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How Low Expectations Save Me Stress During The Holidays

My husband has a philosophy of low expectations. For him, it is a defense mechanism. When he is disappointed it’s as if the entire world has come crashing down. So, in order to prevent this meltdown he sets his expectations very low. I am generally optimistic, but being married to someone with more pessimistic tendencies has created in me somewhat of a skeptic (though I still like to wear my rose-tinted glasses most of the time).

Where setting low expectations has come in handy is in parenting, especially because I am a stay-at-home-mom. I usually have a to-do list running (usually several in different places: my head, my phone and a notebook). I have chosen not to expect to do more than one or two things on my list…and I even include naps. So, if I get a nap one day and accomplish nothing else: SUCCESS! Get it? I use this while cloth diapering as well. When my first child was born, she was so tiny the cloth diapers I had didn’t fit. I tried different versions, but didn’t want to invest in a whole other set. Another cloth diaper mom assured me that a few months of newborn disposables weren’t going to overflow a landfill, so I forgave myself and started with cloth when our daughter finally got big enough to fit the diapers we already had. Fast forward almost two years and another baby–now when I use a cloth diaper I’m just happy there is one less diaper in the landfill. 

Another area of my life that has benefited from low expectations is the holidays. In a way, I have been blessed to come from a family that doesn’t have too many strong traditions and whose holidays were different almost every year. This makes it a little easier to have low expectations. I’ve been trained to be flexible when it comes to celebrating holidays. Let me clarify: low expectations are not the same as no expectations. I still set expectations for the holidays. For instance, I have created some of my own traditions and carry on the few I bring from growing up. I don’t want the holidays to feel just like any other time of year or day, but I also don’t want there to be so much pressure that the stress overshadows the joy. Here are some things I’ve done to help maintain focus this season on what really matters and creating a meaningful experience for my family while not becoming bogged down in social media worthy expectations.

Don’t be afraid to alter traditions for your current life stage

A few years ago I started a tradition with my nieces and nephew where instead of a traditional Christmas gift, I send them twelve gifts to open the twelve days before Christmas. Each gift contains an activity (a craft, snack, movie, etc,) that they can do together. I started this because they were getting so many gifts on Christmas morning that they were overwhelmed. Planning and putting together this gift takes a ton of time every year. This year, I have two little kids of my own. So, I bought a book that I could send that gave activity suggestions and I sent a few items to go with the book. I just knew I wouldn’t have the time, so I tweaked this tradition to fit my current life circumstance. Low expectations.

how low expectations save me stress during the holidays

advent box preparations

Remind yourself of the basic experience you want to have or provide

The holidays are so busy that inevitably things will not go as planned. It could be anything from the oven quitting on Thanksgiving morning to the kids getting sick the day you were to go on that Polar Express train ride. Obviously, you are going to be sad about a wrench being thrown into such big plans, but in the overall scheme of things it will be okay. Sometimes traditions spring from these worst cases and become our favorite memories. However, if you choose to pout and stew about how plans were ruined you won’t get to fully enjoy what is happening. A few years ago I started the Thanksgiving tradition of having our guests sign a tablecloth and write what they are thankful for. After the big day I embroidered each sentiment and put it away for the next year. Last year I never got around to the embroidery part and put it in my sewing/fabric box to work on later. This year I went to find it and it was nowhere. I had donated it to the thrift store a few months earlier along with my fabric stash thinking it was just another piece of fabric. Three years of thankful thoughts, memories and hard work (some people wrote really long notes) had vanished into a mess of thrift store cast-offs. I was disappointed when I realized what had happened, but tablecloth or not we were going to have a nice dinner with friends, provide a place for people who had nowhere to celebrate to come, and enjoy thought-provoking conversation. Even now, I’m still a bit sad, but perhaps that tablecloth was only meant for three years and not a lifetime. Maybe next year I will try again. Maybe I won’t. Low expectations.

how low expectations save me stress during the holidays

My Thanksgiving tablecloth from two years ago

Remember: there’s always next year

When I feel myself getting down because something hasn’t worked out like I had planned, I remind myself that these holidays come around every year. We can plan better and try again next year. This is also great when you are considering doing something a little different to celebrate one year. Perhaps you have trouble imagining the day without a certain setting, person, tradition. If you can remind yourself that “there is always next year” maybe you can get past this disappointment and enjoy the day or season for what it is. Low expectations.

how low expectations save me stress during the holidays

Our gingerbread house is 2D this year because some pieces broke and we couldn’t get it to stand up. Maybe next year.

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