Every year I fight it. The Christmas songs speak of joyous sleigh rides, happy journeys to Grandma’s home in the woods, jingling bells, and a jolly season. Commercials show everyone smiling as the turkey comes to the table, and families ripping open presents and hugging each other. All is merry and bright.

And once again, I want to believe it to be true.

I wrap the presents, drive to my family Christmas dinner, and walk in the door… to be greeted by the same people who have the same hang-ups and issues as every year. Same personality conflicts. Same old baggage. Hardly a greeting card moment.

After a few hours, as I drive home, my shoulders slump. I fight the tears from clouding the view beyond my windshield. Why did I hope it would be different?

I am not alone. Many of us develop unreasonable expectations about the holidays and family gatherings. In an article entitled, Do Holiday Expectations Cause You Angst? 12 Ways to Help, Karyl McBride offers 12 approaches to viewing this holiday season differently.

Why did I hope this holiday would be different?

She states that we cannot control how others react. We shouldn’t expect people to change overnight and become these happy, loving souls with no hang-ups, past hurts, or grudges. Nor can we become that way.

McBride goes on to point out that the real value isn’t so much the money we spend on gifts, but it is the time and energy we invest in the people we buy them for. That is of great worth. She also allows us to give ourselves a present ― to not take the blame for others’ responses as long as our intent is good-natured. She says to give ourselves permission to step away if someone is negatively affecting us with their toxic attitude.

And if the holiday brings on painful memories, such as a loss of a loved one, McBride proposes we should allow those feelings to surface and deal with them gently so we can heal. Ignoring them or shoving them down will only lead to trouble later.

I want to take it a step further and not make it all about me and my expectations. I have decided to concentrate less on my desire for the holidays to morph into my imagined perfection and instead approach my time with the family with an open mind. I’ve decided not to let anyone push my buttons, but I also won’t offer them any buttons to push.

When it gets right down to it, I will only see some of my family members a few hours each year. Why not make that time the best it can be? Why allow myself to be hurt and disappointed? Or worse, hurt or disappoint someone else.

I cannot expect my family to change, but I can change my view of my family.

Family members can bring out the worst in us, but they can also bring out the best. Whether we have a bad history with them or a good one, it is history all the same. Common experiences can be a bonding factor. Or they can drive us apart. It is really our choice how we react.

None of us are perfect. Every family has some dysfunction because we are all human. And while, as the saying goes, you can’t pick your family, let’s face facts. We have been given them to love. So maybe we need to extend a bit of grace. Many people do not have family, or have broken all ties. They have let walls build up that are almost impossible to break down.

As the holidays approach, I have decided I want to use my bricks ― the things that make me who I am ― to build bridges, not walls. In fact, I want to do this all year round, not just during the time when tinsel drapes the walls and wrapping paper clutters the floor.

For each member of my family, I will find one positive thing to replace the history of negativity — intentionally choose to put aside the unresolved hurt feelings or the personality quirks that usually drive me up the wall. I’ll embrace each person in love and tolerance. No matter how they respond to me.

That decisive attitude, even though it can’t be put in a box and wrapped with a bow, may be the best gift I can give to my family and to myself.

If you are wary of being with your family or are feeling lonely this season, why not talk with a confidential mentor through the connect form below? You don't have to journey alone.

This article was written by: Julie Cosgrove

Photo Credit: Sheri Terris