Managing Expectations During the Holidays

As I’ve become a more grown-up adult – as opposed to the time in my life when I was called an adult but felt like an imposter – I’ve realized that a big part of the holidays involves managing expectations.

Your own. Your family’s. And other people’s.

You essentially become an event planner/social director/professional shopper/caterer/customer support person all wrapped up into one. It’s a lot to ask of one person, honestly. Your people expect you to, even without realizing it, manage the food, the gifts, and the atmosphere. To ensure that everyone is festive and happy, and the holidays are everything everyone hoped it would be.

The holidays aren’t meant to combat all the problems of the rest of the year. It’s not your job to try and make them.

If you are the parent of a transgender child, the holidays add an additional layer of stress and worry.

In addition to managing the expectations of your own family, you might find yourself trying to figure out how to manage the expectations of people who haven’t seen your child since they came out. This involves a lot of conversations that need to happen ahead of time, to determine how you and your family will navigate familiar holiday situations, that suddenly appear very complicated.

Managing expectations can look like:

  1. Sending holiday cards. If your child hasn’t socially transitioned, the holiday card might not be how you want to inform family and friends. If you usually add everyone’s name, consider just using your last name, ie, Merry Christmas from the Jones Family. Perhaps you send a holiday photo every year and your child’s appearance has drastically changed since last year. Consider skipping the picture altogether. Or, maybe you want to use the card to do the announcing for you. If so, be prepared for a lot of questioning emails/phone calls/texts. This is a case where you will have to manage your expectations and prepare for what comes next.
  2. Holiday gatherings. If your child has begun a physical transition and hasn’t seen family since doing so, they might be anxious about how people will react. Consider sending a friendly email to give everyone a heads up. “Since starting hormone therapy in March, Joe’s voice has deepened, and he has begun to grow facial hair. You won’t believe how excited he is about these developments. We are thrilled to see how happy he is, and can’t wait for you to share in this joy with him.” This alerts family to the physical changes they should expect. It also gently reminds them of the proper name and pronouns they should be using when they see your child.
  3. Unsupportive family. In my post about setting boundaries during the holidays, I talked about knowing when to leave or stay home when visiting others. But what about the unsupportive family members that are expecting to come to your house? If you know that you have family members who are disrespectful and unsupportive, or who refuse to use the proper name and pronouns of your child, don’t let them into your home. Your home should be a safe space for your child. That means you have to manage the expectations of those who come through your doors. Either they get on board with supporting your child while they are in your house, or they stay home.
  4. Conflicting political views. Let’s face it. Whenever two or more people gather together, there is going to be a difference of political opinions. However, there’s a time and a place for political debates, and holiday gatherings are not one of them. Set clear expectations for what kind of conversations will and will not be tolerated in your house ahead of time. This ensures that your child won’t be subjected to their favorite relative spewing hateful rhetoric. And you don’t have to send anyone home for being thoughtless.

Manage what you can. Let go of the rest.

At the end of the day, the only person you can change is yourself. But you can set boundaries that help ensure a peaceful holiday season for you, your child, and your family. As well as clear expectations for what you will and will tolerate. Decide ahead of time how to manage situations that are causing anxiety or might cause complications later on. Breathe a little deeper, knowing this is one less area you have to worry about.

What are you most worried about this holiday season? Feel free to share in the comments.

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