Navigating Others' Expectations of Your Family This Holiday Season

I hate not living up to someone else's expectations.

That will happen a dozen times at least in the next few weeks. When we can't make James sit still at the dinner table. When we he and I can't make it to every church event. When he won't smile for the family picture. It isn't easy.

My personality type has a lot to do with the embarrassment I feel at times like this. I have an older sister with Down syndrome and grew up wanting to be a perfectionist, trying hard not to cause my parents any more work than necessary. I like to follow rules and meet expectations. It makes life easier.

But maybe the best gift for someone who deals with perfectionism is an "imperfect" child who can't meet everyone's expectations. The situations we get in remind me no one is perfect—which is why we need a perfect Savior.  


So what's the best way to deal with the expectations of others, whether family members, friends, or church members? We follow Jesus's example.

The disciples had expectations of Jesus that He didn't meet. They expected Him to overthrow the Roman government. They expected Him to pick a favorite to sit at His right hand in heaven. They often fought over who was the greatest, missing Jesus's entire point that they must serve each other to be like Him.

But Jesus's example is one of patience. He was never argumentative or disrespectful. Never rolled His eyes or sighed with exasperation. Never turned red in the face or stomped his foot with His hands on His hips. Instead of pushing people away, He gathered His friends closer to Himself. 

His goal was not to be right, but that they would understand. This wasn’t a battle to win, it was an opportunity to teach.

When everyone but James is standing still and looking the same direction with smiles on their faces, how will I respond to the family member holding the camera who is growing frustrated with James? I will calmly explain he has a short attention span and doesn't do well when he feels pressured. I will assure the person that done is better than perfect.

When James and I stay home because the church event is too busy and loud, how will I respond to the person who says with a less-than friendly tone, "We sure missed seeing the pastor's entire family at our choir performance"? I'll explain that his sensory processing disorder makes it hard to be in loud, crowded places. 

And I won't carry the guilt, embarrassment, or shame others are trying to put on me. Those feelings are their own issues, not mine.

When you feel like you or your child isn't meeting the expectations of others, what is your response? Is it shame? Embarrassment? Is it to work harder? It is to quit trying at all? Pay attention to your response patterns and emotions and see if they reflect Christ. 

There will be times in the coming weeks you'll disappoint people, your children will disappoint people. But your goal isn't to meet everyone's expectations. It's to do what's best for your child and your family. It's to point others to the perfect Savior who will never disappoint them. 

Continue to walk worthy of the gospel message, and pray you can be a light to others.