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Control Girls and Family Christmas – by Shannon Popkin

A guest post by author Shannon Popkin:

I’d like to call a pre-Christmas huddle. Calling all the women in the family please. Can we huddle up for a moment?

I’m calling this meeting because I think there are some hurting women among us. There are some mothers of adult children and mother-in-laws who feel unloved and underappreciated. Their emotions churn as they wonder, “Do my kids even notice all I’ve done for them? Do they even care about me?” And there are some adult daughters and daughter-in-laws who feel stressed out by all of the expectations that they sense coming from the matriarch of the family. Their emotions churn as they wonder, “Does she even see what she’s putting me through, here? Does she see that we’re all trying to make her happy?”

Both feel misunderstood. Both have a very clear idea of how to make things turn out “right”. And neither of them are talking about it. As the clock ticks down toward December 25, the tensions are rising, along with all of the inflated expectations.

Controlling Christmas

Many of these cross-generational tensions that we face stem from our desire for control. As women, we’re particularly interested in creating a Happy Ending for our particular family. We have this inner drive to make everything turn out right. But our heightened expectations only cause us to become more controlling—especially during the holidays.

When I was writing my book, Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control From Seven Women in the Bible, I was surprised at the consistency. Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, and Miriam all lived thousands of years ago, and yet I saw them struggling with control the same way we do: they took matters into their own hands and tried to make things turn out right for their families, based on their own single-focused perspective. And they made the whole family miserable in the process. I also noticed that the only way they found what they were really looking for—abiding peace, satisfying family relationships, and deep security—is when they did the opposite of taking control. When they surrendered to God, and made their story all about Him.

I hope that you’ll consider the many, many lessons that can be learned from these Control Girls of the Bible in my upcoming book. But for now, can I offer a few suggestions? Regardless of where your branch is on the family, tree, here are some gentle suggestions for how to choose surrender, rather than control this Christmas:

  • Christmas can be perfect without being perfect. The food, the table, the decorations, the gifts. All of these things can demand an enormous amount of attention. And the greater our expectations, the greater the stress load—shared by everyone. Let’s ask ourselves this question: What is my main goal? To be a blessing to my family? Or to create a “Pinterest Perfect” Christmas? (The two might very well be mutually exclusive.)
  • Be flexible. The people who share your DNA or your last name are not your property. True hospitality considers the needs and preferences of others. Ask what time for dinner will work best for the baby’s schedule. Let your kids know that it’s fine if they want to come a few days after Christmas, since they’ll be traveling to see the other side of the family on Christmas Day. Don’t expect your parents to make a ten hour trip. Be delighted if they do, but not offended if they don’t. Let’s stop making demands or assumptions. It’s controlling, it’s rude, and it destroys peace rather than sharing it.
  • Traditions are not obligations. Sometimes the most gracious, sensitive thing to do is to break a tradition. Or at least set it aside for a while. Maybe this year your son will want his kids to wake up in their own house on Christmas morning. Or maybe this is the year that Christmas brunch becomes Christmas munch… on leftovers. Every year your family changes just a bit. Let’s ask ourselves, Which am I holding to more tightly—my traditions or my loved ones?
  • For goodness’ sake, remember to help. Holidays are a lot of work, and one person shouldn’t do it all. Not the mom or the daughter. Not the mother-in-law or the daughter-in-law. Share the planning, the cost, the kitchen prep, and the cleanup. And gratefully accept the help that others offer! If your daughter-in-law shows up with a dish, take a generous helping and compliment her on her culinary efforts! If your mom is kind enough to clean her house from top to bottom so that your kids can reverse her efforts in a matter of minutes, the least you can do is pick up before you go. Remind yourself: Be kind, one to another. Especially at Christmas.
  • You better not cry. You better not pout; I’m telling you why: Because you’re sabotaging your own Christmas. Be honest. Ask yourself, Am I sulking? Do I have a complaining heart? Is my attitude sullen? If so, is it because I’m not getting what I want? You might very well not get what you want this Christmas. Or on any But by trying to control (sulking and pouting are forms of manipulation), you only make everyone miserable—including you.

Peace at Christmas

Let’s try something different, shall we? Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. It’s the time that we celebrate our Prince of Peace, coming to earth to set up his kingdom. He wants for there to be peace on earth! And peace in families! And especially peace that extends beyond generational lines.

This sort of peace only comes when we are following Jesus and doing life the way he showed us. How did Jesus live? Toward other people, Jesus was a humble servant. He poured out his life and gave himself up on their behalf. And toward God, Jesus lived a life of deep surrender. He said, “I seek not my own will, but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:30)

So let those be our guardrails. Facing others, we serve. Facing God, we surrender.

Our Control Girl hearts will tempt us, this Christmas, to obsess over recipes and gifts and table décor and whether Johnny’s going to be here on Christmas Eve. But as a Jesus Girl, we’re invited to surrender control and spread peace on earth.

 

 

Bio and Book Info

Author and speaker Shannon Popkin loves to blend her gifts for storytelling and humor with her passion for God’s Word. Shannon’s book, Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible, which is available for preorder, is releasing in January. Shannon is also a contributing blogger at TrueWoman.com.

Shannon is happy to be sharing life with Ken, who makes her laugh every single day. Together, they live the fast-paced life of parenting three teens. For more from Shannon, please go to shannonpopkin.com, or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

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59 thoughts on “Control Girls and Family Christmas – by Shannon Popkin

  1. Thanks for the post, think all women should read this. I think we are all guilty of misunderstandings and expectations at this time. I think we should all chill out and relax at Christmas but the stress and tensions tend to rise this time of year. It’s a time of year we should be more in the word than in the world. It’s a pitty though that under stressful situations like with family make people leave the bible to get dusty.

    Lord help us all to be more focused on you and what you did for us as we remember your birth instead of traditions and expectations and rudeness of shopping malls last minute rush and pushy people fogetting what Christmas is all about. We need to keep you in Christmas and celebrate the best gift of all.

    1. Amen to more time in the Word at Christmas, Bec! And yes, may we all be more focused on Jesus rather than stressing out over traditions and expectations! Thanks for connecting, Bec.

    2. Bec D,
      Love this! Thank you for sharing and for praying for us all that we would keep our focus on Christ and be willing to lay down expectations and traditions and all of the chaos. Love this!

      Merry Christmas to you!

  2. This year I’ve been sick with a long-term virus similar to mono that has sapped much of my energy for over six weeks. Decided Christmas would be extremely simple this year, and it’s ended up feeling so much better! A gift exchange, and a simple chili meal for Christmas has reduced so much stress! Simple is definitely better!

    1. Elizabeth Collins,

      I’m so sorry you have been sick. I had mono in high school and it really did me in for a long time. So I can relate!

      Very glad you are keeping Christmas extremely simple. That actually sounds heavenly to me! 🙂

      Merry Christmas!

  3. Hello Everyone,

    Let’s keep the Christ in Christmas, right?

    We don’t need to have Christmas in a stable and it’s nice to decorate and deck the halls and we wish to honor the birth of Our Savior! But, and it’s a big but, are we trying to out-Christmas the next person?

    I love Thanksgiving and Christmas because they bring family members together. So yes, I’m a guy, and maybe I’m not desperately concerned for the perfect flower arrangement etc on the table or the fact that someone spilled their butternut soup again on grandma’s special Christmas tablecloth. Yet I do believe that when one or two are gathered the Holy Spirit may descend on a peaceful gathering and in spite of imperfection that is a human frailty, the Spirit will bring joy to everyone but I believe it will not enter where perfection and critical hearts reign. Isn’t that what Our beautiful Jesus taught us?

    Jesus went to the place where sinners dwelled and worked, He was so filled with love and the strength given to Him by His Father, Our Father that he could not be corrupted. He saw the “perfect” ones as whitewashed tombs, shining on the outside but rotten inside.

    I remember a story told me that when the great churches were being built a conscious decision was made to place something out of place in the building, a column placed not square for example. It was their way of saying: we are imperfect, but God redeems our faults.

    And please remember my dear brothers and sisters, when Jesus Christ is at the center of our celebrations, there shall be no bitterness or rivalry. Maybe this is not completely practical but perhaps all the women folk can pray together before begin the festive preparations. As a one-on-one teacher, I often make a short prayer when I feel sure that I am going to have a difficult situation ahead. That let’s the Grace enter in.

    This is longer than I thought it would be. Thank you if you got this far.

    May you all have a blessed Christmas season,
    Jesuscentreoflife

    1. Jesuscentreoflife, thanks for this beautiful comment. I was especially interested in what you said about the whitewashed tombs. External perfection (which Control Girls often strive for as a way of getting control) is not what Jesus deems beautiful. I wonder if Jesus would ever call the perfectly decked halls and pinterest perfect home a white washed tomb? How sobering.

      Thanks for the reminders! Especially the one about praying beforehand. I’m going to try and do that this year.

      Blessings,

      shannon

      1. Thank you Shannon,
        I appreciate you taking your time. I often think of those ladies of the pioneer days crossing the country. How could they have managed that without their faith and prayers. They were continually working to make beauty from simple things. A blessed Christmas to you!
        Jesuscentreoflife

      2. Hi Shannon,
        I hope that you had a wonderful Christmas! I think that the intention for making something beautiful is what makes it a whitewashed tomb!
        Is it:
        To be praised and loved,
        Because of past memories,
        Or is it to bring Jesus into our home?
        He was born in a stable, I believe He will be anywhere that there is a humble heart, where the best effort is made.

        https://www.amazon.com/Toast-Story-Hunger-Nigel-Slater/dp/1592407064
        Toast is a favorite non Christian book of mine, where a child grows up with a mother who really cannot cook. He gets a new mom, a stepmom, who can cook beautifully. He prefers his real mom’s cooking because it was done with love!!! Nigel Slater grows up to become a cook! This is a real story.

        Thank you for your latest posting on Peaceful Wife!
        Jesuscentreoflife

  4. Thank you for this today. I’ve been struggling since Thanksgiving with depression centered on what the holidays “used to be like” and it’s ridiculous… Because when the kids were little I was a mess! So tired! Last year I thought I surrendered the last of my expectations, clearly I was wrong. I’m laying them again at the foot of the cross (and the manger!).
    Merry Christmas!

    Carolyn

    1. Oh, Caroyn, I love that you are continuing in the battle to surrender. I do think it’s an ongoing, lifelong battle. But what a lovely thought of laying your expectations before the manger. (Which was probably quite messy.) Blessings to you, Carolyn. May the Lord feel every empty bit of your heart with his peace and joy this Christmas.

      Warmly,

      Shannon

  5. You make some excellent points and have some good pointers. But what I’m wondering is why would Grandma or Mother-in-law consider herself “matriarch” anyhow? Just curious. Isn’t the mother of the house the mother of her own home and not the boss of her grown children already out on their own? Is it just me? Perhaps I’m a bit too touchy on this topic.

    We spent a number of years attempting to fill my mother’s and mother in law’s expectations about visiting on holidays. “If my mother in law lives until she’s 100 years old, when will I have my turn to just stay home?” was what I asked by the time my oldest children had already grown and moved away.

    My husband’s family spent the holidays drunk and lived over 50 miles away but we were expected to drive down there twice, once for my side of the family and once for my husband’s side of the family. By the time my mother had passed away and my oldest kids were in their late 20s I finally told my siblings and husband I was not driving down for Christmas any longer.

    Our way of resolving the issue was that my husband still goes to see his parents and siblings on Christmas Eve while my youngest two kids and I stay home and bake. Christmas my husband is home with us and often our oldest kids come visit for the holidays. But I decided to be a mother that wouldn’t make my older children feel obligated to come if they couldn’t make it. No guilt trips or any of that if they want to stay home or can’t drive here.

    Since we decided that, it’s much less stressful, and my husband and I enjoy the holidays more.

    1. Hi Cathryn. Thanks for your comment. You mentioned demanding “matriarchs” of the family. I think that sometimes beneath these demands is a fear of being forgotten, being lonely, or not mattering to anyone. Fear of being irrelevant. And so we use family ties as leverage. I talked about this in my book. We can put such expectations on our family members to save us from our deepest fears. Yet God wants us to turn to Him with our fears, and trust Him for our future, rather than putting our hope in our family. Only God will ever be enough for us.

      It sounds like you’ve learned to free your kids from obligation toward you, which is commendable. May you always turn to God with your deepest fears and longings. May he always fill your heart with security and joy.

      Blessings to you, Cathryn.

      Shannon

    2. Cathryn,
      Thank you so much for sharing. I”m glad y’all found a way to handle this that was less stressful and I am also glad you haven’t made demands on your children to always be there for certain holidays. What a blessing to your children. It is impossible to be everywhere all at once.

      Much love!

  6. JESUSCENTREOFLIFE had an awesome point. Always putting Jesus front and center of the holidays. My husband is really good about keeping a tradition his mother always kept, worshiping on Christmas (even if it is during the week and not on Sunday so church isn’t congregating.) I love that idea. My family growing up didn’t know Jesus and was Jewish so that wasn’t what we did.

  7. Hi,

    I would really appreciate some suggestions as to how not to get bothered with how my mom talks to me. She is often controlling and/or critical. For some background, I am 22 years old and in my senior year of a (good) college. I am close enough to home to visit often and I do so.

    For example, today the first thing she asked me was what time I went to bed last night. (This is a frequent morning question which is accompanied by a “look” if I tell her anything that she considers too late.) Today I sort of managed to skirt the question. Then she tells me how essential it is to get my application to XXX grad school done ASAP. Six hours later, I take a break from studying to call a store to ask about a present I want to get my bf for his birthday. I am worried that if I don’t get it before Christmas, the stores will be closed until his birthday. They don’t have it, so I spend an hour looking online for a place that does. I find a place and am excited, so I go and find my mom to tell her. She interrupts halfway through to tell me that it was a really poor way to spend an hour and decides to remind me again about how essential my application to XXX school is.

    I am ashamed to say that I became rather rude and shouted myself hoarse about how I am sick of her nagging and criticizing me. Obviously I have a lot to work on. 🙁 Also I should mention that no matter how many times I nicely say that her criticism and nagging behaviors make me feel sad and angry, she just doesn’t think that what she does is criticism or nagging. And no matter how I try to explain to her that telling someone what they should do instead is criticism, and frequently reminding them is nagging, she doesn’t get it. Worse than not getting it, she gets really mad.

    I am thinking (I realize I’m probably slow on the uptake), that God wants me to work on changing my end of the relationship, instead of trying to change my mom. I can think of a lot of things I can work on, but what always seems to trip me up is when she nags or criticizes me. After all, it’s easy to be nice to someone when they’re not annoying you. 🙁

    I hate feeling all this anger when she talks to me this way. I can do so well with how I treat her, but the minute she nags or criticizes, all this ugliness comes spilling out. 🙁 Either right away or after a few minutes. I want to know how I can stop feeling so angry and how I can start not being upset by what she says. I really don’t want to let go of my dream of us having a relationship where she doesn’t criticize or nag, but I guess I should. Please help. 🙁 I’m sick of this situation and I want it to change. Please please tell me how I can stop being so angry and upset and hurt when she says this stuff.

    Love,
    Flower

    1. Oh Flower… my heart is breaking for you. I’m so sorry for this pain and struggle that you are feeling. Can I encourage you to get my book, Control Girl? I think you’ll find a lot of the answers you’re looking for there. I could go on and on, but here are a few things to consider:

      You’re right that you can’t change your mom. That’s what Control Girls do–they try to change everyone else, rather than work on their part of the relationship. So I’m really encouraged that you’re already seeing that God wants you to work on your side of the relationship. And really, as you’re experiencing with your mom, it only makes things worse when you try to explain what she’s doing wrong and how she’s hurting you and making you mad. She can’t see it, just like you can’t probably see or understand the things that she’s frustrated about.

      Now, there are some things you can try. First, ask questions, instead of reacting. This can diffuse the situation. For instance, with the sleep thing, you could say, “Mom, what’s wrong? What are you worried about? What do you think might happen?” And I’m suggesting a gentle tone of truly asking. Let her explain what is behind the question or the “look”. She obviously has high hopes for you, and I think it would be much easier for you to respond to something like, “I just see such potential in you!” than to only the nagging. Yet, your mom’s hope cannot rest on you; there’s no way you can ever be enough for her. And there’s no way that you can teach her this lesson; only God can. So pray for your mom to turn to God with her deepest fears. Pray that she will find security in Him. That alone is what will allow her to become the sort of mom who blesses you instead of nagging you.

      One other thing to work on is cultivating an attitude of surrender to God before you encounter your mom. Entrust the relationship to him, over and over. Spend five minutes each morning meditating on truth about Him and his control over both your mom and over your future. For instance, here is one of the meditations I offer in the first chapter of my book: “Psalm 37:8–9 My anger and anxiety often indicate a deeper heart- level struggle with control. Lord, help me to Hold responsibility for myself and, with the things I can’t control, help me to Fold my hands in surrender to you.”

      So if you’ve been reading and praying this repeatedly, and preparing yourself for the anger that is sure to flare up the next time your mom corrects or nags you, you’ve trained your heart and mind to more readily turn to truth in the moment of crisis. Being prepared is half the battle. And God will give you the strength and wisdom when you need it, if you’ll rely on Him.

      Now this next part might be hard to hear. 🙁 One thing that I’ve noticed is that I (more than other people) am bothered by controlling women because I am a controlling woman. I didn’t enjoy learning this about myself, but I’m coming to see that it’s true. And what I’m learning is this: When I’m faced with another controlling woman, rather than trying to control her, I think God most wants me to deal with my own heart. If I struggle on and on with my own controlling heart, what makes me think I can conquer another woman’s controlling heart? What she needs, and what I need, is God. God alone can soften our hearts and show us our sin like no other Control Girl on earth will ever be able to. God alone can woo us with his grace, compassion, and peace, and turn us from Control Girls to Jesus Girls.

      I hope you can find something helpful in these words, Flower. I have prayed for you just now. May the Lord give you rest and peace and comfort.

      Warmly,

      Shannon

      1. Shannon,
        Thanks so much for what you shared with Flower. Love this! So many great insights. 🙂

        And UGH! So true about dealing with other controlling women. Nothing gets under my skin more – which is ironic, because that is my very tendency. It helps me, also to think about how I feel when someone is treating me like this and to remember that that is how others feel when I am controlling with them. BIG motivation to avoid being controlling!

        I think, too, that a mom of a college senior may feel like she is just being a mom. It may not have really hit her yet that her daughter is a grown adult who can take care of herself, possibly? She had to ask these kinds of questions when you were younger because it was her job to keep you on track and on task as your mother. It may be hard for her to begin to release control and to begin to treat you like a grown adult who can handle things for herself even though you are that now. To her, what she is doing = love. It can take some wrestling for a mom in this situation to realize that sometimes as a child becomes an adult, there has to be a letting go and a releasing to let that child fly on her own.

        A daughter could also say, “Mom, thanks for loving me and wanting what is best for me. I know that to you these questions feel like you are loving me and taking care of me and I am sure I may have needed you to ask me questions like this a few years ago. I think I am ready to handle these things on my own now. I know I will always be your little girl in your eyes. But I am growing up and ready to be responsible for myself now. I know it will be a transition in our relationship as we adjust to this – and that is okay. What would help me the most is if you just enjoy me and cheer me on and help me when I come to you asking for advice. It is getting close to the time when I will need you to be more and more my friend rather than my authority figure. If I need help, I promise I will ask. I love you very much!”

        Praying for you to press into God and to allow Him to change you and to empower you to be a godly example to your mom. Also, on my Youtube channel, April Cassidy, there is a video about “helping vs. controlling” that is for wives with their husbands but it also probably applies a lot to moms with grown children – that may be helpful. It could be a blessing to you to see how her mind may be thinking that she is helping you and loving you. So you can interpret her actions and questions in that light instead of lashing out at her. But then you can also respectfully take a step back and ask her to let you handle things yourself, acknowledging her love for you.

        Much love to you!

        1. Such great advice here, April! I love the way you framed that message to the mother. Transitions are difficult, yet so needed as our children grow. Especially for moms (like me) who struggle with control.

          1. Shannon,

            Yes, moms may need a bit of help sometimes because they may just not realize it is time to begin to let go or know how. It is a hard time for a lot of us and it can be a very sad time for many moms when they mourn over not being “needed” like they were and not feeling like they have the purpose they had for so long in their children’s lives. Moms may need a bit of extra grace in this transition. (So do children!)

            Another thing that I have seen can also be an issue is that a lot of moms are entering peri-menopause about the time their children are starting to spread their wings. That can throw a big wrench into the emotions and self-control thing for moms, too.

          2. You are most welcome, Flower. Let us know how things go. I know it is tempting to expect our parents to act a certain way or to be mature in ways we expect them to. That doesn’t always work out the way we expect. But you can choose to respect and honor your mom and you can respond in the power of Christ and with His gentleness and self-control no matter how she acts. She can’t make you sin. She can’t make you freak out. Your responses are about you and your relationship with Jesus. Cling to Him and allow Him to change you – and He can give you victory, sweet sister!

          3. Flower, sorry that things have been difficult with your Mom, Shannon and April have given some wise advice. As a mum to a 24y old and 19y old I have definitely had to consciously let go. As parents we have had two decades of telling our children what to do so it can be a difficult habit to get out of!
            My other observation is that my mum used to really annoy me when I was a young adult! I think that the command to honour our parents is there because it sometimes doesn’t come naturally! As parents and children we know each other and our weaknesses too well. Is it just possible that what your Mom said had a grain of truth in it?
            This is about developing an adult relationship with your Mom but it’s really easy to behave childishly with our parents.
            Hope things improve with your Mom xx

          4. Cariad,

            I love how you are able to share both sides of this issue. Thank you for these insights! I think they will be very helpful. And what a beautiful reminder about our responsibility to show honor and to look for anything our parents share that may actually be helpful and a blessing – even if we don’t always appreciate the delivery or approach.

            Much love!

          5. Cariad, that’s such a great point. We DO make such a habit of telling our kids what to do. And it IS a hard habit to break. But you’re exactly right. It must be a conscious choice, both for moms and daughters; it won’t come naturally. The most natural thing in the world is to behave like two children, vying for control, rather than two adults learning to develop a new relationship.

            Thanks so much for your wisdom. Blessings to you, this Christmas!

            Warmly,

            Shannon

          6. Things are going a bit better. I have been focusing on responding to what she means, instead of what she says. For example, today I was getting a snack in the kitchen about an hour or so before supper because I was hungry. Yesterday was my last final exam and I was so exhausted when I got home that I went to bed at 10 PM and didn’t get up until 11 AM. So I ate breakfast when I got up, because I was hungry, but I didn’t eat that much at lunch with my family because it wasn’t even two hours after I had had breakfast. And I was hungry in the afternoon because I didn’t have much for lunch, so I got a snack.

            Anyway, my mom came in and complained, “Why are you eating now?!! Don’t you realize we’re going to have supper soon?! I really hope you’re on the same schedule as everyone else tomorrow…” But I recognized that she was trying to say how much meals as a family mean to her. So I said, “Don’t worry, I’m going to have dinner with you both.” And she said, “Well, I hope you actually eat and not just a little bit because you’re full.” And I said, “I will. I’m just hungry now because I didn’t have much for lunch.” And she said, “Okay,” and walked back out. So it seems better.

            While I can’t get her to care about how her word choice and tone come across, I can choose to care about what she actually means. This helps me not be angry. The other thing is that I decided to accept the discrepancy between how she talks to me in texts and over the phone when I’m at school, versus when I’m at home. When she’s texting me at school or when I call and talk with her, she’s very supportive and sweet and respectful of my right to make decisions, but as soon as I’m home she changes and complains and gets impatient and tells me what I should do differently.

            At first I thought that she was just falling back into old patterns, but I realize now that she just acts differently to my face. Which some people do, I guess. I mean, people act differently whether they’re just with you versus in a group, so why can’t someone act differently face-to-face versus texting or talking on the phone? So I chose to accept that. Before I would come home and be like, “What happened? She’s not like this when I’m at school!” But now I’m like, “She’s just going to treat me differently face-to-face and I need to be okay with that.” So it is going a bit better and focusing on what she means is helpful.

            Cariad, I love your point about the command to honor our parents being there because it doesn’t come naturally. 🙂 Most of what my mom says does have a grain of truth in it. Which is good in a way because it shows we have the same priorities, but it’s bad because it shows she doesn’t have faith in me. If she tells me that X is important and needs to get done soon and I say, “Did you think I didn’t realize that?” she (without fail) says either “Yeah, I thought that,” or “No, I thought you knew it was important, but I didn’t think you’d actually do it.” And I’m thinking, “!!! Of course I knew it was important and of course I’m going to do it.”

            Love,
            Flower

          7. Flower,
            I love the way that you’re focusing on the commonality you have with her motives and giving her the benefit of the doubt. That’s fabulous. Good work!

            And as I was reading this, I wondered if my college age daughter might say the same–that I’m much sweeter through the phone. :/ I think as moms when we get our kids under our own roofs again, we remember about all the things we have to worry about and feel a new urgency to control. Rather than remembering that God is in control, whether we’re present or not. Thanks for the indirect reminder to keep speaking truth to myself about who truly holds the future. (God.)

            Blessings to you as you continue to be a peacemaker at home. God loves peacemakers. His own son was the best peacemaker there ever was. Blessings to you, and I hope all of your hard work on exams pays off!

            Warmly, Shannon

  8. My mother-in-law has ruined Christmas for many years with her demands and expectations. Everyone must come to her house for dinner, nobody wants to be there, and everyone is miserable. I absolutely hate holidays. Hate them. Thanksgiving is the worst, Christmas is a close second. This is not what holidays are supposed to be about. I feel badly for my husband because I think it upsets him that holidays have always been awful for our family, and there’s not much he can do about it.

    Anyhow, my boys are teens, and they, too, have grown tired of the chaos and the unhappiness. We try to go down there with a good attitude, but between the relatives bickering, one of the uncles who starts trouble with everyone because he thinks it’s “funny”, it is just misery. This year we decided we’d visit MIL during the afternoon, and have a nice, small, quiet dinner at home, just our little family.

    I called my MIL to let her know. (Keep in mind, she has never invited us to dinner. In my family of origin, you don’t go to dinner unless you’re invited. And yet, she expects us to be there. I asked her one year why she never invites us and she said “because everyone knows this is where dinner is.”

    Anyhow, when I called and explained that we were going to visit during the afternoon and then just have a quiet dinner at home (and I had to call because my husband is uncomfortable talking to her. He thought we should just not show up, but I thought that would be rude because then she would spend all that money and cook for extra people and expect me to be there to do half the work.) When I called and told her, she flipped out. She does have a heart condition and she started crying and hyperventilating and yelling at me and saying “this isn’t good, this isn’t good…” (At this point you should know this is the same MIL my husband and I gave up our entire summer to spend sitting in hospitals and dealing with doctors and caring for her because we do love her – although she has two other children) – and she doesn’t seem to appreciate any of it, it’s like she simply expects it. She’s only 65, so it’s not like she’s a little old lady with no other family.

    So – long story short – I caved and told her if it would make her feel better we would come to dinner. (This was after quite a bit of discussion and her sobbing and yelling). She was so happy! She wins! Again! I had to pay for my wedding, but she got to make all the decisions. I had almost no say. She is extremely manipulative and it makes me crazy.
    So anyhow. Joy. To. The. World.

    I’m trying to be happy in my own home and make Christmas enjoyable for the family in these four walls. However, inside, I can’t wait until it’s all over. Christmas is nothing like it was in the good old days.

    1. Hi Becca,

      I’m sorry. 🙁 That sounds like a tough situation. 🙁

      Does your MIL have email or texting? I personally find that if I know someone will try to manipulate me, it’s easier for me to keep my “no” firm if the conversation isn’t in person or over the phone.

      I think she does this because she knows she can, because she believes that you and your husband will cave to her if she escalates it enough. And I think if you try to resist her (the way you did on the phone), then she will escalate it. But no matter how she escalates it, she can’t physically force you to come. And she can’t force you to listen to her. Yes, hanging up on people is (generally) rude, but this may be a boundary that you need to set. She won’t believe your justifications for why you’re doing the right thing. The next time this happens, you may need to say loudly (and over her screams), “I’m sorry Mum (or whatever you call her), but I can’t actually talk long right now. I just called to let you know that we couldn’t come. I love you – bye!” And then send the next calls to voicemail if she calls back.

      Also, I’ve just thought – maybe your husband prefers not to talk to her because he knows she’s manipulative and he can’t get manipulated into going if he doesn’t tell her he’s not going?

      Also, April has this really fabulous video on handling controlling people, which has helped me a lot with my aunt (still working on my relationship with my mom, and goodness knows I have a bunch of my own stuff to fix with that). Anyway: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HvRAPn64v0&feature=youtu.be

      Much love and wishing you joy in the face of the negative things you are dealing with,
      Flower

    2. Oh, Becca… I’m so sorry for what you’re experiencing. May the Lord give you wisdom as you trust in Him for what your heart is craving–peace! I want to respond with two ideas that might seem contradictory, but hopefully will balance each other. First, I don’t think it’s helpful to cave into the control tactics of other people. In one sense, it’s more than just letting the controlling person have her way; it’s letting sin rule. And giving controlling people more control doesn’t cure them of their issue; it only increases their appetite for more control. Plus, there have to be limits, right? Here’s an outlandish example: What if your MIL was passing out drugs at dinner and throwing a fit because you didn’t want to take them. Well, you wouldn’t cave in to drugs. Should you cave in to hyperventilating and sobbing and yelling? The real issue is that she wants control. So on the one hand, I don’t think it would have been wrong for you to stand your ground and say, “No, we’ll be having a quiet dinner at our house.”

      On the other hand, if she’s 65 and has a long history of this, her heart has obviously hardened into a pattern. And this is not something that you’ll be able to change. So I would be careful to check your motives and make sure you’re not trying to control the Control Girl. (Because that only makes you even more controlling, right? And that’s not who you want to be.) Try to look beyond the things she’s demanding at WHY. Why is she so emphatic that you must be at her house for the dinner? Why does she expect that everyone knows dinner will be at her house? What about this scenario makes her secure, and why does it so threaten her security when you say that something is going to change?

      I have a sneaking suspicion that she wants to be wanted and needs to be needed. Perhaps she has built the holidays into a once-a-year evidence that her family loves and need her. The proof is that everyone is at her table. But what if her craving for security and meaning could be met in God instead? What a difference that would make!

      I really hope you’ll get my book, Becca. I think there are lots of lessons (especially in Rebekah’s story and in Hagar’s) that would be interesting to you and helpful as you move forward. I prayed for you just now. I’m hoping that there is something in these words of mine that would give you some help in your time of need. May Jesus be near and dear to you in this struggle.

      Warmly,

      Shannon Popkin

      1. Shannon,

        I love your counsel to Becca. Such a tough situation for a daughter-in-law to be in!

        I agree that caving into someone who is pitching a fit like a 2 year old only reinforces the sin which is not a gift to anyone. It is even possible that a DIL could say something like, “Mom, the way you are acting right now is a big part of why we would rather not come,” if God leads you to say something like that.

        It would not have been wrong to continue to insist respectfully, “Thank you for the offer and I am sorry that it upsets you, but this year we are going to be at our house for Christmas.”

        Of course, it would be ideal if it was your husband who delivered the message to her, in my view. But if that is not possible, you can still stand your ground if that is what you and your husband believe is best and this is what you decided.

        I also agree with Shannon that at 65 years old, she is most likely not going to change. Of course – God can open her eyes and change her! But you can’t. The longer someone goes on in this mindset of controlling everyone and everything and believing that they HAVE to be in charge, the harder it often is to get through to them. There are usually big time fear issues beneath the control and freaking out. I agree about the questions Shannon shared about her expectations and about her fears and insecurities. It is possible to make Christmas into “an idol” that we depend on for our security and for our sense of feeling loved/needed/accepted. i.e.: “If everyone comes to my house it means they love me and I am important to them but if they don’t come it means they hate me and I have failed as a mom.”

        How I long for everyone to find their security in God alone! We can’t get the deepest needs of our hearts met from other people. When we idolize ourselves or other people or our expectations, we make ourselves and everyone else miserable and we destroy the relationships we cherish the most.

        Becca,
        Praying for God’s wisdom for you and your husband. And for His Spirit to work in your MIL’s heart to help her see that her approach is sabotaging the very things she wants the most.

        I was thinking about you yesterday and wondering how you were doing. So great to hear from you!

        Much love!
        April

        PS:
        Another resource that may also be helpful is http://www.leslievernick.com. She has a post about dealing with toxic and critical people that may be a blessing and one about destructive people, as well.

        1. Becca,

          Something else that helps me is to realize that women who are really controlling like this are held captive by the enemy – just like I was. They don’t know how to love in healthy ways. If they did – that is what they would do! They are blinded at the moment and they are miserable and hurting. We can’t fix them. But there are times we do need to confront sin humbly, gently, and lovingly. And we can absolutely ask God to work in their lives. We can’t even open our own eyes. But God can reach the prisoners in gloomy dungeons and set them free!

  9. Shannon Popkin,

    Thank you so much for this much-needed and timely post. 🙂 I appreciate your willingness to share and am so excited to get to read your book that will be releasing soon.

    All,
    I love the discussion that is going on. Looking forward to jumping into it a bit later today, I hope!

    Much love,
    April

  10. This post is perfect for this time of year! Learning so much;) I really relate to the feeling of “when is it my turn” when you have a mother that still alive (thank God).
    Here’s my question- how do you deal with a mother who is materialistic? My kids are almost grown and we have gotten to a point of maybe three gifts under the tree each. When I grew up it was excessive gifts for us from them, and then from them to my children. My parents would go into debt just to have a tree overflowing with gifts. Now, there is still an expectation that my mother gets something, when I’m really out of the pressure of gift-buying for Christmas just really want to celebrate the meaning of Christmas and enjoy family time.
    How do I say that without being looked at as a scrooge? I think me and my husband have the reputation of being cheap when really we just don’t put a lot of emphasis on material things. We dont even buy each other gifts for any holiday, just prefer to do experiences, make memories.
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Blessed,

      What are your husbands’ thoughts?

      I actually really love your approach! But I am “weird” in my family that way, too. To me, all the gifts is just a lot of unnecessary spending and it all takes up a lot of space – and I prefer to have less stuff, not more. Too much clutter gives me heebie jeebies. 🙂

      But – for my husband and some others in our extended family, gift giving is their love language and their favorite way to show love. So – at my house – Greg does almost all the gift buying because he loves to and I really don’t like present shopping. I try to leave room for others to love in this way with gifts even though it is not my favorite way. And sometimes I will make suggestions about experiences or other things we could do that seem meaningful to me.

      You can certainly share your philosophy – but also realize that you will probably not change their minds. So you can choose to give love in a way that is meaningful to your mother, even though it is not that meaningful to you. And you could ask your mom to give things that are more meaningful to you – but also you can graciously receive any gifts if she does give them.

      Praying for God’s wisdom for you!

      1. Hi friends. Blessed, this is a great question. April, such great input.

        Blessed, your original question was about dealing with a mother who is materialistic, and an excessive gift giver. When I’m bothered by the way others are doing something, I find that I often need to start with me. Why am I bothered? Why does it matter so much to me? Why does it get under my skin? Usually I find threads of a critical spirit or judgmental attitude, thinking I know best and if they would only do it my way everything would be fine. So it’s good for me to first uproot those thoughts and deal with my own (controlling) heart. I can’t see your heart, Blessed, but I thought I would mention that because it’s been really helpful for me.

        But then after I see and deal with the sin in me, there are still the elements of truth in what I saw or was bothered by in them. So what do I do about that? Obviously I can’t guide you as God can, but I do think it’s helpful to put on a mindset of humility when trying to make decisions like this.

        I have a family member who used to buy excessively what she could not afford. And you know what? It never changed and actually got worse. But rolling my eyes about the situation didn’t help anything. The only possible help available is the Lord, healing a person’s heart. This family member had so very little as a child, and has struggled, I think, with putting her hope in material things rather than God. She’s now in the last stages of her life, and will one day be delivered from all of her brokenness.

        I wish earlier, that I would have seen her excessive spending as a brokenness that needed to be healed. I love how April put this earlier when she said, “Something else that helps me is to realize that women who are really controlling like this are held captive by the enemy – just like I was. …We can’t even open our own eyes. But God can reach the prisoners in gloomy dungeons and set them free!”

        Amen to that! Blessed, I think you were saying that there’s an expectation that your mother gets something from you (not gets something for the kids) because you went on to say that even your husband and you don’t exchange gifts. And you’re frustrated with the pressure you feel from that, right? I totally get that and remember resenting the pressure I felt from the family member I mentioned. But I would say to keep in mind not to impose your way (no gifts) just as you don’t want your mom to impose her way (excessive gifts).

        Be respectful and kind. Know that each of us is broken to some degree. Be humble. We all need Jesus to heal our hearts and set us free. This isn’t a one and done healing; it’s ongoing. Can I encourage you with one verse, as you think through whether or not to purchase a gift for your mother? “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

        That’s what Christmas is all about, right? The exalted one humbling Himself because of our sin. That’s the mindset that I think will help most when making decisions like the one you mentioned. Whether you buy a gift or don’t buy a gift, may it be wrapped in gentleness and humility–just like Jesus.

        Warmly,

        Shannon

        1. Amen, Amen, Amen, Shannon! I receive all of that. It probably does go back to my mom’s beginnings as to why she values money so much. I was about to send an email to her this morning about this issue, but after reading all this from you and April, I will surrender to what God is saying to me in this!
          God bless y’all;)

          1. Blessed,
            I pray God will give you His eyes, His heart, and His love for your mom and for healing for your relationship with her – that you may be able to lay down every tiny bit of bitterness and be completely free of it – free to love and celebrate Christmas in a way that honors Jesus. 🙂

          2. Blessed, you are a blessing! What a sweet demeanor you have of listening and being willing to hear and receive truth. I love that!! And God does, too. Blessings to you, this Christmas. May the Lord grant peace and hope and joy in your home.

            Warmly,

            Shannon

  11. Thanks April! My husband is pretty easy going and although he is the bread winner in the family, leaves the finances up to me. He doesnt buy for his mom unless his sister asks to go in on a gift.
    So your suggestion of letting him get the gifts would be a good one because he wouldnt mind, but when I say my mom is materialistic I mean specifically she just wants money:( for her birthday I give her that, but it seems so wrong for Christmas.
    You are right, I have to keep her love language in mind too. I am always torn between speaking her love language and showing her she is loved, and not doing something that interferes negatively with my feelings on memories vs gifts.
    Thanksfor responding- it made me feel affirmed that you feel the same way I do on gifts at Christmas!

    1. Blessed,

      This may seem weird, but for me, when I am feeling torn, I have to write things out. I write down my motives and ask God to help me tease through those, my expectations, any fears, any sinful thoughts, any lies I may be embracing. I ask Him to help me take all of my thoughts captive for Him (I have a video about that on my Youtube channel, April Cassidy. The other terms I just mentioned are words and phrases you may search on my home page for more info). Then I ask Him to help me clearly identify wrong thinking and trash it and replace it with His right thinking and truth.

      Also, for me, it is helpful if I check with my husband about what he thinks is best to do. God so often leads me through Greg’s wisdom.

      I hate materialism! I have prayed against it so many countless times.

      Interestingly, David Platt (my favorite preacher online) didn’t really see the issue with materialism at first. God woke up his wife to the issue first and she began to pray about it for some time before God began to work in his heart about it. This is something that only God can do – to change a person’s heart, priorities, and motives.

      Sometimes I also have to be careful that I don’t mix up “sin” with “someone going against my personal convictions.” It is not necessarily a sin to desire money for Christmas. It would probably be sin to demand it. But I know I have to try to not hold other people to my same mindset and personal filters and frame of reference. I want to not automatically assume evil motives. Maybe there is some reason that she greatly appreciates money for a gift and that it makes her feel very loved. Maybe that is just the way expectations were in her family when she was growing up. Sometimes we are just from different family cultures and the expectations are so different – it is easy to label other people as “wrong” when they may just be different.

      Praying for God’s continued wisdom and that He might use this very situation for your spiritual growth and His glory, my precious sister.

      Yes, I would prefer hardly any physical gifts. I would also like to get rid of about 3/4 of our possessions. Ha! But – God has shown me that it would really stress out my family if we did what I would like to do. I would love to dramatically downsize and not have a mortgage and not have any clutter and live a more minimalistic lifestyle so we would be free to spend a lot more time loving people and serving God. But that is not where my husband is right now. Most likely I will probably outlive him and be a widow for a number of years. I know that then I will have a clean house and a lot less clutter. But right now, I can love my family and seek to bless them and look past the clutter to what really matters – my relationships and how I interact – whether we have a ton of stuff or not. That has brought me peace. Every once in awhile I ask them to help clean up all the stuff because I would really rather not have to step over it or see it all constantly. But I also let things go a lot and don’t get all OCD like I used to about things being perfect because that stresses them out. My goal now is to be the greatest blessing to them and to honor Jesus in how I love my family – even if I have to overlook a lot of stuff.

      Much love!

  12. Reading some of the comments here I wanted to share a couple things I learned over the years. I hope I’m not dominating the board with too many comments. But this is a topic near and dear to me – especially at the holidays when old hurts can resurface.

    Sometimes controlling mothers want more for their children, not just because they love them, but also because they think their grown children are a reflection of their parenting. If their grown children make poor choices it makes mother look bad or feel like she’s failed. But if we can lay our lives down at the cross, including our parenting mistakes (we’ve all made them as sinners) and take up the cross, following Jesus, we can learn from our own mistakes and those of our parents, including forgiveness, toward our parents and our children; and hopefully admitting our mistakes to others and asking forgiveness… we’re no longer in bondage.

    When we know God approves of us because we’re in Jesus then we won’t need to seek our parents’ approval. This frees us to honor our parents without expectations. The criticisms and old habits of our relatives we’re visiting won’t bother us quite as much when we can see them and their weaknesses through Jesus’ love. I know it can be so hard to just let go. I really have to stay prayed up about these things.

    1. Cathryn,

      Wonderful insights! I am so thankful you are willing to share. Please, share anything that is on your heart. This is the kind of sharing that will edify us all. 🙂

      And for anyone who would like to read more about some of these issues Cathryn is talking about, you are welcome to search my home page for:

      – control
      – dying to self
      – forgiveness
      – fear
      – bitterness
      – insecurity
      – security
      – idol
      – lordship
      – people pleasing
      – expectations
      – responding to criticisms

      Much love to each of you!

    2. Beautiful insight, Cathryn! It’s obvious that you have gained this perspective through much struggle, and I appreciate your willingness to share and encourage!

      Blessings to you,

      Shannon

  13. One of the best books I’ve ever read was “Unplug the Christmas Machine” by Jo Robinson. She talked about women running themselves ragged, trying to make the perfect Christmas, and all their husbands and children wanted was Mom to be peaceful and unstressed.
    This year, I’m taking a break from Christmas. No tree, no decorations, no Nativity, no lights (and I’m ecstatic that I won’t have to “undecorate” either!) but I have kids in their 20s so I can get away with it. Hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas doing the things that really matter.

    1. Marked Wife,
      That sounds like a very interesting book. And I think that having a peaceful, unstressed wife/mom is something that would be a huge gift to our families. Enjoy your break and the peace that comes with not pressuring yourself on these things, sweet sister. 🙂

      Much love!

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