Christmas can be a hectic time for special-needs families. In this podcast series, Sandra will share Keys to a Calm Christmas to help you focus on what’s most important this holiday season.

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. He is always with you, empowering you to respond in love.

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This is self care and soul care for the care giver, and I’m your host—Sandra Peoples. To us, self care isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. We want to take better care of ourselves so we’re able to care for our loved ones who rely on us.

This is episode one, the first in a series about the keys to a calm Christmas. Over the next few weeks we’ll be talking about responding to others’ expectations of our families, managing our own emotions and responses, and for those of us who have children with special needs, the final episode in this series has tips for helping them regulate their sensory needs and remain calm when they are out of their regular routines.

I’m very thankful you’re joining me for the series, and I pray it’s an encouragement to you. Let’s jump in today talking about how we can respond to others’ expectations.

Episode one: Key to a Calm Christmas: Responding to Others’ Expectations

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 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 disciple 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.

The book Boundaries by Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend has lots of helpful, specific advice for those us who need to create better boundaries (which, I’m pretty sure is all of us). They remind us that we are not responsible for the actions of others. We can only control ourselves and our reactions. Family members may try to control you with guilt or anger, but healthy boundaries can protect you from both.

If you make a decision for your family that you believe is best, you may have to prepare yourself for that decision to be met with resistance (guilt or anger). For example, if you can’t make it to the big family dinner this year because it’s not what’s best for your child, your mom may respond with anger or by trying to make you feel guilty. But neither of these reactions are your responsibility—they are hers. Your responsibility is to do what’s best for your family.

Drs. Cloud and Townsend write, “empathize with the distress people are feeling, but make it clear that it is their distress.” That may sound like this, “Mom, I know you are disappointed in our decision not to come to the big family dinner. But we have to do what’s best for our family. We are excited to see you on Christmas day when you come to our house to open gifts.” You are recognizing your mom’s pain, but not making it your own. And you are reminding her of what she has to look forward to.

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. He is always with you, empowering you to respond in love.

Let me pray for us as we think about the ways we will respond to others’ expectations of us this holiday season:

Heavenly Father, as we navigate the Christmas season with all the expectations that come with it, help us to focus on You and your unconditional love for us and our families. Give us wisdom as we make the best decisions we can for the families you have entrusted in our care. Remind us to follow Christ’s example of patience and kindness when we don’t meet others’ expectations. And help us to respond with empathy, but not take on the anger or guilt of other people. In everything we do, we want to glorify you. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Over on you can check out a transcript of the show and see the show notes. There’s a link to the book I mentioned, and I recommend another book to read if your family experienced trauma and you have to deal with toxic people. What works for most families may not work for yours, but this book is the best I’ve read on how to respond in love even in hard situations.

Thanks for joining me! Since this is our very first episode, it would be a huge help if you could take time to rate this podcast and share it with friends! More caregivers need to know they aren’t alone on this journey to take better care of themselves so they are able to care for those who rely on them. Self care and soul care aren’t optional for caregivers!

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