Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Meeting Season

Yesterday, as a bunch of little kids helped me put the Christmas story together in sequence, I got to thinking about Mary and all those strangers arriving unannounced to see the new baby.  Can you imagine? First an angel shows up and announces her pregnancy. That would have been enough stranger for me already.  Then, exhausted from giving birth, huddled in a stable without her mother or sisters to welcome them and usher them in to see the baby, a batch of filthy shepherds who hadn’t bathed in weeks shows up. Then the KINGS! Well-dressed in rich clothing and driving Rolls-Royces (OK, camels, but still, all the neighbors would surely notice them parked outside and start wagging their tongues!) Can you imagine?

I don’t expect all those visitors rattled the baby Jesus in the least.  He was still blissfully unaware of the fact that He was no longer tethered to his mother’s body.  Eating and sleeping were His primary concerns; the rest was just kind of a blur behind His mother’s face and voice.  I’m guessing that was a little different by the time His first birthday arrived!  

My sister tells of her husband’s grandmother who offended her deeply by asking about my niece, “Is she strange yet?”  Turns out this is a German phrase meaning “Is she afraid of strangers yet?” I like it. Children go through periods of being fearful of strangers. It’s part of the developmental process. Are your children “strange” these days?

Who is coming to your house for Christmas?  Or who is going to be at your parents, or in-laws, or wherever you’ll be gathering?  Will there be strangers? Yep. They might even be named Grandma and Grandpa, or Aunt Laurie, or Uncle Greg. These people, whom you have loved and known all your life, may be strangers to your child.  This point was driven home at my recent visit with my family.  My niece said to one of my daughters, “I’ve only seen you like five times in my whole life.” Now, that’s not an exact count, but several of those visits WERE when she was too small to remember!

Meeting all these “strangers” can create a lot of stress for your child.  Of course it’s more stressful for some children than others, but regardless of their personalities, it can take a lot of energy to deal with all these people.  They may also resent that you are holding some strange baby cousin or that you are deep in conversation with some strange woman (like your sister), and not paying them sufficient attention. Stress then brings out the worst in your child - whining, clinging, melting down. . . and you are embarrassed.

When you take your children to church, the neighborhood pool, or  your company Christmas party, you are very aware that all these people around you are strangers, and you monitor your child closely. Do the same with your loved ones, and your child will feel a lot more secure, and warm up to the relatives faster. It’s very hard to think of our families of origin as strangers to our children but, in reality, that may be what they are, especially if we don’t live close enough to come together regularly.  Keep all this in mind and you can successfully introduce your past and present families to each other, even if a few smelly shepherds or kings on camels show up.

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