Managing Holiday Expectations

Managing Holiday Expectations 1

There was that one Thanksgiving we stayed home, just the two of us. I was 9 months pregnant, so I had a great excuse for not traveling the solid six-hour round-trip drive that year. Several things make that such a warm holiday memory for me. First, it was our last Thanksgiving just the two of us. Second, it was quiet and relaxing and without expectation. Don’t get me wrong. We are those people who are friends with our families. We get along, vacation together, and look forward to seeing each other again in no more than a few weeks. Still, I will not lie about the sweet joy of bucking the system that one holiday.

Great expectations often boil up most clearly (and painfully) at the holidays. There are so many strong feelings, traditions, and schedules to balance. Somehow all those things seem tied to family dynamics growing up twenty years ago. You know, mom always understood younger brother’s unique living style; Dad always defaults to what big sister suggests. The holidays are a great reminder of all the ways we could use a little therapy. The way we’ve found to work through all this muddle is wrapped up in one word: expectations.

Managing Holiday Expectations 2The Negotiables

For us, when we really thought about it, most things turned out to be negotiable. Family and friends who married into the wonderful love of step-families negotiate a little differently than us. As a nuclear family we generally have all days available while some of our siblings have to balance sharing their children on certain days. As a SAHM I don’t have an office holiday party while some family and friends have two to attend. When we are invited to events, we take time to consider how participating will contribute to (and detract from) our holiday season. We don’t expect to have Christmas on a certain numerical day in the month. We also don’t expect to participate in everything to which we receive invitation.

Another example of negotiation involves the age of our children. This is our fourth December with children but our first time having Christmas morning on Christmas morning. We previously opted to celebrate it that Saturday morning of my family’s get-together the week before Christmas. As they get older this expectation may change, but we’ve spent some Christmas days traveling across the country because being with family ranks higher than celebrating Christmas on a particular day of December.

Gift-giving is another point of stress in the holiday season. With some family members we openly discuss this and set a dollar amount we are comfortable spending on each other’s families. We don’t buy for every single family member; one side of the family we always buy for parents while the other side of the family does a single-name-draw exchange that includes the parents. On the chance that we receive gifts unexpectedly from family or friends, we don’t stress about it because giving and receiving gifts are aspects of the holiday season. We see them as an opportunity to accept gifts with grace and without guilt.

The Non-negotiables

Typically we spend part of the holiday season (Thanksgiving to New Year’s) with each family, 1,600 miles apart. For ten years we’ve managed to balance this, though every year looks a little different. It means we don’t take family vacations to fancy locales other times of the year, but saving up to see both families during the holidays is typically non-negotiable. This year, this is not part of our expectations because I am too pregnant to travel cross-country. My doctor (and baby) turned this non-negotiable into a negotiable.

As our children grow, spending Christmas morning at home may turn to into a non-negotiable. Not traveling on Christmas day may become more important to remove stress from the season. For others there may be Christmas Eve pajamas, stockings, a church/synagogue service, or going to a particular family member’s home that is important.

I can’t gloss over the way this relaxed approach to the holidays relies on other people to balance their expectations of us. Sometimes family may or may not entirely understand. Some older family members may want to continue the old traditions even after the younger generations give birth to more. Some family may see every invitation as important, more important than balancing with family gatherings. Even the meaning of family and friend may blur as not every “family” is created with the same make-up. In all of these things, if you know what you are willing to negotiate or not then you can only handle the situation with grace and hope others will understand.

Lynette shares her life with her husband and two sons, ages 2 and 3 years. She has cloth diapered both since birth and enjoys all things eco-friendly and mindful living.

Tags: anxiety, babies, children, expectations, family, holidays, kids, pregnancy, preschoolers, relationships, stress, toddlers, travel

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