December 22, 2018
Today we’d like to shine a light on the issue of Holiday disappointment and offer some suggestions to help get you through it in a good way. The Holiday season presents lots of challenges for family and friends that if handled poorly can have long lasting negative impacts on your most important relationships. It is, after all, the time of year when hopes of spending joyful time together run high, opening a door for some pretty large disappointment and accompanying hurt feelings when things don’t go as anticipated. It happened for us this year.
We were very much looking forward to spending our second Christmas as empty nesters with our kids in Estes Park. We knew both of our sons had the possibility of getting scheduled to work on Christmas Day due to the nature of their jobs. And that’s how it’s working out this year. That’s disappointing enough to launch a good bout of sadness. But not to worry, right? We were pretty sure if they worked Christmas we could find an alternate day to celebrate with them at our mountain home. However, those plans were foiled when one of our sons notified us that not only was he working Christmas but he did not want to make the lengthy commute even on an alternate day but instead wanted to meet at a restaurant in between our homes on another day. We were prepared for the possibility they might work on Christmas, but we were not prepared for the choice not to come. A large part of the hope and joy for us is to have some family time together in our mountain home. How possibly could a restaurant provide the cozy intimate comfortable setting we and quality time experience we were so highly anticipating? Another part of our connection time also revolves around cooking together and enjoying home cooked food. With that dashed, here comes an even bigger flood of disappointment. Some of the feelings that surfaced in us were feeling unimportant, not valued, let down, and very sad. The additional thoughts of how our much anticipated time together was stacking up now piled on some awful feelings from loss of cherished time together as a family in a relaxed and private setting.
These and many other feelings can arise from any number of situations. Perhaps your grown kids have a family of their own and now want to transition from a long standing tradition of Christmas morning at your house to Christmas morning at their house. Perhaps your kids decide not to travel, or for whatever reason are unable to make the trip. Maybe those you usually enjoy the season with choose to go elsewhere instead. Or, any number of disappointment generating scenarios.
So, how to respond? Sometimes we need reassurance we are loved and valued and we can ask for that in a way that honors our own feelings without piling a heavy guilt trip on our loved ones. This is sometimes easy to say and not so easy to pull off. Acknowledge the feelings. For example, as long as the potential for guilt transmission is acknowledged and addressed as not your intent (presuming it is not, of course), you can make it through without a lot of damage to your relationship.
-Clarify what your hopes were and get any information you need to help you understand what happened. When we found out our son was working a lot of extra hours during Christmas week, it helped us sympathize with what he is going through and diffused some of our own hurt that was based on missing information.
-Look for other ways to bring joy into your season. For example, look for a place to serve others in need, be on the lookout for other lonely people and invite them into your celebration.
-Reframe any negative thoughts that may attack your mind attempting to needless damage or destroy your valued relationships. Think about those very important people in other contexts in your life, with a healthy dose of gratefulness. For us, we are very grateful that we have kids and have lots of evidence to counteract the immediate hurt. We know that they want to see us. We know they are disappointed too. We are grateful that they have jobs and are self-sufficient.
-Be sure to touch base with your important people on the day you wanted to have them with you. Make a call, send a note. Tell them you miss them, love them, always enjoy them, and look forward with happy anticipation about when you will get to be together again.
Sometimes it can be helpful to do something other than your traditional happenings. Be present with yourself within the change. Avoid dwelling on negative thoughts which stir up unhealthy feelings. Go to the movies, go to a good restaurant, take the opportunity to read something new, or try something you’ve always wanted to. Life, especially around the Holidays, comes with lots of opportunity to get disappointed. You can get through it while honoring yourself and not doing damage to the most important people in your life. If you’re getting stuck and not able to make it through on your own, we would love to help you get unstuck. We’ve been there, and believe we can help you get unstuck too, if you have the courage to ask for help. Have a very Blessed Christmas and Joyful New Year.