As kids head to college or marry and begin families of their own, sometimes the holidays can become a source of stress or tension for the family. We have avoided much of the typical tyranny of this transition with a few simple principles.

  • Be flexible: Sports, jobs, leadership, other extended family commitments can all make gathering your tribe more challenging. Be willing to celebrate the holiday on an off-day: Dec. 26, 18—or even New Years. We made it our family's goal to find a few days each year to be together, but it can be anything from Dec. 15 to January 3!

  • Be warm: Be the place of happy memories. Make grandma's fudge recipe, or cook up those favorite comfort foods. Life is stressful for those young adults. After all, they are learning that you actually have to BUY things like shampoo and toilet paper!

  • Be affordable:  With a tight economy, consider drawing names so each person only has to buy one gift for an exchange. Or make gift-giving something completely different: have everyone bring a dollar store item or plan a fun "white elephant" party. Laughter is sometimes the best gift you can give.

  • Be welcoming: Often your kids will be bringing home their girlfriend/boyfriend to meet the family. Or maybe a new toddler or child will be visiting. Call ahead and find out what foods or activities your guest might enjoy or what would make him or her feel more at home.

  • Be fun: Implement new traditions and activities. Poll your grown kids to see what they might enjoy. Or delegate event planning to the kids. Just give them a budget and see what they might surprise you and the family with!

  • Be creative: You can give a meaningful gift when something ordinary is accompanied by something amazing. Do not be afraid to give purposeful gifts along with fun ones. As one of my friends says, "Whose life was ever really changed for eternity by a tie?'

  • Be realistic: Spread out the responsibility. Grown kids should be treated with respect. They are often living on their own, so include them in the responsibilities of the holidays. See who might want to pitch in to cook, bake, clean up, set up the tree, etc. Young adults appreciate being treated as adults.

  • Be a listener: This is a wonderful time to gain more information about the adult your child has become or gain knowledge about his or her world, job, friends, and spiritual life (or lack of one). Listen first, ask questions, seek to build trust and if at all possible, wait to give advice until they ask for it. If you just can't resist giving your two cents, start with, "Would you like to know what I might do in that situation?"

  • Be purposeful: Set aside a few hours or a day that includes worship, attending a church service, singing carols, or helping a nonprofit like The Salvation Army or Angel Tree accomplish deeds to help the needy. Each member of our family does a "gift to Jesus," and it is the last gift we open around the Christmas meal. We simply each choose to do something or give something or some money to someone or some ministry God has placed on our heart, and over dinner we discuss how that choice in turn blessed us.

  • Be traditional: Ask each member of the family what traditions -- from cards, to lights, to food to activities -- mean the most to him or her. One year, I (Pam) was in bed with pneumonia all but five days of December so my family "carried" Christmas. I discovered that many of the things I did in years past were traditions only I really cared about. Sometimes what means most might surprise you. Our family has a tradition of attending the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Bowl breakfast. We donate our time to help, usually money to get Bibles, and FCA t-shirts to students who are not usual church attendees. We hear testimonies of bowl game players and usually a Christian coach. With three sons, all who now play college sports and lead their own FCA groups, the years of attending the bowl breakfast is a tradition that feels like a Christmas gift to their souls.