branches white. We stuck them in this Plaster of Paris in this really cool pot. I hang all of my Adorenaments® on that tree. Really, I like it better than a green tree because all the Adorenaments show up—

Dennis: Yes.

Barbara: —so well because they are not getting stuck and hidden in all the branches.


Bob: These are the names of Jesus that you’ve crafted into ornaments that hang on trees.

In fact, somebody wrote and said, “How should I handle it if my mom has expectations that I’ll decorate the house with her ornaments, and I don’t,”—oh no, I wasn’t supposed to read that line—[Laughter]—just kidding on that one!  You got stuck on that.

Barbara: Yes.

Dennis: I was in there—you had the hook in my mouth all the way. [Laughter]

Bob: We should tell listeners a little bit about how you’ve been investing, during these empty nest years. You’ve been focusing on the rest of our Christmases now that you don’t have to spend so much time on your own; right? 

Barbara: That’s right. Yes. I’ve had a lot of fun—I have to say, in the last few years, creating ornaments for Christmas that are all about Christ. I just—I remember wishing for this / longing for this all those years that we did Christmas with our kids—I wanted something that was more about Christ as the focal point for our Christmas celebration, and I couldn’t find anything.


So, in the last three years, we’ve created three sets of Adorenaments that are all the names of Christ. The first set is the Christmas names of Jesus, which come from the Luke account and from Isaiah—so, the names that we are most familiar with in the Christmas story: “He shall be the Savior. He will be Emmanuel.”  All of those names—we’ve made into ornaments. Then, last year, we did a set that were His royal names. So, we know that Jesus is the King. He will come back and rule one day as the King. In fact, He is King of kings and Lord of lords. So, we made a set of seven crowns, and on the band of each crown is written one of those royal names that Jesus owns and will be called.

And then, this year, we have a third set of seven names which are His Savior names that describe His work as our Redeemer and our Savior. So, those seven names are on crosses. The crosses are made, then, to be hung on your Christmas tree.



In addition, this year, we have a star tree topper which I am really, really excited about because it’s this pretty good-sized star. It says, “I Am the Bright Morning Star,” which is what Jesus said about Himself in Revelation 22:16. At the top of our tree, we will have this star proclaiming the name of Christ.

Bob: Well, will that go on the twig tree? 

Barbara: I don’t know. If it doesn’t, I’ll find a place to put it, I promise.

Dennis: We’ll drill a hole in the Plaster of Paris.

Barbara: We’ll find a way.

Dennis: We’ll find a way to stick—

Barbara: Yes.

Dennis: —another branch in there.

Barbara: But I’m so excited that, now, we have what I always wished for—which is that our Christmas trees—those of us who name the names of Christ / those of us who are believers—we can actually have Christmas trees in our homes that proclaim what Christmas is all about. It’s not about cupcakes, and teddy bears, and footballs, and all the stuff that we hang on our Christmas trees—and there is nothing wrong with that—



—but, when that’s all there is, and there is nothing about Christ on your Christmas tree, and there is very little in your house that proclaims who He is—there is something that is a little wrong about that. So, I am thrilled that we have these ornaments to offer.

Dennis: And there are two points I want to make here. First, she has really made a gross understatement of how magnificent these Adorenaments are. The Christmas names of Christ—I wish our listeners could understand how many hours / how many days you worked on the finish that ended up being used on these metal ornaments—they’re really beautiful. And then, the crowns—there are seven different crowns—each one proclaiming a different name for our Savior. And then, the crosses are seven different crosses from different continents / different eras.

Each of these sets has a book that goes with it that gives you a devotional with your family to be able to explain what the name means and where the cross came from: 



the Celtic cross, the Ethiopian cross. My favorite is the anchor cross in the shape of an anchor—spectacular cross.

And if you’ll start looking in the Bible at how important the name of Jesus is—the promise in Philippians 2 is that, at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow—

Barbara: Right.

Dennis: —and every tongue will confess that Jesus is the Lord to the glory of God the Father. Well, you can celebrate that, as a family, now.

And Bob, you’ve heard me say this many times, here on FamilyLife Today. For a number of years—I wouldn’t say Barbara complained; but she kind of groused that there wasn’t really anything that really helped her, as a mom, and me, as a dad, get centered around the holiday like these names do. And she’s done it.



She’s used her gifts to be able to do something that is now being used in tens of thousands of people’s homes.

Bob: And these ornaments really are beautiful. I want to encourage listeners, “Go to”  That’s the website where you can see all that Barbara has been working on—on display there—the Savior names of Jesus, seven new ornaments for your tree, along with past years of Adorenaments. There are the Christmas names and His royal names. You can see them all laid out for you at

And there are other resources. There are dozens of items for your home that are on display at Barbara’s website. So, again, we hope you’ll go—you can order, online, if you’d like, from If you have any questions about what Barbara has been working on or if you’d like to order by phone, call 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.” 



You know, as we’ve been tackling some of these questions that have come in from listeners today, I’ve been thinking back to some of the events that we attended, earlier this fall—when were in Chicago, and Portland, and Washington, DC, for our I Still Do events—and when you spoke, over in Nashville, at the event for pastors, dealing with the culture and same-sex marriage / homosexuality.

Whenever we are out in settings like that, we always hear from listeners who come to us and say: “We appreciate the program. God’s used it in our lives. We’ve been listening for a long time.”  Maybe, they will have a question for us in that setting. It’s just a great reminder to me of how God is able to use what we do here each day in a powerful way in the lives of a lot of husbands and wives and moms and dads, all across the country, and, now, all around the world as well.

If God has used FamilyLife Today in your life this year, can we ask you to consider making a yearend contribution in support of this ministry?  The month of December is a pivotal time for us, as a ministry.



Typically, more than 50 percent of the revenue we need to operate this ministry comes in during the month of December. What happens in December really sets the course for what will happen through this ministry in the coming year.

And we’ve had some friends of the ministry, who have stepped forward recently; and they have said, “We would like to encourage your listeners to make a yearend contribution.”  And the way they’ve agreed to do that is by matching every donation that comes in, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, this month, up to a total of $2,000,000.

Of course, we are hoping to take full advantage of their generosity. In order for that to happen, we want to ask you to go to In the upper right-hand corner of the screen, where it says, “I Care,” click there and you can make an online donation. Again, your donation will be matched, dollar for dollar, when you get in touch with us this month. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make a donation over the phone; and your donation will also be matched if you mail it to us at:



FamilyLife Today, PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. And our zip code is 72223. Again, we appreciate you. We are grateful for your support of this ministry.

And we hope you can join us back tomorrow. We’re going to continue tackling some of the questions you have sent to us about Christmas. Hope you can tuned in for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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