Jenny Block on managing expectations during the holidays

The holidays shouldn’t be stressful. Shouldn’t be. They should be a time to relax and regroup and reconnect, spend time with family — chosen or blood — or much-needed time alone (as you wish). They should be a time to give and receive, if that’s something you and yours enjoy.

It should be a time of “yes.”

Instead it too often feels like a time of “no.”

No, you can’t have that.

No, I don’t want to see them.

No, there isn’t enough time or money or fill-in-the-blank.

The reason why is simple: unrealistic expectations.

This week, I saw an article on BuzzFeed that a dad had created sharing his 10-year-old daughter’s Christmas list. Ten. Years. Old. It included things like Gucci slides, essential oils, AirPods, a Chanel purse, and $4,000 hard cash. People responded with witty retorts, saying she had her priorities straight and, essentially, “You go, girl!”

One tweet though, caught my eye. It basically said, “You raised her like this, now deal with it.” In other words, “These are her expectations, instilled by you, and now you have to pay the price.”

I don’t know that it’s really the dad’s fault. My daughter still thinks she’s going to drive a Mercedes G Wagon one day, which is about as likely as my playing for the NBA. I’ve told her as much. So I don’t blame the dad necessarily. I blame all of us.

Things have gotten out of hand. From expectations about Rockwellian family gatherings around the hearth to gift lists that are based on social media and reality TV (instead of reality), we’ve gone off the rails when it comes to what we expect, which can lead to only one thing in the end: disappointment. Completely and totally unnecessary disappointment.

If you know that most people don’t fly to Aspen for Christmas or exchange gifts with five-figure price tags or adore every single person in their family with whom they’ve spend the holidays, singing and hugging and agreeing on politics, you’ll not only be a heck of a lot less disappointed, you’ll also have a shot at being pretty damn contented.

I don’t know when things devolved. I grew up Jewish in a small town, pre-Internet. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t miss what I didn’t have until I got to college. I’ll admit, it was confusing and it’s only gotten more so as social media and reality TV have started to truly take the place of reality, which is sometimes considered “false facts” despite the fact that we can actually see it ourselves.

Maybe everyone does have a happy family who can’t wait to gather round the yule and relate stories from days of yore. Maybe every woman is 5-foot-10 and 130 pounds. and eats whatever she wants. Maybe every parent gets their child $10,000-plus worth of Christmas gifts. Except for me, of course. And if that becomes my reality, everything is going to be a disappointment. Nothing will make me happy.

But none of that is true. Hallmark movies are my favorite guilty pleasure… mostly because they are so obscenely over the edge, and they remind me how preposterous it is to think that little girls should get things like Gucci footwear and stacks of cash for the holidays.

I’m a relatively non-practicing Jew. I happen to like Christmastime — the non-secular solstice celebration marked by trees and presents and pretty lights. I can also appreciate a holiday that, despite it all, does seem to do its best to be one steeped in love and togetherness and peace, despite all of the trappings. Still I find it a challenge to rise above it all.

I still want my tree to glisten and my cookies to inspire awe and my gifts to the people I love to be the perfect ones. But what I do not want to do is ruin a lovely holiday because of or based on those things. Needles fall from trees. Cookies aren’t always Insta-worthy. Some presents will be misfires. This year, I’m going to focus on saying, “I don’t care about all of that. All I care about is being with the people I love and being grateful for the life I live and honoring the one time of the year that most of us are given the chance to slow down and smell the pine trees.”

So as you settle into your post-Turkey Day/Black Friday stupor, it’s a challenge I’d like to extend to all of you. Realign your expectations when it comes to what you want the holidays to look like. Think: Is that reasonable?

Is that possible? Is that even what I really want to do, give, have, etc? If it feels like too much, bow out. If the requests have gotten too big, regroup. If you no longer enjoy the season, step back and make some new choices that will allow you to breathe and appreciate this sweet time. Watch some Hallmark movies, eat some peppermint bark. Snuggle in with your family or friends or fur babies or, heck, yourself and recharge. The new year will be upon us before you know it. Time to enjoy the old year, old you before the new year, new you starts vying for your attention.

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