The holiday season is a perfect time to embrace families and familial events. Yet, the holidays can seem stressful. Here our dynamic parenting and relationship expert, Dr. Miranda Fernande Walichowski shares insight on the differences between expectations and agreements to make for happier experiences.

2016novdec_philanthropy_raiseFor many individuals, the utopian vision of a family gathered around the table in a convivial way, giving thanks for each other, or the vision of holidays filled with merriment and gifts of love and joy, are far from their reality. In fact, the American Psychological Association has conducted several studies centered on holidays and stress. One of the latest studies reports that levels of stress around the holidays increase by as much as 41%. There is an irony that we long to come together with loved ones, only to lose our loving feelings due to rising anxiety and frustrations. But it doesn’t need to be this way; if you anticipate stressful challenges, you can approach the holiday season prepared with a positive outlook.


You have choices when dealing with complicated relationships. Assuming that changing the circumstances, like not seeing your family, is not an option, you have three choices to consider. (1) You can try to change your family members to reflect more of whom you expect them to be, (2) you can endure the situation and accept the stress and drama, or (3) you can show up differently and adjust your own perspective. Obviously, the third choice is the most energetically and emotionally compelling.

It is not easy to show up differently. It takes courage to let go of the desire to be right. It takes courage to let go of our vision for how people should be. It takes courage to meet people where they are and accept them. In other words, we need to let go of expectations

Whether you realize it or not, your mind creates expectations: ideas of how people should be, what people should do, and how situations should unfold. The expectations that we create about the behavior and actions or inactions of others tend to be the greatest point of contention between our peace, joy and frustration, stress. Not only do we create expectations; but we spend much time and energy collecting evidence to support our observation that individuals are falling short.


In contrast, agreements transform expectations into something concrete and something that can create consensus. Agreements dissipate the ambiguity between what you want and what it is that you can realistically expect. Individuals respond to agreements and will usually be inclined to adhere to those. On the other hand, individuals tend to rebel against expectations. In essence, an agreement is an accord. Someone gives you their word that they will or will not do something. The easiest way to comprehend the distinction is to bring to mind a teenager. Most parents have the expectation that their teenager will develop responsibility skills and keep his room in order and tend to his school work appropriately. More often than not, the teenager rebels against these expectations. However, if the teen is permitted to co-create agreements, establishing what both parties will and will not do, everyone is more inclined to honor that. Moreover, when things need course-correction, a conversation around agreements not being kept is no longer seemingly a judgment or an attack on the person. It becomes much less personal, and the discussion can center around what both parties can do to help each other honor the agreement.

Think about it. Many of us have many expectations in our relationships. In terms of agreements, we have very few of those. Moreover, many times the expectations that we have for others, are different from the expectations others have for themselves. It makes sense why we feel frustrated when our expectations are not met.

We are all a product of the people we have met, the books we have read, the experiences that we have had. So what is the meaning that you can create around individuals who trigger you most? Exploring that with a growth-mindset, you would reframe your expectations and instead look for ways that you can grow and be of service to others. Might challenging interactions be an opportunity to grow in patience, empathy, listening skills, or love of your neighbor?

So at all the holiday celebrations this year, let go of your expectations. Have the understanding that every person has a deeply seated need for being understood, heard, acknowledged, and loved. Arrive at each gathering with you being the gift, one that is empty of expectations and replete with a desire to love and serve others in what they need. I think you will be pleasantly surprised that the biggest gift is waiting for you. Be prepared to see transformation. As you show up differently, people around you will begin to change. Your transformation provides an auspicious start to your New Year and all the potential it has to be your best year ever.