How to deal with holiday (and year-round) disappointment

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The people we love the most are the ones who know us the best. They know our flaws just as well as they know our strengths. They’ve seen us at our worst and they’ve forgiven us for it. Yet the holidays together can still be a time of stress, hurt, and disappointment. Your parents, your spouse, your siblings, your in-laws, your children, your grandchildren — and even you — each have their own individual ideas of what the Christmas season will be like. So when it doesn’t work out the way you expected, misunderstandings and disappointment can result.

Ditch your expectations

A therapist once gave me this wise piece of advice: Expectations are disappointments waiting to happen. When we keep our ideas about the holidays (or any events throughout the year) to ourselves and don’t talk about it, we run the risk of being disappointed and of disappointing others. Have a clear plan going into the Christmas season of who is handling what and where everyone is going when. If your in-laws are visiting and you expect that they’ll be watching your children while you run to the store or head to your room to wrap gifts, you will be severely disappointed when you don’t get to do what you planned. You were depending on that time and you’ll feel like they let you down. But if you never spoke with them about it, you can’t really be upset. Let people know what you need and ask them what they expect. You’ll all be happier for it.


Everyone makes mistakes, and when it comes to the holidays and extended family, there’s a lot of room for error. Perhaps your in-laws and your parents all had their hearts set on seeing you and your kids on Christmas Day, but you can’t be in two (or more) places at once. Or, maybe you’re the grandparent and you really want to see your grandchildren, but your children had other plans. You’ll have to find a way to compromise, and if they give you a hard time, you’ll have to forgive them even if they don’t apologize. The Christmas season is a delicate balancing act and we all must work together.

Is there someone in your family who has a way of always giving you a belittling gift, or some unsolicited advice? Forgive them. If a family member tells you how you could have done things better, forgive them. You can absolutely stand up for yourself, but you also must forgive. It’s better to have already forgiven people before they have even offended you.

When someone cancels

Sometimes, after you’ve put the turkey in the oven and spent hours cleaning the house, your guests call to cancel. Sometimes, it’s a regular occurrence. Whether it’s happened just once, or every year, it hurts. You put so much effort in, and then they let you down. You feel unappreciated and unloved. If they aren’t canceling for a valid reason – like snowmageddon or the flu – let them know that this is not OK. Don’t force them to come because that will be uncomfortable, but don’t let them get away with it either. Once you have spoken up, let it go. Maybe there is someone local who didn’t have anywhere to go for Christmas and you can call and invite them. Or if you have other guests coming, it can make the day more intimate and relaxed. No matter what, it’s OK. Don’t let that disappointment ruin your Christmas.

Stop trying to change people

This one is tricky for me. I always expect people to change, and (spoiler alert) they don’t. Rude people still say rude things. Late arrivers are perpetually late. Picky eaters are still complaining about the cooking. And certain people will never appreciate the efforts that other people make. No matter how hard you try to impress them or make your home comfortable for them or cook for their tastes, something will always be wrong because that’s just the way they are. Don’t kill yourself trying to please everyone and don’t think that this time is going to be different than every other holiday in the past. It likely won’t be. And if it is, well that will be a Christmas miracle! The only person we can change is ourselves, but we can pray for everyone else (and for guidance for ourselves).

Perfection is impossible

We all want the perfect Christmas, whatever we might think that looks like. Quiet and peaceful. Loud and busy. At the beach or in the mountains. Nothing ever goes exactly as you planned, but God always has his own plan in the works. And that’s much better than anything we could come up with on our own. Don’t worry about making the perfect meal or having the most beautiful decorations only to be disappointed in the end when it wasn’t all as perfect as you had pictured. Just have joy and wish any naysayers a Merry Christmas.

When things do go wrong, and your family lets you down, take a deep breath. Our families may love us, but they can also disappoint us. And during the holidays the opportunities to be disappointed are increased. Learn to be OK no matter what happens and have yourself a Merry Christmas.

Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset. 

— St. Francis de Sales

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