Holidays have a lot to do with expectations. Yours. Mine. His. Hers. Theirs. (The list goes on.)
Some are big. Some are small. Some are (thankfully!) straightforward. But alas, there’s no denying that there are some that are next-level complex, as in buckle-up, baby, here’s your handy-dandy ‘yes/no/if/then’ decision-making protocol.
Some expectations are left unspoken. Some are thrown out there and met with ‘Yup. Got it.’, while others are met with confusion and a ‘Wait. What?’ There will always be some that raise eyebrows. And, not surprisingly, there will be some that are met with a hearty ‘h*ll no!’
Expectations met? Right on. Expectations exceeded? Brilliant!
But fall short? THAT can be painful.
But it doesn’t have to be.
It all comes down to mindset.
Being human means having expectations. We can’t have beliefs and past experiences and not come to expect things. From life. From ourselves. From other people. These expectations impact not only how we see the world but how we react when we’re met with that enthusiastic ‘Yup. Got it.’ or an indignant ‘H*ll no!’
We can profess to love one another to the moon and back and even still our expectations are never going to let us see eye-to-eye 100% of the time. And – true story -- nor would we want to.
Now before you get all ‘But can’t we all just get along?’, let me tell you straight up that conflict in relationships is not only normal and inevitable, it’s essential. After all, we’re generally hoping to have relationships that go the distance and in a healthy way and we’ll never get there if responsibility for getting along falls squarely on the shoulders of one individual. So conflicts arise and they (hopefully) give way to healthy conflict resolution, which, by the way, is a lot like dancing the tango: it takes two.
But rather than talking ‘conflict resolution strategies for the holidays’, let me offer up some humble words of advice – one girlfriend to another – on some of the things about expectations that mess with feeling a little peace on earth this holiday season.
1. Perfection is over-rated: being your best on your worst day is where it's at.
Expecting perfection of yourself and others usually leads to a whole lot of heartache and conflict. Cut yourself and others some slack. The meal, the dessert, the décor, what you’re wearing, what the kids are wearing (the list can go on and on and on) – obsessing over these things throws a big, wet blanket over the very essence of the holiday season: JOY!
Please hear me now like I’m shouting it from the rooftop: people tend to forget a lot of stuff but they tend not to forget the way another person makes them feel. Nobody likes to feel like they’ll never measure up. Not me. Not you. No one. And nobody likes to feel like the person right in front of them is not really present because they’re fussing over things that no one will remember a year from now, let alone 10 years from now.
You may not be perfect but no one’s perfect and guess what, girlfriend? You’re doing just fine.
2. Expect the unexpected: you don’t own a crystal ball.
It may not be a full-on, close-encounter with Murphy’s Law but, girlfriend, sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you plan (and plan and plan), the universe has other plans for you. At times like these, when faced with the choice of giving up or going on, look for the silver-lining (because if you look hard enough you’ll usually find one), call in the reinforcements (because there’s no shame in getting by with a little help from our friends), and fast-forward to laughter as soon as you possibly can. Dolly Parton’s ‘Truvey Jones’ in Steel Magnolias hit the nail on the head when she said: ‘Laughter through tears is my favourite emotion!’ Be like Truvey.
3. Sometimes you hang on and sometimes you let go: it’s about balance.
How many times have we all heard don’t sweat the small stuff and, at some level, we buy into it. And then the holidays hit and we forget. And we sweat. Profusely. Over small stuff. The stuff we wouldn’t sweat over at virtually any other time of year. We forget how to ‘pick our battles’ and everything (well, maybe not everything, but a lot of stuff) becomes a battle. Problem is that, more often than not, battles result in someone feeling like ‘the winner’ and someone else feeling like ‘the loser’. And, when, I ask you, were the holidays ever supposed to be about winners and losers?
I’m not saying for one minute that we should all cave to the will of others in the interest of bringing peace to the holidays. What I’m saying is that we’d do well to remember that life is about finding the right balance between hanging on and letting go. We suffer when we hang on to EVERYTHING we think or feel should happen and, not surprisingly, we suffer even more when we hang onto everything 24/7 that we think or feel should happen. The same is true of letting go. It’s about balance.
So, girlfriend, hang on to the thoughts and feelings that really truly matter to you at your very core and let go of everything else that doesn’t.
4. Give for no other reason than because you can.
So many things in life are transactional: I pay you what you expect to receive for an apple and, in return, you give me the apple. It’s a simple example but it highlights an important point: we like it when we come across well-defined expectations of what we’ll get for what we give.
(Indulge me please. I’m going to get a little cerebral here.)
What if we gave the apple and didn’t expect anything in return? What would happen then?
Because we’ve given the apple freely, we don’t have to be concerned about counting the money, making change, or where to put the money. We’ve removed the distractions that draw our attention away from what’s going on right in front of us: the person’s enjoyment of the apple. Maybe they were expecting it, maybe not. Maybe apples are their favourite fruit, maybe not. But what if this apple we gave is all they ever wanted? Go ahead and give it a think. How ‘bout them apples???
Aesop had it right when he said: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” But when these acts are unleashed on the universe without expecting anything in return, girlfriend, that’s when the magic really happens -- for the receiver AND the giver.
So there you have it: a few humble words of advice – one girlfriend to another -- on how to keep your head on straight about holiday expectations.
There are going to be some expectations you stop and some you start and some you continue but whatever you do, just remember the best expectations to hold onto are the ones that leave you (and those you love) laughing harder, loving more, and feeling lifted.
So from me to you: Happy Holidays!!! (And girlfriend…expectations/shmeckspectations…keep your chin up! You’ve got this.)
Penny has a degree in social and developmental psychology and has devoted her career to programming for kids of all ages in the fields of physical and intellectual literacy. This dedicated fitness enthusiast and involved mom of two university students lives in Oakville with Rob, a great guy with whom she'll soon be celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2019.