05 December, 2023

Adjusting expectations


About a month ago, I invited my sister, her husband, and daughter to spend Christmas with us. After only a day or two, they enthusiastically accepted. I was excited. I’ve hosted Christmas dinners here fairly often to take the responsibility off my elderly in-laws. Sometimes it has been a small gathering – the smallest was my husband’s father and uncle three years ago (dare I say it, the most depressing!) – and the largest was when a couple of my husband’s brothers and their families returned home for the holidays. Not huge gatherings, but big enough for my small kitchen and fridge! Lol Once my in-laws were gone, I’ve spent the day with my one or both of my sisters and their families – in the south, and the north for a change of scenery. Last year, there were just the two of us here at home, and it was quite lovely, even though I had faced it with some trepidation.

But this year I was ready for a few more people, and I was really looking forward to it. My niece is now 15, and my sister and brother-in-law share our interest in wine and good food. It was going to be a lovely adult celebration, with the things we love. I was keen to use some things I have stored away to make the house seem more festive. I was going to dig out the beautiful tablecloths and candlesticks and serving crystal bowls I’ve inherited. I also thought it might be fun to use some spare Christmas stockings I still have. (I gave a number away once I knew I wouldn’t have children, and wrote about it here.) Especially as, cleaning out a drawer, I found some things that could be slipped into a stocking, along with some baking or chocolate or something fun, just to make it an occasion. After all, I’ve never been able to do this for children, and my husband and I don’t really “do” gifts, because we don’t want clutter of unnecessary gifts. But also I guess because The Husband gets stressed out. I’d already started meal planning, and activity planning, and cleaning out the freezer so I can freeze meals or pizza doughs etc to make hosting easy. For once, I was actively looking forward to Christmas.

Then I got a phone call. Someone close to us had asked to join us for Christmas, and my sister had accepted on my behalf. She texted me saying she hoped it was okay, following up before I even had time to respond to the text with a face-to-face call. (Note: Things I have always hated include: surprise phone calls, face-to-face calls when I am unprepared, and having to deal with surprise news in front of others. Argh.) So, I had no time to process any of it. And in honesty, I was so soooooo disappointed. Even though I knew I could never have declined the request, and understood the reasons for it.

So I was going through the logistics of it all, processing my thoughts out loud in front of her. Of course, all the negatives came up first – how to squeeze everyone in to our house, nothing to amuse a three-year-old, all the food/sleeping in/adult activity plans going out the window, our house and garden (is a deck a garden?) unsafe for a little one, etc. The degree of cleaning/sorting/decluttering I will have to do to squeeze them in.

My sister is a different personality to me. She loves being surrounded by people. The more the merrier. For her it’s probably a bonus. But not for me. I tried to explain it to her, but I don’t think she gets it. Yes, I have reclaimed the season and do it my way. Yes, I love my tree, and certain parts of the day – the croissant breakfasts, champagne, the desserts, the beautiful table! Yes, I like hosting a group at Christmas lunch. But yes, I still breathe a sigh of relief after everyone has gone home and we get the evening to ourselves, or at the very least on the next day when all the pressure (external and internal) is somehow lifted. I had looked forward to showing them <Mali’s> Christmas <Mali’s> way, and anticipated a fun, relaxed day. Now, it will by necessity be different.

My emotions are confused. I feel selfish for feeling disappointed, when the circumstances around the request are so much worse. I feel annoyed that I didn’t get a chance to process the change in circumstances in my own time. I assume (although this could be all in my imagination - those inner critical voices we all battle) that my sister will judge me and think that a) that I am selfish, and inflexible, and b) I am <fill in the blanks with any other pronatalist stereotype> because I don’t have kids. I feel empathy and compassion for the person making the request. And for the child who will be coming to strangers. As I said, I would never have declined the request. But time to breathe would have been nice.

Of course, almost immediately I started coming to terms with the change, and adjusting plans. Since then, I keep seeing the perils of my house for a young child, and what I will need to make it safe, and how impossible that will be in a house with four separate staircases, no lawn, and a rickety dangerous outdoor staircase that is on our to-do list to fix later this summer. I am thinking about activities – the playground down the road, the zoo that will be open, the beaches that might be safe, the walks we could do that aren’t too onerous. What we can put in the little one’s Christmas stocking (that is not too onerous for the person to take home). Whether I will need to rent a car seat, pushchair/stroller, other things to make the visit easier for our two new visitors. Not the thoughts of a selfish person, I would think, but no-one sees that. We’ll make it fun, and it will be a nice time together, and won’t last forever, and we will ease the troubles of someone we love for a few days. And I’ll be okay. We will have to do a fun, more adult, celebration some other year.

But as a childless person who has been through the painful process of learning to embrace the joys of an adult Christmas, and for years has successfully done this,  I’m now going to be reminded, closely and intently, of what I will have missed. Maybe that’s what has been hard to adjust to, just as I enter this awkward anniversary season of two pregnancy losses (the first anniversary begins today/tomorrow), and the end of my fertility journey. I don’t know.

Now, some days later from that first explosion of words and feelings above, I think I’ll be fine. I don’t want a three-year-old now, after all. And my expectations for the time have adjusted. I've had to do that before. I will have to do it again. I can do it now. After all, it is a privilege that we were chosen as the most desirable option for these two over the holiday period. It will be a privilege to share these days with them, and to brighten their time (we hope). I’m fine with it now. I have a couple of weeks to prepare the house. And I just have to think about what dishes I have in my repertoire that might be okay for a three-year-old; almost everything I cook is spicy. Maybe we’ll just barbecue every day and eat leftover ham sandwiches – it is summer after all!


  1. Oh wow, Mali -- that's a LOT! Company at Christmastime, however happily anticipated, can be stressful even when you invited them! I am sure you will be fine, and will pull this off in style as usual ;) -- and you will probably wind up having a really good time with your extra guests -- but seriously, that was pretty presumptuous of your sister to respond on your behalf...! I will be thinking of you, and waiting to hear how it all turned out!

  2. I know you will make it be gracious and warm and welcoming and CHRISTMAS for the two in need of all of that. And, it isn't easy. You are impressive.
    Your sister knows you. She also appreciates that you two are different and have had different lives. Get her involved in making it smooth for the two in need.
    You role model for us all.

  3. Here from the Roundup and, oof. Hugs and will be thinking of you.

  4. Oof. I felt this. All of it. The excitement of the holidays you had planned. The disappointment of those holiday plans not happening. The confusing feelings about spending the holidays with a small child. The desire to include everyone and the challenges of planning for that while honoring your own feelings.

    I think you'll be fine too. I think you'll even have a good time. But that was a lot to process and you did it all in a relatively short amount of time!