My late mother was a sentimental soul…and a perfectionist. This combination made holidays like Thanksgiving particularly fraught in my household. In theory, my mom loved all the little traditions like place settings “just so” at the dinner table, turkey-shaped salt and pepper shakers, and pulling out the “good china” that required hand washing. I now understand that my mom attended to all these tiny details because she believed that, in doing so, her family members would feel loved and, in return, so would she.
Yeah–that’s a lot of pressure
Invariably, something would go awry, especially when my sister and I were in our teen years. For example, we might oversleep, eat a large and late breakfast, and then not be hungry for the mid-afternoon Thanksgiving dinner that took so long to prepare. She’d look at our paltry helpings, purse her lips, sigh, and communicate without words that we had caused a blemish on her Thanksgiving. We failed a test we didn’t know we were taking.
She would feel disappointed, the rest of us would end up walking on eggshells, and all of us would end up feeling disconnected from each other..
All families have baggage
…and there’s nothing like the holidays to unpack it in all its glory. it’s easy to get swept up in Hallmark-level expectations for perfect presentation and perfect endings, and it’s easy to equate these trappings with family connection.
Families, however, are never perfect. They are messy and organic, especially when kids are involved. Connection happens not when family members are contorting to meet each others’ expectations, but when everyone has the space and grace to show up authentically.
Here are some practical tips to keep your holiday expectations in check and drop the burden of perfectionism:
- Plan for the Family You Have, Not the Family You Wish You Had: Embrace your family members for who they are, flaws and all. Accepting each person’s uniqueness and quirks can alleviate the pressure of trying to fit them into an idealized mold.
- Find Humor in the Absurd: Holidays are bound to be chaotic and, at times, downright absurd. Instead of getting frustrated, choose to find humor in these moments. Laughter can be a powerful bonding experience, helping everyone relax and enjoy the festivities despite the mishaps.
- Practice Gratitude: Take a moment to reflect on the blessings in your life and express gratitude for loved ones and the opportunity to celebrate together. Gratitude enhances the holiday spirit, strengthens family bonds, and even has the potential to elevate mood.
- Drop the SHOULDS: Let go of the “shoulds” and expectations that often accompany the holiday season. Release the pressure to meet certain standards or create a flawless experience and allow everyone to be themselves without the weight of expectations.
- Evaluate Traditions Thoughtfully: Traditions are beautiful, but not all traditions are created equal. Some may bring your family closer together, while others might cause unnecessary stress. Evaluate your traditions with a discerning eye. Hold onto the ones that nurture connection and consider modifying or letting go of those that no longer serve the purpose of bringing joy and togetherness.
- Cherish the Big Picture: Remember that the essence of the holiday season lies in the togetherness, love, and shared experiences. Don’t let a hyper-focus on minute details obscure the bigger, more important aspects of the celebrations. Quality time, heartfelt conversations, and genuine connections create lasting memories far beyond perfectly set tables or elaborate decorations.
By embracing imperfection, finding humor in the chaos, and focusing on authentic connections, you can create a holiday season filled with genuine warmth and love. Celebrate the uniqueness of your family, and cherish the imperfectly perfect moments that make your holiday celebrations truly special.
Wishing you a season of authentic joy and heartfelt connections!