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Great (Christmas) Expectations

  • Sarah Hamaker Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2013 12 Dec
  • COMMENTS
Great (Christmas) Expectations

When the calendar flips to December, many of us jump into turbo gear, determined to have the best Christmas ever—even if we don’t slow down enough to enjoy it. From decorations to gifts, we often take on, consciously or unknowingly, the expectations of others this time of year.

“In our mind’s eye, a woman has a picture of what an ideal Christmas should be,” says Brenda Poinsett, author of Can Martha Have a Mary Christmas?. “She works hard trying to make her real Christmas match her ideal. She earnestly wants Christmas done right.”

All too often, this quest for the perfect Christmas can overwhelm us, leaving us frazzled and frustrated come January. But our lives don’t have to become such a blur of activity that the true meaning of Christmas is obscured amidst the tinsel and wrapping paper. Here are some ways to have the Christmas that’s right for you and your family.

Recognize the culture. We as women face immense demands from society to do it all, and never more so than around a major holiday like Christmas. “There’s a lot of cultural pressure to have it all together and to do it all,” says Susan DiMickele, a blogger who writes about issues facing working women.

To counter that stress, DiMickele recommends remembering that we don’t “draw our significance in what we do,” but in who we are in Christ. That can lessen the strain of feeling like we need to do everything possible to make the holiday the most wonderful day of the year.

Know our wiring. God created us as women to have a great capacity to love and be loved. Sometimes, we can overextend ourselves in the quest to serve others because of that God-given desire. “We need to have the freedom to be who God created us to be,” says DiMickele. But who God created me to be isn’t necessarily the same as who our neighbors, our moms or other friends are.

Write down your expectations. “Get them out of your head where you can externalize them and really see what you are dealing with,” says Poinsett. This can help you to identify the particular expectations with which you feel pressured to comply.

Analyze the expectations. Delve beyond the surface to find out how you view the items on your list. Poinsett suggests asking the following questions:

  • Is this expectation a tradition?
  • If so, who started the tradition?
  • What would happen if the tradition isn’t kept?
  • Do I feel pressure to meet this expectation because my mother always did?
  • Will my children be disappointed in me if I don’t do this? Will God?
  • Will the authors of magazine articles on Christmas decorating and cooking come after me if my house and food don’t measure up to their pictures?  
  • What do I want?
  • What’s really necessary?
  • What would bring me joy?

Prioritize the expectations. Once you’ve analyzed your list, DiMickele advises drawing up an “A,” “B” and “C” version. The A list should consist of core essentials. “These are the ‘no compromise’ items, such as my son’s band concert and my daughter’s recital,” she says, adding that the key to the A list is to keep it short.

On the B list are things you’d like to do if your schedule permits, and the C list usually contains the expectations of others. “For example, on my C list is wrapping presents for all the people I need to thank at Christmastime,” says DiMickele. “Will they be disappointed in a plain white envelope instead of a pretty little bow? Maybe, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m not going to put that pressure on myself.”

Set boundaries. Discuss with your family what you will and won’t do this Christmas well before Christmas Eve. “My kids are aware ahead of time what Christmas will be like, such as no big presents, but they are also aware that the traditions of our family will still be present,” said Jacqui Rapp, who lives in Fairdale, Ky., with her husband and two children. “All of us know what to expect and that helps me get rid of the expectations of others.”

Build in margins. According to Christian physician Dr. Richard Swenson, “Margin is the space between our load and our limits.” This means we should schedule less and not more to allow for the unexpected. Especially around the holidays, having a freer calendar will create those margins and allow us more downtime to truly relax during the season with family and friends.

Listen to our husbands. Our spouses often know when we’re taking on too much before we do, and it would behoove us to pay heed to their admonitions to slow down. “My husband helps me as my sounding board. He has a pretty good idea how much I can handle and isn’t shy to tell me when he thinks I’m taking on too much,” says Catherine Burrows, who lives in Falls Church, Va. “So if I start to add in things that aren’t needed and go overboard, he’ll help pull me back to reality.”

Involve the family. Often, our husbands have gifts that we don’t fully appreciate, so tap into their willingness to help by telling them what needs to be done. Also, as your children get older, don’t overlook their gifts and abilities, which frequently dovetail with what we need to accomplish. For example, my fifth-grader is a budding artist, so I’ve tasked her with creating place cards for a family dinner. DiMickele asks her children to do things like organizing the family photo album or keeping the family computer running, which frees her up for other duties.

Let go. This seems so easy yet it can be the hardest thing to actually do. “Part of the difficulty to let go of expectations could be an unwillingness to make choices or a lack of courage and determination to do things differently than other people do them,” says Poinsett. “Part of it also could be insecurity or even just plain liking some of the things we need to let go of in order to devote our attention to something more valuable to our family’s experience.”

Seek peace. In the midst of our busyness, don’t neglect the sweet, still peace of quiet. “Especially around the holidays, we will turn everything off and sit as a family in silence for just a minute,” says DiMickele. “We’ve been so rushed and busy that even if you do this in the car, it’s rejuvenating to have those quiet moments.”

Just try something different. Finally, remember that it’s not too late to have the Christmas you and your family crave, however that looks. You can start with a small change or make a wholesale switch. Whatever you do, keep in mind that “making the effort and failing one year doesn’t mean you can’t try again next year,” says Poinsett. “We always learn from what we experience, and the next time we try, we may be more successful.”

Sarah Hamaker is a certified Leadership Parenting Coach™ through the Rosemond Leadership Parenting Coach Institute. She’s also a freelance writer and editor, and is currently working on a book about sibling rivalry, scheduled for release from Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City in the fall of 2014. Sarah lives in Fairfax, Va., with her husband and four children, who are looking forward to a quieter Christmas. Visit her at www.parentcoachnova.com.

Publication date: December 10, 2013