“Expectations are premeditated resentments.”
It’s likely you’ve heard this from your therapist, mom, or sage friend.
And when it comes to the holidays, who doesn’t carry a set of ideas and expectations about what will make them joyful, who will be involved, where time will be spent, what gifts will be given and received, and how we’ll interact with family, friends and loved ones?
I blame the Hallmark Channel.
Although I always expect a cup of holiday cheer this time of year, too many times I’ve laid in bed after a festive December gathering, replaying a conversation in my head, feeling bad about myself.
Most years, I haven’t stayed true to my vision of how our family would spend the holidays – one year compromising our needs so much that I rented an RV to travel 12 hours, only for my husband to wreck it on a bridge 5 minutes from my parents' house.
What ends up happening isn’t exactly always what I’d had in mind.
And I wonder if one of the reasons behind so many compromised boundaries and hard feelings this time of year is that our expectations are out of whack. On the one hand, we expect the magic we’d hoped for as children. And on the other, we’re working like dogs, expecting ourselves to produce perfect holiday magic for our own kids... the kind we passively enjoyed or longed for when we were little.
I caught up with my friend, fellow mom of three, and behavioral scientist Dr. Zelana Montminy to get an expert’s take on how to create healthier expectations going into the holidays.
Zelana’s key words of wisdom this season are:
1. Say “no” more often;
2. Embrace the pause;
3. Do less, be more.
What would it look like for you to say “no”? Start by asking yourself what experiences during the day bring about a heightened sense of stress and overwhelm. Can you subtract them? Is there something you do every year that feels out of alignment with your values? Are you ready to say “no” to that and come home to what your heart is asking you to do? Start there, and be gentle with yourself as you speak up for what you and your family need. It’s not easy, and the peace-keepers among us may need to start small here. I’m ready to turn off WhatsApp and Instagram notifications, and to tell a legal client I can’t work during our family vacation, but I’m not quite ready to set a boundary about spending Christmas at home, versus traveling to visit my parents.’ Baby steps.
It’s not often that the whole country decides to dial back productivity for more than a day at a time. While many companies grind to the end, most offer some sort of holiday time off. And even if you’re in a business that keeps going during the holiday, there’s a sense that we’re all in a collective shift as the year ends and a new one begins. If you’re able to use this to your advantage – to expect less of yourself during this time, to lean into family life, and to allow yourself to cocoon – you will emerge all the better for it in the new year.
The key to is to fully inhabit your body. What does that mean? It can start as simply as dialing into the sensory experiences you enjoy during this time of year. What cheers you about this time? Is it sipping a gingerbread latte? Wearing chunky knits? Putting on carols while you cook dinner? Invite it all in.
Practice exploring what’s happening with your senses right now. Reflection and renewal can be great, but those ideas get really shoved down our throats at year end, and they encourage a lot of backward and forward looking. Allow your favorite time to be right now. Be with the people and experiences around you, and notice what it all looks and sounds like, how it feels.
As for making yourself crazy producing magic for everyone around you, remember that kids are most moved by doing simple things differently. Putting everyone in jammies and hopping in the car after dinner to drive around and see the lights will likely lead to closer connection than coordinating a trip to the Nutcracker.
My one piece of personal advice is this: ‘Tis the season to check in with your expectations. Is there anything you really want to see happen this year? You probably need to communicate that to your partner and/or anyone else it will impact. Are you holding onto an expectation of someone else that’s unrealistic? Release it.
I’ll be here sipping a gingerbread latte, cheering you on.
Erin Erenberg is a mom of three, attorney, serial business builder, fund advisor and the founder and CEO of Totum, an advocacy firm for modern mothers at the intersection of ambition and motherhood. She is also a co-founder of the Chamber of Mothers and serves on the Equitable Business Council for Have Her Back. Before launching Totum, Erin practiced as an IP attorney for Moore & VanAllen and SESAC, served as the Executive Director of ACM Lifting Lives, ran business development for social impact-driven tech firms Indiegogo and Omaze, and worked as an agent for William Morris Endeavor.