Christmas and the Changing American Family

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During the Christmas season, billions of people will set aside their normal schedules to decorate, buy gifts, go to parties, attend church, and travel miles to spend time with family. Christmas is a great time of celebration, but for many it can also bring significant challenges.

Today fewer than half of all families are comprised of a traditional family structure, which includes a mother, a father and their biological children. Blended families have now become the norm, not the exception. We often experience a temptation to avoid this topic, most likely because it points to the controversial Biblical teachings on marriage and divorce. However, during the Christmas holiday, many become focused on their families and where they are vulnerable to dysfunction.

In 1960, 73% of all children were living in a family comprised of two married parents. By 1980, this group decreased to 61%. In 2016, only 46% of children live in a traditional household setting. The decrease of traditional households demonstrates an increasing number of problems in our most primary relationships. Furthermore, research suggests that children are the ones most impacted by this cultural shift in our family structure.

By adolescence, those living outside the protective design of traditional family households show significant consequences of family dysfunction. Children living outside the family are more likely to be depressed, have lower academic achievement, and higher levels of incarceration. Social science research clearly points to a negative impact that occurs from division in family relationships.

As we enter the Christmas season, we have a chance to grapple with the status of our families. More than half of us are dealing with divorced, step-family, cohabitating, or single parent situations. For all of us, Christmas is a time of celebration. It is a time of coming home. Spiritually, it a time when we come to the manger.

Take a moment and focus on the imagery of the nativity scene. Mary and Joseph, the wise men, the shepherds, and even the animals. Most importantly, focus on the baby Jesus. Place yourself in the scene before the infant Jesus, and imagine a role that was primary. With any small child, the primary duty is to protect. In the presence of any baby, we guard his or her life from danger.

Now focus on your family and the upcoming celebration of Christmas. Acknowledge the vulnerable and dysfunctional patterns that can impact your family gatherings. Get real about the anxiety, the depressive dynamics, and the addictive behavior that can overshadow the celebration of Christmas. Just like at the manger, a primary role for us is to protect and guard this most Holy of celebrations from these problems that are often highlighted during the holidays. Our job is to protect our children from these potential problems that can become the imagery of Christmas instead of the nativity.

The holiday season for every family, regardless of your status, can be a starting point. Here are some ways to take the next right step in guarding Christmas with your family:

  • Join a supportive faith community
  • Establish new family traditions
  • Resolve to be cooperative with biological parents
  • Acknowledge family losses and transitions
  • Plan for a stronger marriage and family
  • Seek professional Christian Counseling if needed

For better or for worse, many lifetime family memories are formed around holiday experiences. This Christmas, make a plan to assess your family situation. Take a realistic view of potential family problems. With your faith in Jesus, plan for a stronger marriage and family. This Christmas, protect the light of Christ with the ones you love the most.

[WATCH] Craig Keener offers a biblical, Christian perspective on divorce and remarriage in this Seven Minute Seminary; [WATCH] Jim Pettit shares further insight into how pastors can better minister to blended families in this Seven Minute Seminary; [PURCHASE] Winfield Bevins wrote a short, accessible guide to family discipleship in Grow at Home.

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