Note to relatives: Stop Christmas Expectation Syndrome

Every year around this time you start to see the signs appear. Stony faces, firmly clenched teeth, tight lipped smiles and short, curt answers. It can quickly escalate into snarky responses, bitchy attitudes or angry outbursts followed by long periods of silence – permeated only by the faint sound of angry huffs and snorts. What am I talking about? Christmas Expectation Syndrome. It’s closely related to wedding madness.

You see, everyone has expectations for the holidays. Not just in the sense of Pinterest boards filled with crafts and activities that they (I) will never get around to doing. No, I’m talking about the grander vision for the holiday, including where and when people should be and arrive. Once grandkids enter the picture, grandparents (and the extended family) seem to lose their ever-loving minds as well as their understanding of reality, time and space. It’s worse than the mother of the bridezilla or trying to make seating arrangements for feuding families at a wedding.

Just some of the requests I have either lived through or had people tell me about:

– Being upset that children will not be attending the midnight mass.

– To visit five (FIVE) different houses (with two kids under 2) on Christmas Eve {From Rosie}

– Expecting children who go to bed at 7:30 to wait for a fancy dinner (and of course presents!) until 8 p.m. {From DT}

– The expectation to trek everywhere or be made to feel guilty about it. {From Brook}

– That we drive late at night on Christmas Eve and wake up at someone else’s house. {From Gina}

– That you would see the same family on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

– That certain family members should get a private audience and not have to open gifts with the rest of the family and/or during the celebration.

It’s time someone stepped in and said stop the insanity! Stop the expectations! It’s time to raise the awareness on CES and help everyone just calm down and enjoy the twinkle of the Christmas lights in the children’s eyes without fighting over whose lights those are. In short: Please don’t ruin the holidays for your grandkids.

Instead of thinking how unfair it is that your grandkids won’t be at your house for this or that or whatever thing that has you feeling slighted, think back to when you were a new mom or dad. Maybe you were worried about the cold. Maybe you were a nervous breastfeeder and didn’t want to have to do it in front of old uncle Jeb. Maybe you were using bottles because you went back to work and were worried Aunt Gertrude would say something. Maybe your baby was teething and hadn’t slept in days and you just wondered how you would get through a meal let alone a 45-minute car ride without your ears bleeding from the crying. Maybe this is your first Christmas in a new house and all you really want is a calm and cozy morning around your tree with your kids.

Maybe you don’t remember any of that because it wasn’t like that for you. Maybe you were lucky enough to live on the same block as your parents and your cousins and it was just a quick stroller ride away where someone immediately would swoop in and help with the baby so you could put your feet up. That’s a reality almost none of us live with today. Many of us have to add in travel, sometimes long travel. What is a no big deal trip for two adults is like a week-long backpacking trip for parents of small children.

We’re not trying to be selfish and greedy (at least most of us). I would love to be able to have a nice evening dinner set with candlelight starting at 6 and going until midnight mass. But I have an 8-month-old with five teeth coming in and by 6 p.m. he is usually a pile of crying baby. My toddler and 6-year-old turn into wild and loud (very loud) giggly princesses that meltdown at the first sign of something unfavorable the closer the clock gets to 7 p.m.

The holidays are an exciting time of messed up routines. The kids are excited to see you and open presents but they are also out of their natural element, off their normal schedule and full of food they don’t normally eat. We would love to be able to see every single person that wants to see us over the holidays but unless you enjoy zombie parents and red-faced screaming children, it’s just not possible. Instead of making us feel guilty or demanding things happen a certain way remember that these years of little ones are short. Soon the kids will be able to stay up later, handle missed bedtimes easier and actually enjoy their time with you. Instead of being mad that the grandkids can’t be in all the places at once, offer another alternative. I’m sure many parents would love the chance to go out to dinner on New Year’s Eve or go back to bed on New Year’s Day while you watch cartoons and feed their kids doughnuts.

So stop Christmas Expectation Syndrome in its tracks this year, ask the parents in your life what would work best for them this holiday and smile and enjoy the new traditions. What’s important is the time spent together as a family and if that can be had without guilt trips and fighting, everyone wins.

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