One of the great joys of parenting is reliving Christmas through the eyes of our children. It triggers our own treasured memories, like the one I have of crawling under the fresh-cut tree to look up through the lights and smell the aroma of mountain pines, or spraying 'canned' snow on every glass surface in the house. Christmas brings out the nostalgia in me. But you've probably tried to forget some of your less blessed Christmases, like those from the awkward early teen years. Holidays can lose their magic between childhood and the teen years, and that can cause tensions if your expectations for your teens are off base.
I have two starkly contrasting memories—my favorite Christmas in 1962, and the perfect storm of bad Christmases in 1967. The difference points out some things parents need to keep in mind.
At eight (1962) I recall getting everything a boy could love— a new baseball glove, a gigantic missile launching set, my first leather Bible with my name engraved on it, plus all the regular gifts of the season, including books, clothes, and real fruit in my stocking. Everything in my eight-year-old world was magic, innocent, perfect, and certainly care-free.
At thirteen (1967) my world was a dystopia right out of the Hunger Games. I had zits, I hadn't gotten a growth spurt like the other boys, toys were no longer cool (at least I couldn't let on that I was interested) and I just didn't look good in the fashions of the day—think skinny kids in turtlenecks. My older siblings, who loved to play Santa for me when I was eight, were now in college, which was a bummer since I was the last lone duckling at home. When they did make it home for the Christmas break, they were out with friends, wrapped up in their own agendas. And since toys were out, the only thing I wanted that year was cowboy boots. Things looked promising at first because my dad took me to Dyson's, our town's shoe store, and there they were, the best cowboy boots ever; brown Tony Lama's with a rounded toe just like God intended boots to have.
I was pretty sure the boots would be waiting for me under the tree. When Christmas Eve came, and with it the time to open gifts, I got the standard supply of underwear and socks plus a book or two. Meh. But sure enough, the last gift was a box suspiciously sized to hide cowboy boots. Finally, the joy of Christmas like the old days, I thought to myself. When I opened the box, there they were—the boots I wanted! I couldn't try them on fast enough, and that's when Christmas cratered. Both of the boots were lefties. No right foot in sight. Though disappointed, I figured there had to be a rightie, rightie pair of boots down at Dyson's, and Christmas would jump back on track after the long weekend.
No such luck. The right boot never showed up, literally and figuratively. After a week or two of waiting, I had to settle for black, sharp-toed boots that were fatally uncool. I was pretty sure demons were at work. After years of counseling, I sufficiently worked through the trauma of Christmas '67 and recently slipped on a pair of black boots without medication or psychoanalysis.
Suffice to say that Christmas changed for me between 1962 and 1967. Adolescence is an awkward time and even the Christmas spirit can't always rescue it. So be patient with your teen over Christmas. That wonderful time of reunion with your 38 cousins at grandma's house might not be the highlight of your teen's holiday. While they need to learn to be gracious, you will need to be empathetic. It may not be the hap, happiest season all for them.
Here are two quick suggestions. 1. Eliminate wrong expectations you have for your teen by asking them what they would love to see or do to celebrate. 2. Turn the focus of Christmas to serving others less fortunate. It's great medicine for all of us when we compare our own misfortunes with those who are really lacking. We all have much to be grateful for, and teens need to see that for themselves.