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Managing holiday expectations as an expat

Photograph: Pexels

Text: Nanna Hauch

The holiday season is upon us. If this summer isn’t one for another transition, most expats visit family and friends back home or have visitors fly in from around the world this time of year.

Just as much as we look forward to spending time with family and friends, many of us can get challenged with managing expectations – our own and those who look forward to spending time with us.

I hope this little guide to managing holiday expectations will serve you well and give you and your family ideas for discussing what nourishes you.

#1 Define the “good holiday” for all family members.

Allocate time before the holidays to discuss what a good holiday is for each of you. We can easily assume we have common grounds for spending quality time together when most couples and families have divergent wishes and needs. You can continually readjust and have conversations during the holiday to stay aligned.

The first round of the conversation is about listening. All wishes, needs and dreams are on the table. You might ask each other questions like: “What relaxes you?” or “What is the perfect holiday scenario if everything was possible?”

Once this conversation is on the table, you might have to readjust your planning to add space for everyone’s wishes.

"Ask yourself and each other: What really fills you up with good energy?"

#2 What nourishes you?

When I see families and couples after a holiday season in their homelands, exhaustion and conflicts have often escalated due to a lack of individual and collective nourishment during the holiday.

As expats, we might feel “quilt” for living so far away from our extended family and close friends that we stretch ourselves beyond our boundaries to accommodate their (and our own) needs to catch up and spend time together.

Most of us know the metaphor “putting on the oxygen mask before helping others”. However, we rarely explore what nourishes and gives us energy. Combined with the difficult dilemma of needing private holiday time and spending time with family and friends, we might forget to prioritise activities that nourish us leaving us more drained than during our busy everyday life.

Ask yourself and each other: “What really fills you up with good energy?”

Is it time to read, listen to music, meditate, or go for a run?

Is it having no plans at all, or is everything preorganised?

We are all different, but conflicts arise primarily because of different wishes and needs that have not been discussed. You can find compromises and common ground by reflecting on these questions and sharing them with your partner and kids.

Being clear on your needs and communicating them clearly creates clarity and minimise conflicts.

#3 Be aware of your boundaries and stay authentic.

I recommend expat families revisit their boundaries, individually and as a family before they head off for the long summer holiday.

How many days with your family?

Or mine?

How many visitors stay over, and how much “bed & breakfast” service before we feel exhausted?

It goes back to what you have defined as a good holiday, what nourishes you, and how well you stay true to your boundaries and authentically express your needs in a kind and loving way.

Last, but not least, allow for a smooth transition back to everyday life once the holidays are over. As expats, the holiday season, visits home or having spent time with the people we love can raise questions about our future, ignite the feeling of homesickness and leave us feeling torn between places and people we love.

Step out of your holiday with this awareness, and remember that all transitions take a slight adjustment. Stepping back into everyday life can be overwhelming. Stay kind, gentle and curious.

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