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6 Ways to Manage Holiday Expectations

Discover how to let perfection go for a more joyful time of the year
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Maybe it took 40-plus years of doing Christmas for me to realize that instead of putting so much pressure on myself during the holidays that I need to shift my expectations. I think so much of finding joy is in adjusting and deciding to be real, and perhaps letting go of holiday expectations and some perfection. So, with that in mind, here are six things I expect this year:

1. Expect anything but perfection. Somehow Christmas and the holidays have become this nostalgia inducing, snowflakes falling, Charlie Brown music playing, gingerbread cookies baking, tinsel hanging, lights glittering time of year. Truth be told, however, life is never perfect. I’d be content to have just one of those things happen in my house. Because honestly, my tree has fallen over, I’ve had years with no money for gifts, years with sickness, years with troubles, and so forth. All the stuff we see on social media is just a glimpse, just a portion of the full picture. And truthfully, even if it’s not perfect, it doesn’t make it any less valuable. Some of the sweetest Christmases I’ve lived have been the years that are so far from perfect, because it simply makes me grateful for the little things tucked in there. So don’t expect perfect—that just robs us of the joy.

2. Expect for the routine to be anything but routine. I don’t know about you, but the schedule can get crazy during the holidays. This is also when all sorts of sicknesses like to rear their head and wreak havoc on the written-in-stone schedule. I’m not joking. This is the time of year that always ends up with my kids coming home from school saying, “Guess what? So and so got Covid!” And then, me, the rather paranoid mom, almost always asks “How far were you from him? Did you wash your hands? How is your head now?” And then for two days, I’ll serve rice for dinner and will dole out cups of 7Up, like it’s some sort of magical soda. But, you know, that’s part of life—that messing up of the routine. And this year, well, I’m expecting the routine to be bumpy.

3. Expect that laughter and joy will be found in the unexpected places. You know how that is, right? You work and work and plan and plan, and our kids find joy in the simplest of things. Sometimes it isn’t in the elaborate gift but rather that thing you grabbed at the last minute just because. I think releasing the expectations of all the big things bringing joy helps with the whole thing because we’re just ready to be thankful for the time we have together. You know what else? Last night my kids wanted to play a game with me. A game! Not bake the cookies, not extra stuff, but a game. So, we played Catan for an hour, and they told me that was the best night ever. For them, laughter and joy come from the giving of time, not stuff.

4. Expect to give yourself grace. A whole bunch of grace. Sometimes, Christmas is simply hard. I’ve lived through Christmases where I just wanted to close my eyes and blink, wishing it was January 1 already. You know what? That is okay. It really is okay. If it’s not perfect or ideal or Currier and Ives that’s okay. So do your best. Maybe you don’t do all the traditions that you used to do, but rather just do your best. Maybe it means store-bought cookies. Maybe it means asking for help (and I know how hard and humbling this is—but please—if you need help, there are many who want to give it). Maybe it means just simply giving yourself grace to not be perfect, but just real.

5. Expect that there will be the potential for guilt, but we don’t have to subscribe to it. Yes, that—you can’t escape it. Just going on Pinterest is enough to make my pulse race. So, this year I’m working on letting it go. My kids, my family, my friends—they don’t need me stressing out, creating a bar of expectations for silent nights and eggnog caroling evenings with homemade cookies. They need me happy. Yes, happy. You see, if I want to do the extra awesome stuff, then I will do it because I love it. There are no rules about what we need to do. In fact, just because one of our friends is Martha Stewart during the holidays doesn’t mean we need to be that way. Love her for her. That just might be what brings her joy. So, instead of guilt and comparison this year, I’ve decided to let it go. What brings happiness is loving our own traditions, our faith, our joys—not putting them against the paradigm of whatever everyone else does.

6. Expect that giving is way better than getting. That’s what I want my kids to know. I want them to remember the joy of giving to others. My kids didn’t ask me to put lights up outside. I had a dozen other things that I could have been doing, but I put those lights up because I love them. This is the time to give. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to give money right then (because I’ve lived through years where I barely had enough to make it, so please don’t add that guilt), but maybe it’s just being kind. Yes, yes, yes… kind. Because the holidays can make us all crazy, and then we forget that the person in front of us in line is a real person with a real story and maybe just needs grace. So, let’s give not only grace to ourselves, but to others, my friends.

So that’s what I expect.

Less, really.

How about you?

About The Author
Rachel Marie Martin

Rachel is an author, influencer, and speaker who believes in the power of the human spirit to overcome, to thrive, and to find deep joy. Her site reaches millions of visitors each month, and she boasts over a million followers on social media. She is the author of The Brave Art of Motherhood: Fight Fear, Gain Confidence, and Find Yourself Again and Mom Enough: Inspiring Letters for the Wonderfully Exhausting but Totally Normal Days of Motherhood. She is also a founding partner in Audience Industries – a company designed to train and equip entrepreneurs in their ventures.

With articles translated into more than 25 languages, Rachel’s content has been featured in The Huffington Post, Inc Magazine, PopSugar, Motherly, Parents, and many more. Her letter “Why Being a Mom is Enough” has been shared over 2.1 million times online. She speaks worldwide encouraging moms and entrepreneurs to live each day with purpose and drive. Rachel is a mom to seven and lives with her husband in Nashville, TN.