We must manage our expectations by trying to keep them as close to reality as possible
hen my children were in elementary school, Chol Hamoed trips always presented a challenge to me as a parent. And whenever Yom Tov approached, I dreaded my children’s semi-annual question, “Where are we going on Chol Hamoed?”
Generally, to stall for time and get myself off the hook, I gave my standard default answer. “I’ll have to discuss that with Mommy.”
One year, after seeing an amusement park advertisement that announced, “All proceeds going to tzedakah,” my wife and I came up with the unique and creative Chol Hamoed plan to spend a day at that park. When the day arrived, our children were brimming with excitement and glee.
The amusement park was unexpectedly hot and overcrowded. Apparently, we were not the only ones who had this unique and creative Chol Hamoed plan. Nevertheless, we took the long waiting lines in stride and persevered for about five hours. When our supply of drinks and patience was depleted, my wife and I agreed it was time to head home. And that was when the impassioned protests burst forth.
“I didn’t get to go on the Whirl-a-Twirl!”
“The Super Slide is the best ride. And I didn’t even get to go on it once!”
“Nobody else is leaving. Why do we have to go home now?!”
My wife and I were exhausted, thirsty, and totally ready to leave. It took all the resolve we could muster, however, to coax our children out of the park and into our car for the half-hour ride home. With long, unhappy faces, our children reluctantly chose getting into the car over the other option we offered: “Or you could stay here and find another ride home…”
As we pulled out of the parking lot, I glanced into the other cars that were leaving at the same time. In many, I couldn’t help noticing long faces on all the occupants and, in some cases, what appeared to be angry words being heatedly exchanged.
During the silent ride home, I was struck by the contrast between the cold atmosphere in the car and the warm, joyous mood I had anticipated. I thought my children would gush with happiness, making all the time and money we had spent to give them a memorable Chol Hamoed outing seem worthwhile. I wondered where had we gone wrong, as I sulked behind the wheel.
By the time we got home, I believe I came up with the answer. As parents, we had failed to fulfill our responsibility to manage our children’s expectations before our Chol Hamoed excursion. Obviously, they had expected much more than we delivered. As a result, they were understandably disappointed. In order for children — or any people, for that matter — to be happy, or even just satisfied, they have to keep their expectations more in line with what is really possible.
In my mind, I distilled this formulation into the following equation:
Disappointment = Expectation – Reality
More specifically, reality, by definition, is something we cannot change. It is what it is. If we want to reduce or eliminate disappointment, therefore, we must manage our expectations by trying to keep them as close to reality as possible. In other words, the greater the disparity between expectations and reality, the greater is the disappointment. And since children have an inherently difficult time managing their own expectations, parents have to step up to the plate and help them with that task.
Chazal offer scant guidance for entertaining children on Chol Hamoed. The Shulchan Aruch tells us only the following: “How does one bring joy to children [on Yom Tov]? [He] gives them parched corn and nuts” (Orach Chayim, Hilchos Yom Tov, 529:2).
I don’t know what the children were like during the time of the Mechaber. But you don’t have to be a child psychologist to know that children nowadays would hardly feel satisfied with “parched corn and nuts.” On the other hand, perhaps Chazal were really on to something here and trying to hint to us that when children’s expectations are reduced, disappointment is eliminated, allowing them to truly experience simchas Yom Tov.
Approximately six months after our Chol Hamoed fiasco, I had the opportunity to test out my theory, as another Yom Tov was right around the corner. Putting my newfound insight into practice, I announced that for our Chol Hamoed excursion, we were going to another amusement park. This time, however, I firmly stated that each child was going on only four rides. We were going to bring nosh from home. And we were absolutely not buying any souvenirs. To my surprise, these limits did not trigger any pushback from any of my children, who were all delighted to be taken again to an amusement park.
When the day arrived for our trip, I repeated the guidelines, which sounded to my children like old news. At the park, each child chose his or her rides carefully, mindful of the four-ride limit I had imposed.
As the day wore on, my wife and I reevaluated our guidelines, which began to feel a bit draconian, even for a kargeh Galitziyaner like me. Then we announced that we were lifting the “no nosh” restriction slightly by allowing each child to purchase a can of soda. The delight this produced was dramatic and most gratifying.
Then, after our children completed their four-ride limit, my wife and I noticed that it was still quite early. Moved by a sudden surge of generosity, we decided to relax the guidelines again by allowing each child to go on “one more ride.” The squeals of joy this pronouncement elicited were sufficient proof that my hypothesis was correct.
When we finally did leave the amusement park, the ride home was much different from the same ride we had taken six months earlier. Instead of long faces and palpable disappointment, we had a back seat full of happy faces. And, as a bonus, we were treated to sincere, spontaneous expressions of hakaras hatov.
The takeaway from our Chol Hamoed fiasco was that the most important thing parents can do to ensure their children are successfully entertained on Chol Hamoed — or any time throughout the year — is to exercise due diligence in managing their children’s expectations in advance, in order to avoid disappointment. In short, the recipe for a successful Chol Hamoed outing is to promise less and deliver more.
Try it this year yourselves. And then let me know how it works out.
A gutten Yom Tov.
Dr. Meir Wikler, a frequent contributor to this space, is an author, psychotherapist, and family counselor in full-time private practice with offices in Brooklyn, New York, and Lakewood, New Jersey. He is also a public speaker whose lectures and shiurim are carried on TorahAnytime.com.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 930.
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