For most of us, our expectations of what the holidays should be are several steps above the expectations that we have throughout the rest of the year.
We expect more quality time with family and friends.
We expect to form special memories.
We expect to eat well, engage in annual traditions and put on our fanciest clothes.
We also expect holiday miracles such as …our children will behave like angels…Uncle Fred won’t drink too much…and our spouse will somehow find us that perfect gift.
With all these additional expectations, is it any wonder that the holidays often don’t match the Hallmark movies and scenic pictures on the cards that we exchange each year?
Late nights and lack of routine turn your children into something other than angels…
…That perfect dinner with family becomes a flashpoint for all the dysfunction that has been brewing for years…
…Your spouse buys you a new dustbuster instead of the jewelry you were hoping for…
…and your sister decides to become an ethical vegan two weeks before you are to sit down to your traditional turkey dinner…
…Often added to this scenario is the reality that divorce and other forms of loss are magnified during this time.
There may be an empty seat or two at the table that in past years held a loved one.
So how do you navigate your desire for a picturesque holiday in the middle of the messiness of the season?
The first thing you need to do is consider your expectations. What is the meaning behind the expectations you have for your holiday and gift giving time and what does it mean if those expectations are not met?
If things don’t go perfectly are you completely crushed or can you allow things to simply be as they are?
Is your brother being late for dinner a personal attack on you or is it simply who he is?
Is your partner not finding the perfect gift a reflection on how they feel about you, or are they just really bad at shopping?
When your kids misbehave, is that a reflection on your poor parenting skills or are they just tired and overstimulated?
The story you tell yourself about these types of situations will determine how you feel about them.
The second thing you need to do is consider the expectations of those in your family.
What is the meaning behind their expectations?
Your friends and family also have their own expectations for the season and their traditions may carry completely different meanings for them.
Most of the tension that can happen over the holidays stems from people ascribing different levels of meaning to different activities and traditions.
For you, it may be really important to go to lots of parties with large groups of people.
For your partner, it may be important to have an intimate gathering of 3 or 4 friends.
For you, gift giving may be the highest expression of love.
For your child, they might feel loved when you come outside and play in the snow with them.
It is when you come to a place of allowing the holidays rather than trying to control the holidays that the magic begins to happen.
There will always be things that don’t go perfectly, but it is how you respond and the stories that you tell yourself that will determine whether the holiday season is joy-filled or stress-filled.
If you burn the turkey do you tell yourself you are the most useless person ever or do you laugh and order take-out?
Do you allow your Ex’s subtle manipulation of the drop off time for the kids to turn into a court order or …do you pick your battles and adjust your expectations?
This holiday season, if you begin finding yourself caught up in your own expectations or family drama…
…ask yourself the following three questions and then state the following three truth statements to help re-ground you and refocus on what is important.
Why is this upsetting me?
What does this mean for me?
What story am I telling myself about this event?
State these affirmations:
*My joy is not dependent upon the actions of others
*I am infinitely loved and valued
*I allow things to be as they are
It is also important to release others from the unrealistic obligation to ascribe the same meaning to things that you do.
Not everyone will understand or want to participate in decorating every inch of your house…and that’s ok. If you receive joy from that tradition, do it for yourself.
Wishing you a blessed holiday season!
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