Holidays come with a vision of my entire family sitting together talking and laughing. Since it’s a special day everyone will be equally engaged and joyful. There won’t be any awkward silences, shallow topics, or misunderstandings. No one will be tired, distracted, stressed, bored.
We do have plenty of laughter and good conversation, but our interactions don’t always look like they belong in a sappy Christmas movie. We run out of topics that will interest the entire group. Sometimes a fun reminiscence for one person is painful for another. Occasionally someone falls asleep.
In short, we’re still a human family even on special days.
When I expect deep, meaningful, whole family conversations to be part of every holiday, I’m setting myself up for disappointment. I’m also expecting myself and many of my family members to interact in ways that don’t come as naturally to us. To top it off, I’m not paying attention to what I really want.
I’m an introvert and, while I enjoy the occasional group conversation, my most meaningful interactions are almost always one-on-one. Connecting with each of my family members is an important part of holiday celebrations for me, but trying to connect with everyone at once is often more draining than satisfying. When I know what I’m really hoping for, however, I can watch for moments to talk with each person more intimately.
There are so many ways our expectations can actually get in the way of what we really want.
Maybe what you really want is to relax and have fun with the people you care about, but you spend half the day working in the kitchen. Can you find ways to simplify the food or clean-up to make more time for the togetherness you want most?
Maybe the stress of trying to give the perfect gifts leads you to feel more resentful than generous. How can you adjust your gift giving to reflect care instead of obligation—whether that means changing your own strategy or suggesting a different gift giving format with your friends and family?
Maybe you’re anxious about meeting everyone else’s expectations. Do you actually know what they expect or are you making assumptions? Could you ask? Maybe the questions below could start a conversation that would help free all of you from some of those looming expectations.
Last week we examined the expectations we hold around the holidays. Now take a few deep breaths and set aside for the moment all the things you’ve believed have to be part of this season. Don’t worry right now about maintaining traditions from the past or establishing new traditions for the future. Just focus on this year.
What do you really want?
Sometimes it can be hard to separate what we really want from all the expectations of what we think we should want and assumptions about what other people want. Here are a few questions that might help:
- What are your favorite memories from past holidays? What specific aspects of those times make them so meaningful to you?
- What are your preferences during times less laden with expectations? How do you like to interact with people? What do you like to do? What do you like to eat? Do you prefer to be casual or formal? How active do you like to be?
- If all the details were stripped away, what is the one thing you most want out of this season?
- What gets in the way?
- What are you willing to let go to create space for what’s most important to you?
Now of course the holidays aren’t just about getting what we want, but when we know what we’re really hoping for we can focus on what actually matters to us instead of chasing an impossible ideal.
This isn’t about building a whole new set of expectations to try to meet. We don’t create more meaning by working harder. Instead, it’s about deciding where we will put our energy and attention.
When we examine our expectations, we may find some changes we can make to improve our holiday experience. There are also many aspects beyond our control. Refusing to recognize things for what they are doesn’t change them .
What if having a magical holiday season isn’t about making sure everything is perfect? Instead of striving for an entire holiday that’s glittering and magical, what if you paid attention and noticed those special moments you don’t want to miss?
What is your favorite holiday memory? What are you hoping for this year? Is there anything you’re dreading? Do your celebrations tend to resemble your preferences for daily life or contrast with them?