Elf is queued up and the kids are diligently researching and writing wish lists for Santa. The neighborhood lights signal a time for holiday cheer, but deep down the fear of unmet expectations is creeping in.
Gathering with loved ones and watching the pure joy spread across your children's faces as they open gifts should balance out all of the hard work that goes into cooking, cleaning, shopping, and haggling with relatives over event details. But all too often come January 1, you're left feeling disappointed over the season's festivities falling short of your family's expectations.
This year, with a little help from three local experts, you can create your dream version of the holidays. Licensed professional counselor, Jennifer McKague, communications coach, Kris Prochaska, MA and social-emotional educator, Jenifer Trivelli, M.S. offer advice for crafting achievable expectations that help you manifest the seasonal experience you've always wanted.
Why Expectations Fall Short
Holiday expectations fall short for a variety of reasons. It may be that the children are disappointed with their gifts or the planned activities, or perhaps there was bickering throughout your extended family's visit. Whatever it may be, before you can move forward with success, it's best to consider what is at the root of the letdown.
"High expectations as parents often stem from unmet expectations we ourselves had as kids," says Prochaska. "So the place to begin is acknowledging what your expectations are and where they are coming from."
Prochaska suggests that the expectations we have as adults can come from three common places:
Your ChildhoodExpectations often stem from activities or experiences that worked well for your family when you were growing up. They may not work for your current family dynamic.
Setting achievable expectations for the holidays takes some forethought. Trivelli suggests taking the time to be intentional about what you'd like to experience together as a family ahead of time and then checking in periodically to make sure you're still on track. "Choosing emotions to focus on can help with decision making," says Trivelli. "Do I want to feel joy, peace, connection...? Are my actions and choices inviting the emotional experience I would like to have?"
Similarly, McKague says talking as a family about what you would like the holidays to be and then
Prochaska points out that while holiday rituals and traditions can bring a sense of community and connection, they can also become rigid, outdated and fraught with expectations. "To breathe life into your holiday traditions, invite your kids to contribute ideas and their own special blend of creativity and whimsy," she says. "This will help them feel a part of something and more likely they'll want to engage in a meaningful way."
Tips for Managing Stress
Stress management is key to making the holidays a positive experience for everyone. Consider the following suggestions to avoid and alleviate anxiety as it occurs along the way.
"Be willing to say no to protect the family experience you'd like to have with your kids," says Trivelli. This may mean saying no to kids, grandparents and even yourself. Trivelli also suggests including some time for snuggles and stories. "(It) will go a long way to bolster everyone's capacity to go with the flow," she explains.
McKague says identifying the most important holiday tasks for yourself and your family and taking small steps to accomplish those tasks makes the experience more manageable.
"Take care of yourself. Sleep well, exercise, and make good, healthy food choices," says McKague. Self-care is all too easy to forget during the holiday hustle.
Even with the proper planning and execution, holiday expectations can still fall short. After the New Year has come and gone, Prochaska suggests having a compassionate conversation with your partner and your kids about any unmet expectations there might be. "Let them express themselves, then help them turn their attention towards what went right and what was special, meaningful and fun for them," she says. "They'll remember you gave them the best gift of all... your love, attention, and willingness to connect."