The fourth thing I want my kids to know this Christmas is actually one they will not consciously notice, though it undergirds everything they do.
A psychologist friend once told me that the way your family shapes your identity is like a potter shaping a ball of clay and then leaving it in the sun to dry. Before it is completely dry, you can still leave fingerprints on it, but it’s hard to do much with the original shape. Our families are that early potter that do most of the shaping of personality, habits, and drive.
As we gather for dinner at my in-laws house this year on Christmas day, I will go with my usual reservations. They are a family that has a lot to say, and I generally hide quietly in the corner through most of our gatherings. I will have had a couple of aspirin in advance. I love my extended family, but you’re talking about dropping someone with the personality of a librarian into a fiesta.
But I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
And I want my kids to know that the nuclear family: dad, mom, and the kids, is an essential building block of all society that must be preserved. I want them invested in the idea of family universally and the experience of their family particularly. We continue to cheapen family in America by making marriage inessential and child-bearing optional. First we assimilated divorce and then cohabitation. Now there are flippant voices calling for the mainstreaming of adultery and serious voices reshaping marriage altogether. Deconstructionists are trying to tell us that this is inevitable and only fair.
What we’re doing is messing up the best chance the potter has.
So kids, pay attention to how your grandparents act and what your aunties say and how the cousins are the same and different from one another. They are some of the most sure access you will have to self-understanding. And be sure when the day comes that you are making Christmas plans of your own with family members we have not yet met – family is essential.