NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Holiday Time With Your Family: Balancing Your Expectations

We often get disappointed when we have expectations from our loved ones, especially around the holidays, about what we want and they might not want.  More often than not, if we try to impose our expectations on our loved ones, it's a recipe for disappointment and resentment.  Sometimes, we need to temper our expectations to be more flexible, recognizing that we can't change other people to make them do what we want them to do.

Holiday Time:  Can You and Your Loved Ones Balance Your Expectations?

New York Times Modern Love Article:  "A Holiday Built on Presence, Not Presents"
An article by Carolyn S. Briggs in yesterday's New York Times' Modern Love column caught my attention called "A Holiday Built on Presence, Not Presents" (a link to this article is provided at the end of this blog post).  She describes how she was disappointed last year when her adult children had a very different view of the Christmas holiday than she did.  Whereas she wanted a more traditional Christmas holiday, her children felt it was more of a "consumerist sham" of a holiday.

Ms. Briggs says she had hoped that they would all fill their Christmas stockings with messages of love and appreciation for each other, but her children weren't interested in this, which was very disappointing to her.

Ms. Briggs  also discusses how she was disappointed when she was younger during the time when her parents were divorcing.  She says that she and her brother pooled their money and bought and decorated their own tree because there was no tree that year.  In hindsight, she says she doesn't want to guilt her children into doing what they don't want to do on Christmas.  She has changed her expectations of what Christmas will be like with her family this year.

It's not unusual for adults to want to make up for what they didn't get as children.  There's something very sad about two children having to provide their own Christmas tree because the adults are preoccupied with their own problems.   Yet, we can't expect that, as adults, we'll always be able to make up for what we didn't get as children, especially when the experience involves other people, who might not want to go along with it now.

As I read Ms. Briggs' article, I couldn't help thinking about when I was a young adult and I had similar ideas to her children.

Coming from a very traditional family, when I was in my late teens and early 20s, I rebelled against these traditions and also felt that Christmas was all about consumerism.

But, as I was reading this article, I realized that my feelings have changed since then and I can now appreciate the holiday spirit.  I'm not cynical about the holidays, the way I used to be when I was a young adult.  My feeling is that, regardless of the consumerism, we can make the holiday whatever we want it to be.  We're not at the mercy of consumerism.

Reading this article, I looked back on myself as a young adult and thought about the times that I  must have disappointed my family when I didn't want to go along with tradition.  As I read the article, I could see both sides--Ms. Briggs' disappointment last year and her children's resistance.

As a therapist, I know that late teens and early 20s is an important time for young adults to develop their own ideas and become separate individuals from their families.  Seeing it from that vantage point, one could see why they wouldn't acquiesce to her wishes.

And yet, as someone who is a middle-aged woman now, I couldn't help wishing that Ms. Briggs' adult children had cooperated a little more--not because they believed in these Christmas traditions, but because they knew how important it was to her.

Is There a Way to Balance Our Own and Our Loved Ones' Expectations?
Could there have been some compromise?  I don't know.  Reasonable people could disagree.   This isn't a black and white issue.

But maybe the view that there might have been a compromise comes with age and life experience.  I couldn't have taken this view when I was younger.

When you're  a young adult, you're struggling to establish your own autonomy, which sometimes means having different feelings and opinions from your family.   When you're older and you're on your own, you have less to prove, and I think you can afford emotionally to be more generous.

In the end, I think Ms. Briggs came to the right conclusion--that even if your family doesn't experience the holiday in the same way that you would like as a parent, the most important thing is that you're together.

Wishing Everyone a Happy and Healthy Holiday.

I am a NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me

A Holiday Built on Presence, Not Presents
By Carolyn S. Briggs - 12/23/12 - NY Times - Modern Love