Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. When I was younger, it was always the same small gathering of three – my mom, my brother, and me; regardless, each year my mom would prepare enough food for 15 people.
The other 364 days of the year she was too overworked, tired or recovering from some stress-induced illness to go to the trouble of cooking. But on that one day in November, she would insist on exhausting herself to do all the cooking. Our home would smell so warm and comforting like my grandmother’s, and I remember feeling the fleeting sense of being a “normal family.”
At the time, I didn’t realize this was her way of living up to the high expectations she had for herself to create that sensation for me and my brother, since she was raising us alone. She was successful each time and the fact that she managed to pull it off, probably gave her a sense of huge satisfaction.
Now that I have kids of my own, I wonder what expectations are being set in motion. Am I setting myself up to not enjoy the day by getting too caught up in creating a memorable day for them? As I attempt to find a balanced perspective, I find myself torn between the bliss and nostalgia of Norman Rockwell and the fear and chaos of Home for the Holidays!
To manage my expectations and anxiety, I remind myself to MODIFY my expectations… Instead of putting pressure on myself to create a perfect holiday season, I guide myself to explore the overall goal of creating a happy family. I ask “Am I staying in the present moment enough to enjoy what is happening this year, or am I getting lost in what should be happening or what might not happen?” and “How can I make things better?”
At this time of the year in the office I do more counseling than other months, as more patients need to be “talked off the ledge” and guided to answer these same questions for themselves’ instead of getting bummed out that things are not “perfect”.
Whether the person is struggling with an old family dynamic, or the disappointment that they don’t yet have a family or partner of their own, they likely need to vent frustrations or be reminded that even though they may not have reached certain goals by this Thanksgiving, they still have much to be thankful for. This gratitude-based perspective can help calm our anxiety about what isn’t there yet, or ease the pain as we realize our dream may not be slated for us in this lifetime.
Where I used to view expectations as places where my life didn’t measure up to what I had always envisioned for myself, I now see that the term expectation means getting out of life what we EXPECT.
For example, if we expect holidays to be sad, they will be. If we expect to be happy, likely we will be.
Starting in the weeks that follow Halloween, it’s helpful to reframe expectations into the general mindset that it is possible to enjoy what happens. Remember, if after a long day of cooking you turn to see the dog eating the turkey, it’s only a problem if you can’t laugh it off.