High Hopes, Realistic Expectations: Why we don't need a 'Joyful' or 'Merry' Christmas holiday

I’m not a scrooge by any means but, like many parents, when I hear a voice singing ‘It’s the most wonderful time or the year’, or even worse, ‘I wish it could be Christmas every day‘, I’m inclined to disagree. 

What we want from the festive holidays, and what we get from them -or even expect from it – can be seriously misaligned, but simply reviewing what’s realistic can be the difference that makes the difference between enjoying or enduring Christmas.

Have high hopes, absolutely. There’s nothing wrong with optimism.
But the holidays can be too easily spoiled simply because we expect more of these five qualities ⬇ than our kids are equipped to offer in the moment;

Gratitude
Having a kid who is ungrateful may be every parent’s nightmare, but for the sake of not ruining your own joy, be mindful of putting too much weight on your kids, simply because they’re being over-indulged.
Gratitude is not only a hard-earned skill – it’s referred to as a ‘practice’ because it does take practice – but, whether child or adult, we can only access our gratitude when we’re functioning well, e.g. from our logical, regulated brain.

I’m not saying turn a blind eye to lack of gratitude, but most us know from experience that being berated for not being grateful enough doesn’t make gratitude grow.
Instead, share with your kids how much you’ve noticed that there is for you and them to be thankful for.
Or gently remind them how fortunate and loved they are, without giving them a hard time for it.

Empathy
Who doesn’t want empathic children; kids who appreciate that not everyone has somewhere warm and safe to spend Christmas, with food in their bellies and people around who love them?
Or who can be mindful of Auntie Maureen’s feelings when she offers an unimpressive gift, instead of rolling their eyes or just asking if there are any more presents?

While it’s natural to find yourself apologising for your kids’ lack of manners or otherwise frustrated by their lack of consideration for others, empathy is another of those skills that takes mastery.
I’m not suggesting you give up on it; you can absolutely cultivate empathy at Christmas, but be realistic at the same time.
Give your children some time to think ahead about what others might be feeling or expecting from them, or to consider the time, effort and expense involved.
Coach them on the art of receiving.

But a child who’s just missed the moment to express empathy doesn’t mean they’re apathetic or uncaring, especially during festive overwhelm when their brain might simply have reached its maximum bandwidth already.

Self-Control and Regulation
Overwhelm can hijack the best of us over the holidays, but our little people simply don’t have the experience, the understanding of what’s involved in planning – or paying – for it all, let alone the maturity to know how to handle the change in routine and the general excitement.
Younger children especially (and lots of grown-ups, in truth) probably won’t have the self-awareness to recognise their growing unease or frustration, and often the first sign that they’re struggling at an outburst.

Over the festive period, think of your kids (and yourself!) like a coke bottle that’s constantly being shaken up.
Unless they’re continually releasing pressure gently and regularly, they’re going to blow eventually, so don’t wait for emotions to run too high. Nine times out of ten it’s too late by then.
Make sure you’re injecting their days with a bit of downtime, a bit of movement, outside time, quiet time, stillness. A bit of normality isn’t just ok, it’s essential!

Fun-Curbing (even if it’s well intended)
Too many sweets, too much fizzy pop, too many late nights and just ‘too much’ in general… Averting a meltdown can mean not giving your kids so much freedom that they end up running wild and eventually making life miserable for everyone.

But it can be just as difficult if you curb the celebrating so much that they feel like they’re denied all the liberties that everyone else is enjoying.
For your sake as well as theirs, remember ‘Everything in moderation, including moderation itself’.
A later night than usual won’t do most kids any harm if they can sleep in a bit longer tomorrow. One chocolate bar when they’ve already brushed their teeth won’t give them a mouthful of cavities.

We all want a marvellous Christmas holiday but if the pressure for everything to go perfectly, for everyone to get along and for our kids to fill our hearts with joy is too immense, we can just end up wishing it all away too soon.
Occasionally the key to everyone having the best time possible is to loosen our grip – just a little – and not needing control of everything.

Joy (or lack of)
When we’ve worked so tirelessly to achieve the dream Christmas, it can be wounding when it falls flat; the presents our kids REALLY wanted have already lost their appeal, the plans that were made with great excitement are now met with indifference…
It may feel defeatist to lower expectations, but not if setting the bar too high simply fuels disappointment.
Christmas coming round only once a year means than none us gets very much practice at it, and the nature of childhood means that the kid who gleefully shared the last one with you might have morphed into somebody quite different this year.

Celebrate satisfaction. It doesn’t mean you can’t hope for – or even have – the most magical, precious Christmas of all time.
But insisting on it can quickly sap the joy from what should be, could be, and otherwise would be, a lovely time… As long as we’re willing to rest in the present when the worthwhile moments happen, and trust that those not worth resting in will pass.

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