One of the most enlightening conversations over the holidays was about my tree skirt. No, I’m not talking about a skirt with trees on it or a skirt made from trees, although bamboo is big in textiles these days. Imagine instead a skirt that circles the base of a Christmas tree. For many years, I draped a simple white sheet around the tree stand in our home. Eventually, I found a lovely tree skirt made from heavy wool in winter white with holly and berries applied in full circle around the perimeter.
This year I got a kick out of watching a couple of our adult kids with homes of their own getting festooned for the holiday. My daughter was in search of the perfect tree skirt. Hoping to be helpful, I asked what she liked the best. She told me what she really wanted was one just like the skirt already under my tree. She said, “I guess, I shouldn’t do everything just like you, though.” We laughed about how we like the same colors, both enjoy vintage finds, and often find ourselves unintentionally dressed alike. I told her I eventually got used to the fact that I turned into my mother and I was brave enough to ask her if she minded turning into me—at least in some ways. She blessed me by adding, “It’s not all bad,” delivered with a big grin.
Here’s the deal…God designed us with a will, which means we have the ability to make our own choices. Even so, much of what we land on is influenced by what we already know. Outside of genetics, we tend to become what we practice---or what we’ve watched practiced. While that willful nature of ours can show itself as rebelliousness, pushing away from our families, or simply an internal decision to choose not to be “like them,” we still often end up falling into familiar—or familial—patterns. We may convince ourselves, especially in the young adult years, that we are making independent choices, but, for better or for worse, we tend to grow up to be like our parents, whether we intend to or not.
When I look back, it’s uncanny to think about how often my choices leaned into what I knew best. My parents loved to take us on extended camping trips to national parks. Is it any surprise that I still choose vacations that center on seeing God’s creation? My mom’s favorite recipes are still part of my meal planning. I live in a house that looks oddly similar to the one I grew up in. As the daughter of two secondary school educators, I only sort-of broke the mold by pursuing a career in higher education. I even married a man who loves tackling the Sunday crossword puzzle, which my mom and dad did faithfully every week for decades.
Which brings me to our new decade and the opportunity to make fresh, independent decisions. Can I just admit that New Year’s always feels like I’m supposed to resolve to fix something I am lousy at, which means staring my flaws in the face? Ugh. Can I just skip it this year? What if, instead, I could pick a resolution for my student? Doesn’t that sound easier? Any of us with siblings, a spouse, or kids (basically anyone who is human), knows how tempting it is to point out the flaws of others instead of admitting our own. I’d love for my young adults to have better sleep habits, be more diligent about study habits, and take better care of their health. Realistically, though, we also know that because of that darn willful nature, we can’t MAKE anyone else think differently, behave better, or change their habits. The only person we control to that degree is ourselves.
Moving from 2019 to 2020 suggests that we’ve collectively left our teen years behind. Does that imply that we need to act more like the adults we want to be (or hope our kids will be), too? Here’s a radical thought: since our kids end up following our lead whether we like them to or not, how about choosing something to work on that might set a better example for those we love? If I hope my student will practice better money management, I should work on my own habits first and share about the changes I am making. If I want them to protect their sleep, what about working on my own? If I’m concerned about their lack of exercise, what are my choices modeling?
Scripture makes it abundantly clear that we are stepping outside bounds when we “skirt” (pun intended) our own issues in order to address another’s flaws. Matthew 7:3-5 challenges us on not trying to fix others without examining ourselves first. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye…You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye...”
The fact is, if we focus on ourselves first, as it should be, we are submitting to God’s improvement plan for our whole family. By nature of our inadvertent influence, whatever we become will affect who our children become. What can we work on in the coming weeks and months that also influences the self-care or character of our young adults? Pursuing generosity? Practicing self-advocacy? Asking for help when we need it? Stewarding of our time and talents? Performing acts of kindness? Developing our spiritual disciplines? The bottom line is, if we look at ourselves first, when we do look at our young adults, we are likely see a version of ourselves anyway. Let’s heighten our awareness of the impact of our practices and patterns.
For us, the Christmas comparisons didn’t end with the tree skirt. We have a total of four kids (plus two son-in-laws) that all qualify as adults. One chose to deliberately replace her everyday dishes for the whole month of December with the set of Christmas dishes she remembered from childhood. One called home for the infamous Christmas coffee cake recipe. Half of the family Dicken’s Village ended up in one of their apartments, by request. Even my son, who is now the only one of our adult children still living at home, blessed me by saying that even when he is successfully launched, he will always choose to circle back home at Christmas. Maybe we did something worth repeating after all.