Great Expectations: How to Manage the Holiday Season

Your home is festively decorated, exactly as you want it to be – every ornament is carefully positioned on the tree, and strings of garland and lights frame the doorways. The sweet smell of freshly baked cookies and the warmth from a crackling fire reach to every corner. Your children are filled with gleeful anticipation as they wonder what is inside the biggest packages under the tree. As you stand back to take it all in, you are filled with pride that you have created such an idyllic Christmas for your family to enjoy and cherish in their memories for years to come.

Unfortunately, many people approach the holiday with these sorts of expectations and end up pretty disappointed by the realities. By the time Christmas rolls around, the angelic little children in the scenario above have likely been off their schedules a couple days too many and eaten more sweets during the past weeks than the rest of the year combined, and are now prone to tantrums at the slightest provocation. You are likely exhausted from weeks of working, shopping, decorating, baking, wrapping gifts, stuffing stockings and attending various holiday parties and might, like your children, also be prone to tantrums at the slightest provocation. So, what’s the answer – to expect holiday disasters akin to a Clark Griswold Christmas and just be content to avoid catastrophe? That seems a bit extreme, so let’s look at some proactive steps you can take to make the holidays as joyful as possible.

If you have young children, you might find this time of year to be particularly magical. Maybe you spent some of your children’s very early years looking forward to a time when they would really understand the excitement of the season so you could share your favorite movies, cookies and holiday traditions with them. This can make it awfully tempting to start letting them stay up a little later to finish watching the holiday movie of the night. Or maybe you enjoy baking lots of Christmas cookies and it just doesn’t seem right not to let your children try a cookie from each batch that comes fresh from the oven. However, the earlier in the season that schedules and rules of the household are relaxed, the more likely you are to have children who are completely out of sorts and totally incapable of behaving by the time Christmas rolls around. This won’t be fun for anyone, so try to stick to the regular routine as long as possible. Children crave rules and boundaries – they make them feel safe – even during the holiday season.

If you have teenagers who might stop texting long enough to throw water on you if you were actually on fire, but are otherwise not too interested in engaging, don’t expect them to be excited about family time just because the calendar is turned to December. Be clear and reasonable with them about your expectations. Consider identifying several dates during their break that you expect them to engage in family activities and let them spend the remaining dates with their friends. It may even be helpful to allow them to have some say in the dates that are reserved for family. Considering their input is a way to acknowledge that they are growing into adults – they will likely appreciate this respect.

So you’ve taken care of your children, young and old – what about you? How can you take care of yourself during this festive but exhausting time of year? Well, taking care of yourself is much like taking care of your children – stick to your schedule as much as possible and be reasonable with your expectations of yourself. Avoid over-committing. If you work, your partner works, you have children and friends, and are involved in various organizations, then you are likely getting invited to a lot of parties right now. Just because you are invited doesn’t mean you have to go. Pick the ones that you are actually interested in attending, go to those and send your regrets for the others. If food is an issue you struggle with, try to avoid overindulging for the entire month of December, but allow yourself to have some treats that you really enjoy and do it guilt-free. Finally, avoid overspending. You don’t have to buy an extravagant gift for everyone you have ever met. Create a reasonable budget and stick to it; especially in this economy, it truly is the thought that counts. Try this for a golden rule – be as kind to yourself as your children want Santa to be to them.

Related Articles:
Recognizing, Restructuring, and Relieving Holiday Stressors for Kids
Lean on Your Partner to Make It Through the Holidays
How to Relate, Relax and Relish the Holidays with Your Partner

© Copyright 2011 by By Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • bella

    December 16th, 2011 at 7:27 PM

    Manage the holidays?
    Hide out til spring

  • Trey

    December 17th, 2011 at 7:37 AM

    I for one never think that the holidays should be all about that stress that people always equate them with. What is so wrong with spending time with your family and actually enjoying it? It does not have to be half as stressful as most of us make it out to be. For many I think that they spend the whole year worrying about what is yet to come in November and December. Maybe all of this is simply stress of our own creation.

  • linda

    December 18th, 2011 at 4:21 AM

    it just a time when i feel like running away.the pressure is just too much.having young children does not help either.their demands are ever-growing and the basic idea of the holidays at our place being better than anybody else’s is just too very stressful!

  • Melinda

    December 18th, 2011 at 2:34 PM

    The one thing that I see more and more that seems to get people down is that they start to have very unrealistic expectations of what the holidays are all about.

    It is not about finding the best gift, or even receiving the best gift It is about cherishing that special time that we all get the chance to spend together.

    Today there is so much pressure to do things the Martha Stewart way. But we can’t all be like Martha, and thank goodness! I would rather have a messy house with laughs and smiles than the “perfect” house with evryone afraid to laugh and love.

  • Austin Fraser

    December 19th, 2011 at 12:03 AM

    I love your take on how to handle the teens over the holidays, Sarah! When I was their age I was forced to spend them going from one relative’s house to another with my family. They believed in visiting all of them to wish them a Merry Christmas and we kids would be trapped there for HOURS!! All I could think about was how it was MY vacation too and I didn’t get to enjoy any of it.

    I would have been far more congenial had I been given days to myself. I hope all you parents are listening to Sarah!

  • Vanessa Cortez

    December 19th, 2011 at 12:31 AM

    I am very strict with how many foodie goodies the children get at Christmas. Between all the chocolate cherries, candy canes, cake and candy you need eyes in the back of your head to stop them from munching on them round the clock! There’s nothing worse than a youngster on a sugar high when you’re already stressed out. Good article, Sarah!

  • D.N.

    December 19th, 2011 at 12:42 AM

    It’s very simple. To have an enjoyable, stress-free Christmas all you need to do is give yourself permission to lower your expectations. I think we can be our own worst enemies in that respect. Do you absolutely need five side dishes on the table or coordinating ribbon and gift bags? No you do not. Cut down the work and enjoy it.

  • Meg

    December 19th, 2011 at 6:10 AM

    For me I have come to realize that for Christmas to be perfect, well, that just would not be Christmas with my family. We are crazy and quirky, and typically the turkey is dried out and the wrappimng paper isn’t just so, but so what? It is ours and I love it!

  • Alec

    December 19th, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    @Melinda:I have to agree with you..People want everything to look magazine-perfect and everything to be as good as in the movies.Well,its just not practical.You know how many things go into getting that perfect shot?Real life isn’t like that.Enjoy what you have and try to be happy with everything you can do.

    People not enjoying what they have present for something that they don’t has to be the biggest tragedy.

  • alexis

    December 20th, 2011 at 5:38 AM

    Personally I think that too many people ahve lost the real focus of what this time of the year is all about. If you are a Christian it should mean so much more to you than the gifts and the food and the family time! This is a spiritual time to remember the birth of our Savior and to be so greateful that He was brought into this world for us.

    If you are not that religious then let it be about making the most of our time together here on Earth with those to whom we are the closest. Don’t let those that we don’t like so much bring you down. Choose wisely and spend time with those who make you happy all throughout the year.

  • Kimberley Winger

    December 20th, 2011 at 8:10 PM

    Christmas Day is madness in our house. Because we have the largest living room, our extended family assumes it totally makes sense for them all to gather at our house to exchange gifts EVERY year. Err, no I don’t think so!! You don’t see them having to clean their house from top to bottom every year because they know the whole family’s coming. And while they do all pitch in for the dinner, more often than not I’m doing the bulk of that too.

    I am exhausted up to and when the day arrives and all they had to do was turn up. It’s so not fair.

  • Shelby Catterson

    December 20th, 2011 at 8:28 PM

    All you party poopers are going to find coal in your stocking for sure come Christmas morning LOL. You can always opt out of it, you know. At the end of the day you’re making a choice whether you celebrate and have a big fuss or don’t. Keep that in mind and you’ll feel better. Merry Christmas!

  • Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC

    December 21st, 2011 at 9:12 PM

    @Linda, Oh it sounds like you are really feeling the stress. Try to take a deep breath or two and realize that you are human and there is only so much you can do and it is enough! Be kind to yourself if you are getting a lot of family demands, consider asking them for help in making it the kind of Christmas they are seeking.

    Thanks to everyone for your comments – it sounds like a lot of you have been able to adjust your expectations, sit back and enjoy the holidays!

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