Making Fond Memories When Family Events Don’t Go As Planned

Several weeks ago we attempted to take cake smash photos for our daughter’s first birthday. Everything was “picture perfect” except our daughter’s response. One taste of the frosting on the cake and she had a meltdown!

Did something unexpected mess up your family event? Here are four simple strategies to help you make fond memories despite things not going as planned.

When this happened, I felt a little disappointed. After all, my husband and I wanted wonderful photos to help us remember her first birthday. However, I quickly realized that there was no point in being disappointed. We laughed at the situation, cuddled our sappy daughter close, and moved on. I have no doubt that years from now we will smile and laugh as we tell the story of how the cake smash went awry.

At some point, you’ll likely face (or have already faced) a similar situation. It may not involve a first birthday cake, but it may involve a burnt Thanksgiving dinner, a trip to the ER on Christmas, or a family argument on Easter. Whatever the specifics, how can we make fond memories when family events don’t go as planned?

How to make good memories when family events go poorly

  • Have realistic expectations. We often set ourselves up for disappointment because we expect things to go perfectly. In reality, our families are made up of imperfect people, so there’s no way to achieve perfection. It’s a good idea to forget the perfect images we see on Pinterest and embrace the less-than-perfect reality before us.
  • Plan ahead, but be flexible. Careful planning reduces the chances that family events will go amiss. We must grasp these plans loosely, though, so we can be flexible in the face of unexpected occurrences. Did you ruin your well-planned Thanksgiving dinner? It’s okay. Being flexible means you can cheerfully pull a frozen lasagna out of the freezer and eat it instead. Did your plans to open gifts around the tree on Christmas Eve get derailed because grandma got hospitalized? It’s okay. Being flexible means you can enjoy taking a few gifts up to her hospital room and open them there.
  • Look for the positive. If we walk around with glass-half-empty mentalities, then we’ll only see and remember the negatives. On the other hand, if we intentionally look for the positives, then we’ll enjoy ourselves now and have positive memories in the future. Need help identifying some positives? Consider the event that is happening and determine which aspects of it you can be grateful for. These are the positives on which you can focus.
  • Consider the big picture. Sometimes very solemn things, such as the death of a loved one, occur and change the tone of a family event. However, sometimes a family event doesn’t go as planned because of something that is pretty inconsequential, such as a baby having a meltdown after tasting cake for the first time. In situations like this latter example, it’s wise to consider the disturbance in the context of the big picture. When you are surrounded by family, it’s a good thing. When you are healthy enough to enjoy various activities, it’s a good thing. When framed in this larger context, most derailed family events don’t look so bad!

Precious Memories in the Making

Have you had family events that didn’t go as planned? How did you respond? Based on your experience, what would you recommend we do to make fond memories when these things happen?

Shared at the following link parties:

Shine Blog Hop, Coffee and Conversation, Tuesday Talk, Titus 2sday, Titus 2 Tuesday and The Art of Home-Making.


  1. Loved this, Shannon! As the “heart of our home,” I know God has given me a very powerful gift to cast family events that don’t go as planned in either a positive or negative light. We had one such event a few Thanksgivings ago, in fact! 😉 I’m so thankful God helped me to relish rather than resent what turned out to be a very unscripted day. Thanks for these wise reminders as we head into a few extremely busy weeks of family gatherings!

    • Hi Elizabeth,
      It sounds like you handled the situation very well. Hopefully we are all able to enjoy our families and focus on what’s truly important this Christmas.
      Blessings to you and your family!

  2. This is a very timely and wise article. You’ve taken the time to write such a good reminder for families of all sizes and ages. Thank you very much. I will be sharing this on my page soon.

  3. Aww, she’s so cute and it’s a precious picture anyway!
    Yes, I’ve had many family events go awry due to grandma passing out or kids acting like tasmanian devils.
    In fact, it’s happened so many times that we just roll with it because it’s becoming predictable! In the past several years, I’ve learned to cherish the sweet moments we do get to snatch, and be thankful for the small stuff.
    You showed a lot of wisdom with this post! Found you today on Tuesday Talk – the pic intrigued me! 🙂

    • Hi Ruthie,
      I think your statement that you’ve learned to “cherish the sweet moments we do get to snatch” really sums it up nicely. They are much too sweet to miss out on them by focusing on what’s not going well.

  4. Girl, I have been there. Very few things with my toddler Jack ever go as planned. He is wild and anywhere we take him does he mold to the situation. To him, everything is the Jack show. I have had to learn to realistic expectations. For example, I took him to his first movie a few weeks ago. I told myself if we make it an hour, then we were doing good. We made it 55 minutes but at least I didn’t leave feeling let down. This is really great information.

    • That sounds like a great approach, Ashley! It’s a perfect example of having realistic expectations. Thanks for sharing with us!

  5. This is the second post I have read about perfection getting in the way of something wonderful. I think someone’s trying to tell me something 😉 Thanks for sharing your story. It’s a good reminder to smile through those imperfect situations.

    • It’s always interesting when you hear the same lesson from multiple sources…hopefully you’ve learned it! 🙂
      I hope your family has a wonderful Christmas!

  6. My husband and I laughed when we saw that super cute picture! We have 8 children, and although they were adopted at a little bit older ages, we have seen many cute and funny things like that over the years! We enjoyed the picture very much.

    • Hi Becky,
      I was hesitant to share it because she looks so miserable. This is the stuff of real life, though, so I did.
      Have a blessed Christmas with your family!

  7. Two years ago to this day, my then one-year-old son had a respiratory illness that landed him in the PICU of a children’s hospital an hour away from our home for 11 days. It was most definitely not what I planned for the holidays. It was really scary and pretty surreal. There were lots of tears and stressors. Strangely though, now that I’m a couple years out from it I do have some lovely memories of that time. My husband and I had a lot of time one on one in that little hospital room cuddling and praying together. Our daughter stayed close-by with my aunt who made the time a wonderful serene experience for her, baking cookies and making crafts and gifts. It’s not what I would have chosen, but just yesterday in the shower I was remembering the wonderful things kind people were doing for us and other patients while we were there. Choirs came and caroled, charities delivered toys and gifts, special refreshments and decor. It was a time when we were acutely aware of the presence of God and the prayers of people all around us lifting us up. So yes, there are wonderful things about those unexpected changes in plans if only we have eyes and the courage to see them. Thanks for this reminder today.

    • Hi Tara,
      This really touched my heart. How wonderful that in hindsight you can see the good things that happened during that tough time!
      Thanks for taking the time to share your story. It helps the rest of us keep things in perspective as we face much smaller interruptions.

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