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Managing Expectations for the Holidays by Fern Weis, Parent + Family Recovery Coach

Managing Expectations for the Holidays by Fern Weis, Parent + Family Recovery Coach, Bergen County Moms

Winter lights, presents, family gatherings and traditional foods. Along with the magic of the season may come real challenges. How are you managing expectations for the holidays for you and your children?

What do you picture when you think about the holidays? It could be memories of past holidays or dreams of more satisfying celebrations. Maybe you have financial concerns or family members who make you crazy. What are reasonable expectations?

My family has had its moments and it was usually about the people. All sorts of things were affecting us, such as stress from work; the needs of our own parents; children going through phases and stages; wanting the holidays to be picture perfect; disappointing behaviors from any one of us and who ended up in a snit. It was never about imperfect foods or decorations.

How do you create smoother, calmer, more loving holidays?

Preparation is the key. When you know what you’re dealing with, you can more effectively manage your expectations. First ask yourself these questions:

  • What do your holidays usually look like? Consider all aspects: people, food, money, gifts, behaviors, travel, religious observances. Where’s the tension, what is it about, and who’s involved?

  • What would be the ideal holiday experience? Maybe it’s more of one thing and less of another.

  • Change is often more effective in stages. What can you reasonably expect to change?

Here are some possible areas for change and tips for making it happen:


1. Whether you’re on a budget or have money to burn, set a limit on how much you will spend and/or how many gifts you will give. Remember that limits are okay, even in the season of giving.

2. Let your kids know about any changes in gift-giving. Many have high expectations for the latest and greatest. Ask them to prioritize their wish list and discuss how that fits in with your budget. You’ll be teaching them about managing expectations and money.

3. Consider making donations to a charitable organization in lieu of buying a gift.

Preparing your home and table:

4. The holidays are a family event, so make the preparation a family activity as well. This is a conversation waiting to happen. Some adults love to take care of all the details, others feel resentful. If you’re not happy about doing it all yourself, ask for help.

5. Where could you use some help? Baking, cooking, decorating, cleaning, shopping, and planning events and outings are just a few of the things your kids can do. Ask for their ideas and preferences. They’re more likely to cooperate when you ask instead of demand. See who’s willing to do what.

6. When your family helps out, remember that what they do for you and with you doesn’t have to be perfect. Appreciate the cooperation and the memories you make together.

Family and together time:

7. The excitement of vacation and together time can wear thin pretty quickly. You're off your normal schedule and spending a lot of time together, maybe too much… especially the kids. This is another conversation to have with siblings ahead of time. Look back together at holidays past for what worked and what didn’t. What can they do when they get on each other’s nerves?

8. Is there someone in your extended family who makes you grit your teeth? Do your kids or spouse get antsy about spending time with him or her? Time for a family huddle. Plan now for how to cope with that person. Plan responses or a polite exit strategy.

Managing expectations for the holidays doesn’t have to be painful. Prepare with a few calm and honest conversations and have the best holidays ever.

Fern Weis is a certified life coach who learned that caring and good intentions are not enough in parenting.  In fact, they are often the problem! Fern supports parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, including addiction recovery.  She helps parents release guilt, end enabling and confidently prepare their children to thrive through life's challenges. Her articles are featured in Thrive Global, Medium, Motherly, The Teen Mentor, and Bergen County Moms.  

Learn more about coaching and classes at And then download your free guide, "Five Powerful Steps to Get Your Teen to Talk." For information on Family Recovery programs, visit

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