How to Forgive Yourself for the Holidays: You Can’t Rewrite History


The holidays used to trigger all sorts of self-recriminations in me. I used to wonder how to forgive yourself, forgive myself, for mistakes from seasons past.

Awful toxic stuff.

I would castigate myself for all the ways I wasn’t grateful enough; for all the ways I squandered times that are now gone forever because my parents are both dead, my kids are grown-up, and we are rarely all together.

I look back and I cringe at how much I bitched about being overwhelmed by the extra work the holiday season brought. I was trying too hard to be successful, help women, make enough money for our family, and be a good mom. Mostly, I felt like I was failing.

I look back at the times I was bored with my dad’s stories, judged my family’s lack of meaningful holiday traditions, wished that we were more interesting, intellectual, or spiritual, and I really cringe.

I can’t rewrite history. I can’t go back and listen with more patience to my dad or be grateful my parents loved me so much. I can’t go back and be the fun mom who stopped worrying about money and made paper chains for the Christmas tree.

(Oh wait, I did make paper chains, but they turned out mangled and gluey, and then I felt bad about that, too.)

If you don’t know how to forgive yourself for being what we all are — imperfect, impatient, and human — you won’t find peace in the past or the present or the future.

Here’s the thing: the entire time I was being less than grateful, relaxed, and content, I knew I was doing it and I was trying to stop.

If you don’t know how to forgive yourself for doing the best you can, trying will never be good enough. You’ll never live up to your own merciless expectations.

I was trying to be more present, playful, grateful.

It wasn’t like I didn’t know that my parents would die one day or my children would grow up.

But I couldn’t become the person I wanted to be, not as much or as quickly as I would have liked.

That’s the sand that can make the human pearl: realizing you were doing your best at the time and yet, often, it isn’t as good as you would like.

The sand turns to pearl, bit by bit, every time you reach back in time and love that person who tried.

If you want to know how to forgive yourself, this is how you do it. You love that person who tried.

Who did her/his/their best.

When you offer yourself this mercy.

It’s so tender and vulnerable to put my arms around the woman I was and tell her she was doing the best she knew how at the time. That she did mean well, she did love a lot, she did play, and she did listen. As best as she could.

I look in her eyes and say, “I love you.” That’s how to forgive yourself.

As we head into the time of the year that can stir up hard memories and woulda, coulda, shouldas, and all manner of tangled still smarting hurts or wistful sighs, may you liberate yourself to be in the present, where you are always doing the best you know how.

May you learn how to forgive yourself.

May you trust your essential goodness.

May you have a merciful holiday season.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Donna - November 27, 2019

Thank you, Jen. I needed to read and hear these words right now.

    jenniferlouden - November 27, 2019

    thank you for reading!

Charlotte Daily - November 27, 2019

Jen, thank you. You turned it all into a gift by giving it to us in the form of reassurance, comfort and wisdom. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Barbara Lee Johnson - December 2, 2019

Your timing is sometimes impeccable…just what I need to see exactly when I need to see it. When I read your words that it takes sand to make a pearl, I cried…for several minutes, just releasing. I have chronic pain, do not work, receive government support and often feel like a bump on a log and not much good for anything. What if I were to look at all the pain and suffering and see it as sand? Sand that is creating – if I let it – a wonderful, beautiful pearl?

Jamie Sue Brooks - December 12, 2019

Thank you, Jennifer. This is so helpful today, and of course so beautifully articulated.

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