Surviving Christmas and its unmet expectations

Shakespeare made one of the most profound statements I’ve ever heard: “Oft expectation fails, and most oft there, where most it promises.” In other words, most of life’s heartaches stem from unmet expectations. Think about it. Now think about it in relation to the holidays.

Was your Thanksgiving all you had hoped it would be, just as you had envisioned it? Will Christmas be the perfect melding of family togetherness, glazed ham, and thoughtful presents? And how will you react when it isn’t?

Because you know, especially if you have children, and most especially if you have teenagers, that things won’t go as smoothly as you hope. Everyone will have their own ideas of what the perfect holiday looks like. Some people won’t like ham. That perfect present won’t be met with glee or even appreciation. And your mother-in-law will annoy you yet again.

I grapple with letting go of lofty expectations every year. We somewhat controlling people often do; after all, we have plans, and they’re fantastic, and everyone should get on board with them. But I have to remind myself that teens and young adults sleep in, stay up late, eat whenever they feel like it, typically don’t enjoy sightseeing, would rather search for online deals than shop, and, generally speaking, have their own ideas of fun.

Therefore, I rely on another quote to get by, this one by Albert Camus: “Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken.” In other words, compromise, my friends, will keep you from going insane. In a house full of people, during holidays that depend so heavily on expectation, compromise will save you every time. Compromise looks like this:

  • Encouraging each family member to choose one activity, then following through without complaining
  • Working around sleep schedules (within reason) without expecting everyone to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the early morning
  • Keeping the focus on family time, rather than grand presents and activities
  • Being centered in your faith and remembering why this time of year is special to begin with
  • Staying grounded in your expectations by remembering the treasured family traditions that really matter
  • Letting go of what doesn’t and what no one will remember anyway

Hard as it may be, give up the control. Give up the dream. Instead, enjoy the reality of your family, just as they are. Find joy in their individual quirks and everyone’s inability to be perfect. Perfection is exhausting and a fruitless waste of time. Instead, relax and let the holidays be what they will be.

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