Helping teenagers navigate complicated family dynamics through the holidays

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | Nov 6, 2022

Food. Football. Long weekends with friends and family.

There’s a lot I like about the holidays.

But as a daughter of divorced parents, the holiday season also brings up some painful memories—memories that may be common to the young people you care about most.

In high school, I was very close to my youth pastor and his wife (who was also my small group leader). I discussed a lot of my struggles with them, but for some reason, I never shared with them the external family tensions and internal personal tensions created by the holidays.

I wish I had.

While the church is by no means perfect, I’m grateful that the church family gave me a place to find belonging as I navigated complex realities at home. The same is true for my own kids as our church has stepped in to help shape their identity, belonging, and purpose—in ways that only intergenerational Jesus-centered community can.

Our team at FYI wants to equip you as you help teenagers find Jesus-centered answers to their questions of identity, belonging, and purpose.

We’re excited to be launching a brand-new teen devotional, 3 Big Questions that Shape Your Future. Backed by Scripture and informed by years of conversations with diverse teens, this 60-day devotional does more than help teenagers figure out what to do with their lives; it will help them understand what their life means to the world.

Odds are good that this holiday week, young people you know will feel many of the same tensions I once did.

To give you a glimpse into some of what may be bubbling beneath the surface of your students’ holiday celebrations, I’d love to share a free devotional excerpt. You can use the reflection questions at the end to fuel your one-on-one, small group, and large group discussions with young people this holiday season.

My brother and I (Kara) knew we needed to pace ourselves. This was the first of two, or sometimes three, Thanksgiving meals we had to eat.

Usually we had “lunch” with our mom and stepdad.

A midafternoon “dinner” with our dad and stepmom.

And a final “dinner and dessert” with our grandparents.

That’s a lot of turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie in eight hours. If we consumed too much in the first or second meal and were full for the next meal, we risked offending that set of relatives.

On the continuum of divorced parents, mine actually got along pretty well. And yet my brother and I still often felt the tensions of our parents’ divorce.

We didn’t talk about one parent in front of the other.

We downplayed—and sometimes even hid—clothes from shopping trips with one parent so we didn’t hurt the other parent’s feelings.

At every school or church event they both attended, we tried to give roughly equal time and attention to both sets.

No one ever told us these rules of being children of divorce. But even as young elementary school children, we picked up these communication dos and don’ts.

No Family Is Perfect

Maybe your parents are divorced and you can relate to what I navigated—and still navigate. Perhaps your parents’ divorce has been a whole lot messier than mine.

It’s possible that one of your parents has passed away.

Or you are being raised by a single parent and have little to no contact with the other parent.

It might be that you’re living with a grandparent, caregiver, or guardian.

Maybe your parents live in the same home as you; they say they love each other but they don’t seem to like each other very much.

Or perhaps your family life is pretty good and healthy.

Families can be complicated, even when everyone’s trying their best. While research tells us that family relationships are some of the most influential, no family is perfect. All of us have been loved imperfectly by parents or guardians who struggle a little or a lot. (Trust me, I’m a parent now, so I know this firsthand!)

The good news is that our church can make up for what’s missing or flawed in the family that’s raising us. One (from a long list) of the reasons that it’s good to be in Christ-centered community is because the church can become our functional family.

Are you eager for some advice from a wise older adult but don’t have much of a relationship with your grandparents? Chances are good there’s someone in your church who’d love to give you input.

Do you need to know you’re deeply loved but feel distant today from the people you live with? Make an extra effort to get close to your faith community so you can experience their love for you.

As we believe in Jesus, we become God’s children. God becomes our heavenly parent. We are adopted into a family that isn’t perfect, but it can help us see what’s good about our original family and also help make up for what’s tough or missing.

Reading God's Word

But those who did welcome him,

those who believed in his name,

he authorized to become God’s children,

born not from blood

nor from human desire or passion,

but born from God. (John 1:12–13)

God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to us freely through the Son whom he loves. (Eph. 1:5–6)

3 questions that help teenagers reflect on faith and family

  • What do you appreciate about the family that you’re living with or who’s raising you? What is sometimes tough about living with them?
  • How does it make you feel to know that you belong to a family of believers?
  • How can other followers of Jesus help make up for what’s missing in the family that’s raising you?*

Tweet this: This holiday week, young people you know may be feeling the tensions of navigating complex realities at home. Get an excerpt from FYI’s new teen devotional to help them find Jesus-centered answers to their big questions of identity, belonging, and purpose

Every teenager needs to know that God can handle their big questions


Every teenager wants to know: Who am I? How will my life matter? Where do I fit? 

Based on FYI’s landmark research in 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, this all-new student devotional will help teenagers find Jesus’ best answers to their three biggest questions.

Order now

*Excerpted with permission from Kara Powell, Kristel Acevedo, and Brad M. Griffin, 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future: A 60-Day Exploration of Who You Were Made to Be, released by Baker Books December 2022.

Photo By: Askar Abayev

Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the chief of leadership formation and executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women to Watch," Kara serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange and speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara has authored or coauthored numerous books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Growing With, Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family and the entire Sticky Faith series. Kara and her husband, Dave, are regularly inspired by the learning and laughter that comes from their three teenage and young adult children.

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