Picture Perfect Holidays?

Hello there! Many of you know I’ve been spending most of my writing time on my second novel. Almost at 100,000 words (around 300 pages)! But that doesn’t leave me much time for writing blog posts. Then, throw in the busy holidays..and, yeah. Not really happening. So, I thought I’d repost some of my past ones. Hope this one is helpful for your holiday gatherings 🙂


Disclaimer: The alternate title for this post was “Disney Lies.” But I didn’t want to be accused of being a Disney hater. I’m really not. I love Disney, but I think you’ll get where I’m going in a minute so stick with me:

You’ve probably all seen the advertisements for Disney. But I’ll set the stage for you, anyway. Sweet tinkly music plays as parents tip-toe into their wee cherubs’ room to surprise them with a Disney vacation. Said cherubs awaken with smiles on their faces, leaping for joy at the news.

Cut to the Magic Kingdom. There are no lines or crowds and parents look on happily as their children, with stars in their eyes, meet Mickey, Minnie, Donald & Goofy. There is no whining, crying, arguing. Just pure bliss & happiness with a good measure of gratitude implied. Picture perfect vacation. Yeah. Right. No lines? Grateful children? Ha!

Okay, here’s another one for you. A commercial for Family Game Night:

Two adults, two teens and two kids are gathered around a table. There’s an overflowing popcorn bowl on the table and everyone is laughing. Game play is fast-paced and no one is arguing over who’s turn it is. No one is getting mad because they’re losing. And no one is crying because he can’t keep up with his older siblings. Once again we see pure bliss and happiness. Uh-huh.

You can replay this type of scene from a myriad of commercials. For everything from baking Pillsbury cupcakes together to going out to dinner as a family. Everyone is always so happy. So content. And without realizing it we buy the goods. Not the actual goods. Not the cake mix or the board games but we buy the lie that we can have the “ideal” vacation, game night, dinner out or bonding experience.

The truth is, there’s no such thing as the perfect vacation or holiday meal. And when we set our expectations so high, reality hits like a tsunami. Now, I’m not saying we can’t have great times with our families. But I think we sabotage ourselves with unrealistic expectations. I’ll give you an example from my experience.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, we recently had the opportunity to go on a Disney Cruise for a fraction of the cost. We’d been saving for our first big family vacation anyway so this was a perfect fit. And while the kids had an absolute blast, Bill and I decided by day two that we wouldn’t do a family vacation again any time soon. Like in the next five years or ten years. Haha.

You see, “Eight” and “Ten” can’t stand each other and “Fifteen” and “Seventeen” aren’t exactly peacemakers, even though they try. We have a pecking order. Seventeen tends to parent Fifteen who bosses Ten and then all of them try to parent poor Eight. He doesn’t appreciate that and he’s not the type to kick the cat, so he just yells a lot. At home, I’ve often thought I should wear black and white stripes and a whistle.

Independently, they are truly fabulous kids. Every one of them. But put them together in a room and they can all turn in to petty, easily-offended, argumentative, prideful brats. (Nope…not gonna sugar-coat it…although I will say that Seventeen has matured incredibly over the past few years, so I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.)

Our hope for this vacation was that they would be distracted by all the awesome things to do on the ship and they would take a break from arguing with each other. WRONG. Cuz wherever you go, there you are. It went something like this:

Me: “Kids, isn’t this awesome? Look at this gorgeous ship!”

Eight and Ten: “I want to push the elevator button!” “No, I want to.” “You pushed it at the hotel.” “No I didn’t!! You did!!” Etc. Etc. Etc. [Insert pushing and shoving.]

Fifteen and Seventeen: “You guys are ridiculous. What’s wrong with you?? Blah, blah, blah.”

Me and Bill: “Seriously?”

Yeah, that was how most of the week went when we were together. And because we subconsciously built up expectations of the “perfect vacation” in our heads, when our kids acted like they always do, we got frustrated. Quickly.

And it got me thinking…we do this with so many things! How many times have you decided to take your kids out to dinner or the movies only to have them bickering over stupid things making you wish you’d hired a sitter?

Now, at Christmas time, I’m struck by how we do this with holidays…all the time. We have this idyllic, Christmas carol picture in our minds. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

So when family members fight, or the present we wanted to purchase is sold out, or Uncle George drinks too much eggnog again…we wonder what’s wrong with us, with our family. Why can’t we have the perfect holiday like everyone else? But there’s the lie. We all have frustrations and struggles. There is no perfect. As a matter of fact, often the holidays are the most horrible time of the year for people who have lost loved ones or are just feeling alone. All of the hype about the perfect Christmas gift, meal, _________ (fill in the blank) often magnifies the stresses of life.

But we can have great times together. I’m convinced we just need to adjust our expectations. When we place such high expectations on our family members, they are bound to fall short of those expectations, as are we! Then no one is happy because frustration and disappointment live in that space between our expectations and our reality.

Yet, if we expect them to have their bad moments and we are prepared ahead of time to offer grace, the outcomes can be very different. I’m not being a scrooge nor am I advocating a negative, “glass-half-empty” approach to life. I’m simply reminding myself and encouraging you to give some extra grace to your loved ones as well as the strangers you’re standing in line with at Target this season.

Expect more crowds, traffic, bad weather, arguing children…all in a realistic, not pessimistic way. And then you will be pleasantly surprised when a stranger lets you merge into traffic or your children actually make it through a round of Uno without arguing.

I’ve been quoting the following proverb to my kids for years so I was thrilled to hear Seventeen quote it on the cruise, at one point, when Eight and Ten were being easily offended by each other:

“Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

Proverbs 19:11

Amen to that. Wishing you a Merry Christmas as you adjust your expectations and enjoy your reality!



(Originally published Dec. 21, 2012)


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  1. Haha- Great post Rebekah! Scott and I were having a very similar conversation about holidays tonight– I read this aloud to him and we laughed!! That part about the elevator was hilarious!!! I suddenly feel so much more normal having read this (:

  2. I tried to make cut out cookies with the boys last Sunday, absolute disaster.. They fought over every dang cookie cutter we had like 20 of them. I had such a different picture in my head of how it would go, if I would have given grace there would have been way less yelling on my part, thanks for posting this again I needed it!!!!

  3. ha! i’m reading this just one week before our annual march break trek down south…perfect timing! i’ve just finished the packing lists and baked enough choc chip cookies for an army…the van is being serviced and we’ve started our countdown. it’s a great reunion with my husband’s family…30 people gather for a week in the sun (14 adults & 16 kids). what could possibly go wrong?! each year we have the same dilemma…who drives together, bunks together, plays tennis on the same team, goes to the pool at the same time, gets to watch the one babe in the gang…the list goes on. i have equally looked forward to and dreaded this vacation for the last 15years. as amazing as it is to all be together and have this fantastic time with family…the reality is that we don’t all get along all the time. some of us never really get along! but as the kids get older it does get easier, as we establish boundaries and routines we’ve settled into a more relaxed vacation together and i’ve learned to maybe lighten up a bit, ‘let my hair down’, if you will. there will be tears. there will be some fights and hurtful words. but there will also be a lot of laughter, a lot of fun, and a lot of pictures to remember these days with this amazing family God has blessed me with! thanks for letting me know i’m not alone in this crazy thing called ‘life’ and that i’m not the only one who’s considered putting my kids up on ebay. 🙂

    • Kathy,
      I imagine you’re only a couple days away from departure now. I love your descriptions of your family vacation. Sounds like most of us when we get together with the extended fam…tears, fights, words, laughter, fun and pictures. That about sums it up! I’ll keep you in my prayers! And ebay…I like that idea 😉

  4. I remeber the elevator buttons… great insights. Thanks for putting it so well…

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