Letting Go of Expectations Around the Holidays


It is hard to believe Thanksgiving and the holiday season is upon us. As I get older every year flies faster than the one before. It’s like one day it’s the 4th of July, and the next thing you know it’s Christmas!

Thanksgiving is looked upon as a time of reflection, celebration, and gratitude to God for our blessings. A time to connect with family and loved ones over a wonderful meal. And it’s the “official” beginning of the Christmas season. I’ve kicked it off early and am already listening to Christmas music. We won’t talk about how retailers rush the season.

But it can also be the exact opposite of what it’s supposed to be…take, for instance, Thanksgiving 2003.

I had been dating my now-husband for about nine months and he was coming over to my parent’s house with me for dinner. Real talk. I was 33 years old and still lived with my parents. Don’t judge me. I was on the struggle bus after getting sober three years prior and moved back home to heal from my alcoholic lifestyle and try to save some money.

Gathered were my parents, my niece, me, and the Hubs. We decided that we would fry a turkey this year, mix it up. Mama and I made the typical side dishes — cornbread dressing, mac and cheese, yams, green bean casserole, brown and serve rolls, pumpkin pie, and cranberry relish. She also loved this stuff she called “Fluff Salad” so that had to be made too.

I say Mama and I cooked, but the reality is I did stuff under Mom’s watchful eye. Every now and then she would make a comment, or ask me a question that I immediately translated into criticism, so to say the atmosphere in the kitchen was tense was an understatement. My irritation level was at an 8.5. My default emotion is anger so I can be unpleasant to be around. I was nervous, and I wanted to impress him. I wanted to present a picture of a relatively functional family. But the Hubs had already met them so he knew we were anything but that.

Daddy was a cancer survivor that had half of his jaw removed. It made it difficult for him to eat and altered his handsome good looks dramatically. Understandably it made him very self-conscious. Mom and I were usually bickering – it was the tiring, frustrating rhythm of our relationship. My niece was my brother’s child — the brother that had taken his own life years before. Holidays were bittersweet, as his absence was abundantly obvious and excruciating for my parents.

I wanted this to be a good, nice day. But no one was doing what I wanted them to do. Mama was over in the food that I cooked, tasting it, and trying to add salt to everything. Daddy was in his bedroom, not really feeling up for human interaction. My niece was 11 years old, just trying to live her life and my new boyfriend was occupied with frying a turkey.

This wasn’t what I envisioned.

We were all supposed to be sitting around, bonding and smiling at each other, enjoying our apple cider, exuding thankfulness. And I was standing there, sweating, with a burn on my hand from touching a hot burner, mad.

The back door opened and my now husband came in with the turkey. It was burned up so badly that it rivaled the destroyed bird in Christmas Vacation. There was the smallest amount of meat that was so dry that it was crunchy. It was a debacle. We made a rookie move and placed the thermometer inside of the turkey, rather than the grease, and literally “the goose was cooked.”

I wanted to cry. I said to my Hubs, “I just wanted everyone to have a nice time.”

In the loving way that he does, he said, “Everyone IS having a nice time, except you.”

At first, I wanted to retaliate and ask him who in the heck he thought he was talking to because he didn’t know me like that. But I stopped in my tracks because he called me on my stuff.

I could control my family with my anger and emotions and this guy wasn’t having it. My desire to try to control everything resulted in me being angry and people’s feelings being hurt by me. I didn’t want to be that woman. So I never got arbitrarily angry again.

The End. I wish. I still battle with anger but can see much improvement in my behavior.

A lesson from 2020

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that what we thought was controllable is just the opposite. I am a Christian so I find comfort in knowing ultimately that God is in control. But I usually don’t surrender to that belief until I’ve tried everything I can to control a situation to my liking and come up short. Every single time.

For the past several years at holiday time, I try to simplify and be gentle with myself and recognize when I’m becoming angry or disappointed. I have tried to release my expectations of what I think things should look like, let go of the goal of a Norman Rockwell gathering of perfection. I have begun to actively pursue accepting things for what they are, just how they are, designed by God. And for this, I am most thankful.