The other day I found myself in a fast food restaurant with two teens sitting a booth away. As I eavesdropped on their conversation, I realized that they were in the same mode I was in–setting expectations.
I was sitting with my sandwich and my list of all the things I needed to accomplish to make the holidays perfect. Making a list of presents to buy and activities our family could enjoy together, I listened as these two boys planned their perfect Christmas break.
“I’m going to move my gaming system down into the basement during Christmas and play games all week. Hopefully, I’ll get the new controller that I want along with a game. You can come over and hang out with me and maybe spend a couple of nights. I’m also going to invite Josh and Simon.”
“I wish I could be Ryan this year. Then I would definitely get all the gaming gear I want for Christmas. His parents are both PhD’s with great jobs. He’s set for life and can get whatever he wants…”
And the conversation continued.
But I stopped listening.
The light bulb in my head was shining brightly. Oh, my. I wonder what his parents are doing to combat his expectations?
How many times do we as parents plan the perfect holiday season while our kids are off doing the same thing? I’m sure this kid’s parents didn’t envision their son spending his Christmas break holed up in his basement with his gaming system and all his friends. I’m guessing all the boys that he is planning to invite have parents that are making family plans as well.
So what will most likely happen?
Conflict and lots of unrealized expectations.
It’s natural to have expectations; and planning does need to take place before the holidays arrive. But what are we as parents doing to set expectations–realistic expectations–for both us and our teens?
A couple of years ago, my oldest son and his wife were coming home from Europe for the holidays. Since I hadn’t seen them in a while, I absolutely couldn’t wait to have all my kids home for Christmas–it was a treat that only came around every two years. I had set my expectations on all the fun things we would do as a family.
And then my expectation bubble burst.
Yes, they were coming home, but they were bringing his wife’s sister and my son’s best friend.
What? For the holidays? But that should be family time — was ringing in my head. How are there going to be intimate one-on-one conversations when we are entertaining guests? Christmas morning will be weird with others watching our family open presents.
And the list of all my objections continued…
Not only did my expectations clash with my son and his wife’s expectations, but I realized that my other children also had expectations of what Christmas would be like. They couldn’t wait for their brother to come home in anticipation of all they cool things they would do together. They didn’t want to share this little time they had with their brother.
I could see my youngest’s heart was heavy with disappointment as he realized that his brother’s time would be spent with his friend and not with him–a cruel reality in his mind.
It became a time of expectation readjustment–for everyone.
So how do you get everyone on the same page with expectations before school is out and the holidays begin?
- Plan a family time to have conversation–if not together at least separately. Be sure to include kids that are away at college and those that are married. Find out what each person is hoping for when you all are together.
- Set expectations early and stress the importance of flexibility. Let everyone know that not every dream for their holiday can be met fully.
- Let everyone know the non-negotiables. For example, if dinner is on Christmas Eve with grandma then that might mean family only. Period. There will be other times during the holiday to include friends.
- Make sure everyone is in on the plan early rather than the day of the event. Let each person know when they will have free time to do their thing.
- Make sure everyone has plenty of time to “grieve” their expectations before the holidays begin. Time gives the person time to readjust the dream versus the reality.
As my youngest got used to the idea that his brother was bringing guests for Christmas, he had to “grieve” his expectations. I’ll admit, I grieved with him. For him and for me. But what I discovered was I needed to allow him to express his disappointment. We talked frequently about what he was going to miss about the one-on-one time. And then we put words to his desires with his brother.
“What is one thing that you could do with your brother that would be special?” I asked. As he contemplated that, it helped him to reset his expectations of the holiday season.
For me, I knew that I wanted at least one moment where my oldest where I could just have deep conversation without interruption–just our special time together. Once I shared those desires, it became an expectation that my son was more than willing to fill. We went to his favorite restaurant while my husband entertained our guests. That time together filled my soul.
That Christmas had a profound affect on our family. It helped us be more flexible in our expectations of the holiday season. It also forced communication in dealing with disappointment by verbalizing “one thing” that was import so that our expectations would be lowered which meant less conflict.
For us, we also discovered that having friends join the festivities during the holiday season took the focus off the gifts and made it about connection. What we got was the “best” of the Christmas season and memories that will last a lifetime.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Dare you to start having your holiday expectation discussions today with your kids so that peace will reign throughout your Christmas season.
“Let go…and let God”,