“12 thoughts of Christmas” #4: Great Expectations

All the Christmas-time commercials depict the most idyllic of family gatherings. The weather is always perfect, the table decorations are a work of art, the ham is larger than any home oven’s capacity to cook it and somehow the friends and family have all managed to coordinate their wardrobe perfectly!! Everyone is delighted with their gifts. Toddlers goo and gah in adorable reindeer ears (that stay on for more than 30 seconds!). The post-lunch cricket game is played by all in a manicured back yard. It seems almost too good to be true.

Probably because it is!

To start with, when is the weather ever perfect on a Christmas day in Melbourne?

The reality is that for many, even with the best intentions to the contrary, the family gathering can be a stress laden exercise that leaves you exhausted from the sheer effort of it all. And unfortunately for some, it can be downright painful! Many a family gathering ends in frustration or wounding and the angry car ride home where the question is raised, ‘why do we do that again?’

I think much of our disappointment in the reality of these gatherings can come down to expectations … unrealistic, unfulfilled, un-communicated or misaligned. Somehow what we anticipated the occasion to be sets us up for disappointment in what it actually is. Some thoughts to consider …

  • Communication is key to aligning your expectations with other family and friends (see blog #3 here). Be sure that you’ve thoroughly discussed what each of your events is to look like and help everyone be on the same page.
  • Presuming family will do family the same way is a recipe for disaster. The fact that siblings were raised in the same home/family does not mean they will all raise THEIR families the same way. Acknowledging that will go some way to having you accommodating the differences with a little more understanding.
  • Christmas gatherings are generally longer than any other social event you have throughout the year. For some, extended times of being social are actually quite tiring and it’s often toward the end of these that ‘tensions’ can arise. Know yourselves and your kids – don’t expect too much of energy levels and capacity for patience and tolerance.
  • Make the important things the important things. A ‘successful’ Christmas gathering is measured by the nature and quality of interactions and connections with people. That’s the important thing! Keep that in mind and it means that a flopped pav, a poorly received present or later-than-planned meal time really doesn’t have the power to ‘ruin’ your day.

“12 thoughts of Christmas” #3: Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Have you ever fantasised about how much easier life would be if everybody thought the same way you do? How much simpler would that be, right? No one would ever misunderstand you. Everyone would ‘get’ you without you needing to spell it out. Imagine how much time you could save having to explain or justify yourself. Oh, what frustration you would avoid if everyone saw, thought, spoke and processed the same way as you … in the same time frame … with the same responses. Ahhh the bliss!

Ok, back from your little daydream to reality!!

The only one who thinks precisely like you is you!

I’m sure that’s not exactly breaking news to anyone but the reality is that a lot of communication break downs, relational stress and emotional ‘tension’ could be easily remedied if everyone could just KNOW what we were thinking! Right? Alternatively, it might be worth considering some more external modes of processing and communicating. J

Family and social gatherings are classic environments for misaligned thoughts and expectations (see blog #4 – Great Expectations) to wreak havoc on our capacity to enjoy those moments fully. When I said “I’ll bring my camera” I thought everyone would know I meant “I’ll be taking professionally posed family portraits so dress and prepare appropriately”. She said “let’s just keep it casual and hang out together over lunch” so why is she wearing high heels and carrying an antipasto platter the size of a small table while I’m in my sneakers and holding 2 roast chickens still in their bags? We said “let’s catch up after breakfast” – our kids have been waiting since 6:45am, it’s 11:30am and they’re still not here. When I said, “let’s just exchange small gifts this year” I didn’t mean this (*exchanges Gold Class tickets for 4 people for a Wonka’s lolly stocking*).

As you plan and prepare and gather in these coming days – be sure you’ve allowed some of your thinking to become helpful communication. So many hurts and misunderstandings could be avoided if we’d only taken just that little more time to clarify plans, expectations and perspectives. Let’s be humble enough to ask further questions and generous enough to give just a little more information