Adjusting your expectations. What’s the minimum that counts?

From my presentation about surviving the holidays, here’s the second handrail. The first was acknowledging the challenges.


Expectations are internal or external standards that must be met for something to count. Expectations are voices inside or outside our heads telling us what determines what counts. Expectations are NOT objective standards.

Here’s what holiday expectations sound like:

“We have to have turkey and stuffing and potatoes and pumpkin pie.”
Why? What is the basis of that expectation?

“We have to give lots of gifts.”

Why? What’s the basis of that expectation?

“We have to go to the tree lighting.”

Why? What’s the basis of that expectation?

“But it doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving without that.”

What was it about that that made it feel like thanksgiving in the first place?

“It won’t feel like Christmas if we don’t do that.”

What was it about that that made it feel like Christmas?

Was it our constant consumption of Hallmark movies that always turn out happy that makes us incessantly pursue happiness?

And do we need to feel like Christmas or do we need to feel meaning? Do we need to feel love?

What’s the bare minimum?

Growing up, we went to church on Thanksgiving eve. People would stand up and say what they were thankful for. And then we’d have pie. I loved it. We’d have that really generic Banquet chocolate cream pie. It was better than pumpkin.

Decades later, I was leading those thanksgiving eve services and I thought, “We ought to have pie.”

I asked my mom about it.

And she told me about the migraines she had every Thanksgiving day because of the stress of hosting everyone and of fixing food and then of having to get a pie ready for church and go and be a hostess there, too.

Holiday expectations often have a cost, born by people who would rather not say no.

I give you permission to say no. To review the expectations and evaluate the costs and to say, “We will show our love in a different way.”

I want to tell you a secret that I just put together getting ready for this presentation.

I don’t think that my parents ate Swedish meatballs and oyster stew and took pictures and opened presents on Christmas Eve while they were growing up. I don’t think it was an old family tradition.

I think it was a NEW family tradition that this young couple put together. My dad’s dad died when he was 6. Both my parents were the youngest in the family. My dad almost died in Korea. My mom had taken crazy steps of faith to go to college and be a teacher.

They got married, they had no money, my dad worked in a ministry.

And they made up Christmas.

And so can you.

2 thoughts on “Adjusting your expectations. What’s the minimum that counts?

  1. Pingback: Alerting your allies: Who can I count on to help? – 300 words a day

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