When the Holidays are Hard

Jen Hatmaker knows a thing or two about loss and offers some lovely suggestions on how to deal with the holidays and gatherings when they're layered with mixed feelings and grief.

1. Write down what you feel like is missing.

I learned to do this in therapy and thus did this a lot. Whatever it is that you feel like you’re missing or that you never had, write it down.

Maybe it goes something like this:

  • “These are words that I would have loved to hear.”
  • “This is what I wish I had.”
  • “This is what I wish was different.”
  • “I wish this relationship was like this.
  • “I wish I didn’t have to walk on eggshells in this.”

Something about putting pen to paper takes away some of the power of these thoughts, so they are not swimming around in our minds anymore.


“Let me fall if I must fall. The one I become will catch me.”

Sheryl Sandberg, Author Option B

2. Write down what you do have.

If you can access this idea, consider what you DO have. While this particular day or this experience isn’t what you may have wanted, write down what you do have.

Think about what is worthy of noticing… it can be the tiniest positive thing. Whatever it is, say what you’re grateful for.

  • “I’m thankful for this.”
  • “I’m glad for this.”
  • “I can experience joy inside this.”
  • “I have this person.”
  • “It is worth noticing this.”


Feel every feeling, name every sorrow, grieve every loss. This is the true and brave path.

Jen Hatmaker, Author

3. Manage your expectations.

Give yourself a pass on the holidays this year if that's what you need. It's ok to get angry in a season of joy… maybe even expected.

Maybe you need to make a decision that you’re not going somewhere — or that something is going to be different this year. Or maybe you just go for two hours. You get to decide how much to let in and how much to leave out.

This is healthy. And you can do it lovingly with a lot of respect and kindness towards yourself.

Expectations about holiday bliss are a source of a lot of our pain. 

(In fact, Expectation Hangover is a thing and someone actually wrote a book about it!)

But the bottom line is, disappointment is a very real, human emotion. And you are not alone in feeling the heavy toll of unmet expectations.