When I was a child, the magic of Christmas was tangible. The build up and excitement started weeks before and every twinkly light and Christmas carol made my heart soar. I don’t know when it started to change but somewhere along the path to adulthood, I lost the magic. Christmas still looked the same, we decorated the tree, watched the Christmas movies, gathered the family together, but it all felt wrong.
I clung to past traditions. The decorations were put up to a background soundtrack of old favourites, Slade, The Pogues. We would sip port and the tree would be my domain. But still, it felt false. Forced even. The expectations of a magical time never materialised and after the festive season I felt deflated.
Then we had a baby. He was 5 weeks old on his first Christmas and the whole thing passed in a blur… then something started to change. As I fell more and more in love with this little being, my whole life started to fill up. By the time the next Christmas arrived, I no longer had to search for the magic – each day was magical and filled with joy. We still played the songs, decorated the tree, but it was with a laid back air of relaxation. The room filled with laughter and love and that forced feeling was all gone.
Christmas lunches, previously filled with smalltalk and arguments over the rules of the boardgames, was quieter than it had ever been. Instead of thinking “are we having fun??” and feeling tired from plastering on a smile, I sat back in awe of how lucky I was to be surrounded by family, my wonderful husband and our beautiful son. The true meaning of Christmas seemed to smack me in the face and the joy I felt couldn’t have been more real. It seems that letting go of how things should look and enjoying what comes was all that was needed.
Expectations can affect our whole outlook on life, not least our relationships with our children. You dream and imagine how a particular day will look and when it doesn’t come to pass, you feel let down and disappointed. This feeling is passed on to our children and they may start to dread the big days out, the festivities, the parties, knowing that they will be expected to perform, to act a certain way and to hide their true feelings if they don’t feel happy that day. Let me give you some examples of how expectations can affect our enjoyment –
You have planned a big family day out and been looking forward to it for ages. On route, in the car, your daughter gets travel sick and is in tears by the time you arrive.
You could –
Push on with the day, complaining at your daughter to pull herself together now that she is out of the car and continue trying to create the day you imagined. You get more and more stressed, she gets more and more sulky. You wonder why you bothered, how your child became so ungrateful, and cut the day short desperate to have it over with, exhausted from the effort of trying to have fun.
You could use the opportunity to spend some quality time with your daughter. Pull over the car, rub her back. Find an old blanket in the car and have an impromptu picnic on the grass. Let her know that there is no rush to get on with the planned activity. All that matters is that you are together and that she feels better. No its not what you had in mind, but if you let go of the picture and grasp the here and now, you might find, its even better!
Grandma has come to visit and you have not seen her for ages! She has been looking forward to cuddling her grandson and you have been looking forward to having some quality family time. The morning she arrives your one year old is teething and only wants to be with you. He cries when grandma picks him up and tries to struggle away and get back to you.
You could –
Ignore his discomfort and pass him back to grandma, after all she has been really looking forward to this. Apologise for his behaviour as he gets increasingly agitated and start to become stressed yourself. Wonder whats got in to him and why he had to choose today to be so moody.
Listen to what he is trying to communicate to you with his cries and his body language. Make grandma a cup of tea and enjoy a catch up with your baby happy on your lap. Let him choose when to go to her, if at all and respect his need to be with you. Understand that he is wary of this person who he does not know as well as you and explain to grandma that he will come to her on his own terms. Once he has had some time to watch her, his curiosity may well take over, leading him to go to her. Most importantly, relax and enjoy the moment.
You love cycling/art/swimming/woodwork/add your own – and have long imagined the day you and your child would do it together. You dreamed of teaching them the skills of your particular hobby and this day finally arrives. But your child is bored/frustrated/asks to go home and does not share your passion.
You could –
Feel deflated. Continue trying to entice them in to the activity and get annoyed and stressed with them when they pull away, become frustrated or shut down. Loose some of the excitement you have always felt for your passion and find less enjoyment in doing it.
Take the stress out of it. Either continue alone, allowing them to watch without pressure to join in and enable them to see how much enjoyment you get from it. This may spark an interest in them. But if it doesn’t, accept that. Give them the freedom to find their own passions and support them in their choice. Remember that it is ok for you to enjoy something that your child does not and you can still continue to pursue your interests.
So try it. Forget the expectations, embrace spontaneity and see where it takes you. Loose yourself in the moment and cherish the time you spend together, no matter what you end up doing. It might just be even better than you ever expected!