When Holiday Expectations Disappoint

My dad was ticked, and he had no problem letting me know it.

For years we had spent Thanksgiving with my folks at their house.

A month later we would gather our six kids into the car and drive an hour on Christmas Eve afternoon to my mom and dad’s house again.

We’d have a big family dinner and then pack ourselves, and my sibling’s families, into various corners of the family home to spend the night.

The next morning was wild with laughter, kids, presents, a huge breakfast and, later, dinner. I spent most of my time in the kitchen along with my sisters helping Dad cook for this huge, hungry crowd. (My dad was an amazing cook as well as a compassionate attorney.)

Cooking together was fun. Most of the time.

But after many years Tom and I decided that it was just too much work for me and not enough downtime. We felt that we didn’t have any time alone with each other or our kids to enjoy Christmas.

Dad grew older. He became more and more bossy about how the cooking and cleaning should be done. Mom couldn’t help any more because of her health, and we didn’t need her to cook. We wanted her to enjoy her grandkids as much as possible.

But I came home physically and emotionally exhausted every year.

Times of change

I talked to my sisters, who totally understood, and decided that our family would focus on Christmas Eve afternoon and dinner with the extended family and then we’d spend Christmas day at home.

Mom was relieved. She had also felt overwhelmed with two days of crowd celebration.

Dad didn’t share her opinion and served me a huge portion of guilt.

Timewarp a few years to where our oldest kids were becoming adults and would soon be leaving home.

My sisters and I knew that eventually, Dad couldn’t supervise the Christmas Eve dinner. He had lost his sense of taste. His constant tendency to add seasonings to food as we all cooked made for some lousy fish stew, his traditional Christmas Eve masterpiece.

So us girls decided that Christmas Eve would become an afternoon open house, finger food event with just one sister and her family staying for dinner. We’d all help set up and clean up for the afternoon event and then leave so they could have a peaceful evening.

Mom was thrilled. (She was the one who had to deal with all Dad’s pre-event busyness and to-do lists.)

Dad was ticked

He was beyond disappointed; he was mad and resentful. Mostly at me, since I was the oldest, and he knew I was probably leading the rebellion.

I’d put up loving boundaries and stuck to them. I disagreed with my dad, but I didn’t take on any guilt this time when he went into “lecture Susan” mode.

I did not expect that my dad would understand my feelings and choice. And of course, he didn’t, but that was his problem, not mine.

Anne Lamott said,

Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.

Dad had expectations. Resentment followed.

He wanted a wonderful Christmas experience for his family. But Dad didn’t want things to ever change from what he felt “a wonderful Christmas experience” was to look like.

How do holiday expectations fit into your plans?

I’ll bet you’ve had someone like my dad in your life. Someone who resented you because you didn’t live up to their expectations.

Those were that person’s expectations, not yours.

So don’t pick up their expectations and resent that person for having them. They aren’t yours to resent.

Or perhaps you’ve held others to your expectations and realize that you need to let your expectations go.

Whatever expectations you have for a holiday, or someone else has for you, resentment will melt holiday joy into frustration, guilt, and self-pity.

So don’t go there.

New changes

Because of these experiences with my dad, I made a decision that I wouldn’t hold my kids to expectations of celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas or any holiday with us after they left home.

This hasn’t been easy, but I want my kids to spend the holidays however they want and not be burdened with a load of guilt from their mother.

All I ask is that they let me know a few weeks ahead of time if they are coming or not, and if they are, what holiday food would they like to contribute for dinner… if they are staying for dinner.

In the years to come, I know we’ll be changing our family holiday expectations even more.

When that time comes, and the kids say, “Let’s all get together at Mary’s or David’s or Kati’s (or another sibling’s house) to celebrate a holiday and give the old folks a break,” I’ll be the first to jump on board and meet the change with a sense of adventure.

What holiday expectations are you dealing with?

  • What holiday expectations to you need to adjust or let go?
  • What of other’s expectations of you?
  • Is it time to let them know that you’ll be making some changes?

Not sure how to do all of this?

See 5 Ways to Avoid Holiday Expectations That Can Kill Your Joy.

Hugs,

Susan

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