Planning Now for Normal Christmas Disappointment

Avoiding Christmas DisappointmentToday’s post is a Guest Post by my good friend and frequent commenter Cheri Gregory, writing about dealing with disappointment at Christmas.

For my nephew’s 3rd birthday, my sister-in-law, Karen, ordered a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cake. Her instructions for the baker were crystal clear: NO FLOWERS.

But when she went to pick up the cake, the plastic figures of Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael stood–in all their Ninja fighting glory–in the midst of blue, yellow, and pink icing roses.

With no time for a re-do, Karen improvised Plan B. She smeared all the frosting flowers together into a brown puddle atop the cake and stuck the four Ninja Turtle figures in the middle.

Little Justin’s first response to seeing his cake was,  “Eeeeewww!  What’s that?”

When Karen replied, “It’s sewer slime!” Justin was thrilled.

And I was in awe of her ability to flex instead of fume.

To Avoid Christmas Disappointment, Plan Your Attitude Now

With so much happening during the holiday season, there’s a lot we can’t control. Yet I often act as if I do. And it starts with an attitude of how things “have to” turn out.

  • I have to find the obscure ingredients for this one exotic recipe
  • The kids have to be well-behaved during photographs.
  • She has to be excited about the gift I I give her.
  • He has to be in a good mood while gifts are being opened.
  • We all have to have fun together.

Now don’t get me wrong: It’s wonderful when everything goes smoothly. And I always hope it will.

But I also need to recognize that nothing has to happen the way I want it to. I’d prefer if it did. But it doesn’t have to.

The sun will still rise on December 26 if none of the above happen.

The opposite of the “it has to happen” attitude is the “it will be what it will be” approach, which I’ve always found rather fatalistic.

I prefer a “We’ll make the best of what we’ve got” perspective: proactive yet flexible.

Make Your Back-Up Plan(s) Now

Aside from all the unnecessary stress and anxiety that an “it has to happen” attitude can cause, it can also delude us into thinking that we don’t need any back up plans.

But what if…

  • …someone (or everyone!) gets sick? (1992, 1995, 1999, 2001, 2005, 2009)
  • …the food turns out awful?  (2003, 2010)
  • …someone’s in a bad mood? (every year since 1988)
  • …the power goes out? (2005, 2009, 2011)
  • …the car needs 4 new tires? (2012)
  • …the cat almost gets killed by a coyote? (2013)

Without any contingency plans, the only fallback reaction is “This can’t be happening.” Which is not particularly useful when, in fact, “this” actually is happening.

Here’s a starter list of Plan B preparations:

  • ___    Water bottles
  • ___    Staple food items
  • ___    Medications (pain, allergy, cold & flu, stomach, etc.)
  • ___    First Aid kit
  • ___    Baby/Toddler needs (bottle liners, baby food, diapers, Pull-Ups, etc.)
  • ___    Feminine supplies
  • ___    Power bars
  • ___    Flashlights & batteries
  • ___    Back-up meal(s) in the freezer (or ingredients for a throw-together rescue meal)
  • ___    Other:  Add your own based on your own location, circumstances, and family needs!

Plan Your Non-Negotiables Now

What’s the one thing that really says “Christmas” for you?

For me, it’s sitting in front of the fireplace, with all the lights out (except, of course, for the Christmas trees) and listening to Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, especially “Silent Night.” For Daniel, it’s watching Miracle on 34th Street. For our kids, it’s listening to us read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever aloud on Christmas Eve.

Find out what the one most important thing is for each member of your family. Make those your priorities. Even if plans have to flex and change, make sure everyone gets their one thing at some point during the holiday season.

Trade Christmas Expectations for Christmas Hope, Starting Now

One word I learned not to use when our children were little was “promise.” As in, “I promise that we will…” They took it so literally that when life happened, I had to choose between looking like a liar by breaking the promise or tying myself into pretzel bending over backward to fulfill my foolish promise.

Although expectations can build anticipation, they can also lead to Christmas disappointment when things don’t turn out. The dictionary definition for “expect” includes words like “necessary” and “require”…rather inflexible terms.

In contrast, the definition for “hope” includes the far less rigid terms “wish” and “possibility.” And Romans 5:5 says that “hope does not disappoint.” That’s because while expectations are about what we want to do, hope is about what God has already done: “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas­­–whether or not you end up using your back-up plans!

FREE Resources to Help You Expect Less & Hope More:

  • Free eBook: Top 10 Priceless Gifts for Each PURSE-onality that Don’t Cost a Dime
  • Audio: De-LIGHT-full Giving in a Weighty World
  • Videos: “Personality Puzzle for Parents of Preschoolers” and “You’ve Got PURSE-onality!”


Cheri Gregory is a Certified Personality Trainer; contributor to half a dozen books, including Wired That Way (by Marita Littauer) and 21 Ways to Connect With Your Kids (by Kathi Lipp); and frequent speaker for MOPS groups, women’s retreats, parent workshops, and educational seminars. She holds an M.A. in Leadership and is working on her PhD. Cheri has been “wife of my youth” to Daniel, a pastor, for over a quarter-of-a-century; they have two college-aged kids. She blogs about expectations, “baditude,” and hope at


  1. Loved this and just what I needed. I wrote I hope above my sink so I can say those words over and over each day as we get closer to Christmas. I am always afraid I will disappoint my kids with what we can’t give them instead of hoping they will enjoy the things we are able to provide. Just saying I hope, instead of I promise or even I wish is calming my nerves.

    May you find joy in all the big and small blessings God will bring your family this Christmas!

    • Lynn —

      So glad you found this helpful!

      My children are 21 and almost 23, now. When we reminisce about past Christmases, they do not remember (even when prompted!) the things I thought were disappointments or disasters. They remember things like snuggling together under a pile of blankets while watching The Muppet Christmas Carol or the way Daniel tears up every time he gets to “that part” of reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

      If I could go back and do anything differently as a mother, I’d take off all the pressure I put on myself and be peaceful. We want our kids to be happy…and it turns out that’s all they really want for/from us, too.

  2. Cheri, what a delight to find you here!
    Your post is jam-packed with wisdom for families. Upsets do occur, and I think they are more the norm than not. You are so right in advocating a flexible attitude throughout the day. We instilled that attitude in our daughters from the get-go, especially in regards to vacations: We will have fun regardless of the circumstances. And we always do!
    I hope moms take your advice to heart. It is a definite path to more happiness, especially in the midst of love and chaos! :-)
    Kim recently posted…Spending less at Christmas yields more joyMy Profile

    • Heya Kim!

      Backatcha, girlfriend! And kudos to you for instilling a flexible attitude. It will benefit your kids far beyond the holidays. I’m seeing the damage of rigidity in my seniors who are frantic because their grades and SAT scores and music performances and schedules and, and, and all “have” to be just so. Some become so miserable that they focus all their time trying to change things they can’t and ignoring things over which they do have control…which just causes more misery.

      “We will have fun regardless” — sounds like a great motto to me!

  3. Wonderful insight and fabulous suggestions! Thanks.
    J (Hot, Holy & Humorous) recently posted…‘Twas the Intimate Night before ChristmasMy Profile

  4. A coyote? :p We need to hear that story. It was sick-fest 2012 last Christmas and we were not expecting it. I love the idea of having a back-up plan. :)
    Joyce recently posted…Truth in the Tinsel: Days 1-12My Profile

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  1. […] (I’m guest blogging over at my friend Shiela Wray Gregoire‘s blog To Love, Honor, & Vacuum today.  Come on over for the rest of the story!) […]

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