We waited at the top of the stairs. All six of us – 4 boys, 2 girls – trying our best to wait patiently, giddy with excitement, waiting until we got the nod from four parents that we could descend to the downstairs to see what Santa had left us. The first one up would wake up the others – we all bounded out of bed to take our places at the top of the stairs, peering over the railing at the filled stockings, tied to the banister, finding the one with our name and dreaming about what could be in it. We knew great food was in store, grandparents were coming and everything about the house felt different; it felt special; it felt better.
Holidays. Excitement. Expectations.
Holidays are amazing. They interrupt the routine of our days to do things in a new and special way. They bring people together on purpose. They remind us to focus on others, be grateful, see the larger picture and remember that every life has reasons to celebrate. Regardless of your tradition, holidays are fuel for the soul – to activate something larger in us and to change who we are from the inside out. This truly has nothing to do with what Santa may leave under the tree.
Our world is busy creating holiday expectations for all of us – particularly our kids. They constantly remind them that a great holiday is one filled with gifts – nice gifts – lots of gifts – the right gifts – perfect gifts. I remember one Christmas watching my kids open up way too many gifts, only to break out in panic sweat thinking about having bought way more than we could afford. We fell into the myth that their holiday would be happier if we bought them things – a lot of things. Sure, they do like getting things – me too. But that isn’t what the holiday is about. How might we need to rethink the holidays and what can we do to help manage our kids and our expectations?
Some ideas to consider:
1. Make time to talk about the holidays. Have a family meeting. Get everyone present. Turn off technology. Make it happen – no excuses.
2. Define why you celebrate. Understanding why you celebrate in your tradition gives context to how you can celebrate. Talk about the value, virtues and behaviors of the holiday. These give rise to your family traditions and set the expectations clearly about the value of the holidays – you know, “the reason for the season.” With younger kids or teens, deal head on with the constant consumerism and marketing about gifts. Define what is true for your family.
3. How you celebrate. Get input from everyone to know what will make their celebration special – and in line with why you celebrate. I find this helps kids shift from “getting” to “giving,” from “self-focused” to more “other-focused.” Loving the holidays doesn’t have to mean big presents – that is what others have told us can or must happen. You decide what and how it is for you.
We can all get so excited about the holidays that we create extreme expectations. Then, because the expectations are so significant, if the holiday under delivers, we get sad, angry or disappointed. Knowing this can happen, proactively set up reasonable expectations that align to your family’s values and traditions. Talk about them. Deal with them up front. Get input from everyone. Increase the communication.
Focusing our kids on the purpose and value of any holiday – and to the power of celebration – creates more meaningful and reasonable expectations that can build wonderful holiday memories instead of lead to holiday disappointments.