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How This Mom Reset Holiday Expectations, Lowered Stress, and Found More Family Fun (and You Can, Too!)

Submitted by Rita Brhel on 6 December 2022

Early on Thanksgiving, my expectations for the day were dashed.

Our friends, who were supposed to come over for Thanksgiving dinner, had to cancel because of illness. I was glad they didn't want to share their germs. It didn't hurt my feelings so much as change what I thought the day would look like. The whole holiday weekend, and maybe my whole life, has gone that way. So, I'm thinking about expectations.

Expectations and worry are stories we tell ourselves, and these stories are unlikely to play out as we imagine. I've heard that a way to counter this is to stop making up stories of expectations and worry and to instead live in the present moment. I like this idea, but the reality is that I often need to plan ahead and this requires thinking about how things may go and what I need to do or get when and where.

What happens when we plan ahead, but events don't go as anticipated?

On Thanksgiving, my plans were changed by something that happened outside of my control. Instead of cooking our food earlier in the day to get ready for our guests, I found it easy to enjoy our extra time together. Our morning was so long and leisurely that it lasted until about four in the afternoon. My son and his father built train tracks from the table through the living room, around the couch, and back to the table. I would never have had the patience or attention span for this. My son was in utter heaven, and his dad got to spend hours of focused time with his son. It was definitely a day to be thankful for.

Part of why the day was good is that I've been trying hard to let go of what I think things should look like. Who am I really? Only one of three people in this family. Why should it be my plan, my expectations, fulfilled?

Even after I’d had this enlightening experience with how to deal with unmet expectations, I found how easy it is to silently slip back into my old expectations. Just a few days later, over the weekend, we were getting ready to decorate the Christmas tree. Rather than finding decorations in the garage, my son discovered a battery-operated train set we had just inherited from a friend. He was so taken with it that he cared about nothing else. 

I found myself feeling frustrated, even angry. I had a whole picture of how the afternoon was supposed to go. We were going to listen to Christmas music, hang lights, and tell stories about where each decoration came from. He didn't care at all.

Luckily, I was able to stop myself from the bad mood I felt coming. Lately, I have started noticing that I feel my body heat up when I'm feeling angry. I literally need to cool down. So, I walked outside to re-pot a plant and left my husband inside to help my son with the train. 

When I re-entered the house, my son walked into my arms. The tracks kept popping apart, and the train wouldn't ride the rails. He was disappointed. I gave him a hug and said we'd figure it out. We walked into the sunroom and tried one more track maneuver. Rather than throw it out the window, I playfully suggested that we just put the tracks back in the box and run the train on the floor. We could pretend the whole room was tracks. 

Later, when we were listening to Christmas music as we were putting up the tree, I didn't even try to make up a story about how decorating was going to go. I just experienced it as it happened and that was enjoyable. I hope to be able to do the same through the cooking-decorating parties we've been invited to, our town's tree lighting festival, caroling, and whatever other holiday events we've got on the calendar.

How was your Thanksgiving? Did it go as expected? What kinds of plans and hopes do you have for the rest of your holiday season? What are your strengths when it comes to handling unmet expectations?


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