Looking for That Norman Rockwell Christmas

This is the second of four articles about relational situations that cause stress during the holidays. We previously looked at comparisons. In this article, we’ll discuss holiday expectations.

A few days before Christmas, you pack up your car and deliver presents to six of your friends. By the time your visits are completed, you’ve observed the following six things: well-mannered children, stylish holiday attire, pleasant in-laws, impeccably decorated 14-foot trees with all the lights working, perfectly wrapped presents, and outside decorations that make the evening news. As you pull back into your driveway, you notice that ladder still laying in the front yard—the one you’ll use to hang partially working lights on broken gutters. Your kids are running wild, no presents have been wrapped, your Thanksgiving decorations are still up, and you’re praying that the in-laws will cancel their holiday visit—something that’s never happened before.

Are you stressed out by the gap separating what you think the holidays should be and what they actually are? If so, you have a large peer group. In fact, unreachable, unrealistic expectations wreck the spirits of many holiday revelers. So, how can you keep this from happening?

First, keep in mind that most people are so focused on meeting their own expectations that they’re too preoccupied to notice when you don’t meet yours. In short, few people care or notice when your decorations go up, how many lights burn on your tree, or how fluffy the bows are on your presents. Second, stay focused on what’s important. You’ll enjoy the holidays more by celebrating their significance than you will by attempting the impossible—living up to your unreachable expectations.

We’ve now discussed the holiday stress that results from comparisons and expectations.

In the next article, we’ll talk about those uncomfortable family gatherings.