Letting Go of Holiday Expectations

By Jill Savage

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Sometimes the best way to celebrate Thanksgiving isn’t the traditional way

Several years ago, my husband and I didn’t spend Thanksgiving with a single one of our five adult children. Did letting go of our holiday expectations feel odd? Yes. Was it best for everyone? We think so.

Our oldest daughter and her husband alternate holidays with his family and our family. That year Thanksgiving was with his family. Our oldest son was living in California, and coming home for Thanksgiving wasn’t in his budget. Our middle
daughter, her husband and our granddaughter were already expected at two different Thanksgiving gatherings on his side of the family. Our second youngest spent the holiday with friends. And our youngest and his then-fiancée would have been happy to join us, but we gave them the freedom to enjoy the day fully with her family. 

I love the holidays, but I don’t love them more than I love my family. And I love traditions, but I don’t love them more than the people I share those traditions with. That Thanksgiving I realized that the most loving thing I could do was give our kids the freedom to make their plans and be grateful for whatever new ways we could connect. I’ve found this required me to let go of two things: traditions and opinions. Doing so has increased connection, expanded my ability to love and grown my gratitude.

Relieving tradition pressures

Traditions and customs are a valuable part of family life. But I never want to ruin their significance because they don’t happen exactly when or how they “always have before.” To make sure we still celebrate what’s behind the tradition, our family tries to do a holiday audit in which we reevaluate what works for everybody and how we can get the best enjoyment and connection with one another.

When a dear friend did a holiday audit, she discovered that half of the traditions she stressed over weren’t important to her family. So she simplified her holiday schedule and menu. 

My family and I enjoy celebrating Thanksgiving together, but when I did an audit, I realized there was nothing special about the fourth Thursday in November, other than it being considered a national holiday. I realized we can celebrate Thanksgiving whenever it works for our family. 

One year, our son Evan came home from Australia for my mom’s 80th birthday. We gathered all our kids and their families the Thursday night before her birthday to have our family’s Thanksgiving celebration . . . in September! Because I let go of expecting the tradition to look the same every year, I had such a grateful heart for the time we were able to spend together, and I enjoyed it just as much! 

No opinions necessary

Letting go of traditions and holiday expectations has been important, but letting go of opinions during our get-togethers has been a game changer for me. Let’s face it, our adult kids have their own styles, their own likes and dislikes, and their own beliefs and ideas. As they launch into their own lives, it becomes easy to want to play the “I didn’t raise you this way” card. I’ve learned that “keep it shut” is my best approach these days.

• Don’t like my son’s beard? Keep it shut.

• Don’t care for my daughter’s hair color? Keep it shut.

• Don’t agree with my child’s parenting style? As long as my grandkids aren’t in danger, keep it shut. 

• Don’t like the job he has? Keep it shut. 

• Don’t like how she’s handling her money? Keep it shut.

What you do

So what do we do instead of saying something? We pray! God is far more powerful than you or me. He has the ability to change our kids from the inside out. Of course, His timing is not our timing, and His ways are not our ways. We have to trust that He loves us and our kids more than we can imagine. That’s why we pray, not say. 

If I want to say something, I affirm my kids, which grows my grateful heart and moves my eyes from who they aren’t to who they are. I might say:

“You’re a man of integrity. I love how you handled that situation with your daughter.” 

“You showed wisdom and tact. That problem with your co-worker was tricky.”

“You are an incredible artist. I’m amazed at the beautiful things you create.”

“You are so thoughtful. Thank you for paying attention to the details of my life and giving me such a meaningful gift.” 

No holiday expectations or opinions

Want to give your adult kids a beautiful gift in the upcoming holiday season? Let go of your holiday expectations, traditions and opinions. You will enjoy your time together even more, and everyone involved will be grateful for the gift you’ve given them. •

©2020 Jill Savage. This article first appeared in the October/November 2020 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. Used by permission. All rights reserved. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/letting-go-of-holiday-expectations/

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