As sandals and sundresses turn into boots and pumpkin spice, the reality that the holiday season is fast approaching becomes more and more real.
The holidays can be a magical time of the year, but they can also bring with them stress and uncertainty. Being a new parent can magnify the already stressful season as you worry about traveling, gift-giving, and dietary restrictions.
If you have recently welcomed a new addition to the family or are expecting soon, read the following tips for surviving the holiday season with your mental health intact.
1. Saying "NO"
I’m sure you have heard it before, but “No” is a complete sentence. You could also try, “No, thank you, we cannot make it.” The holiday season brings with it a lot of invites, parties, and celebrations, and with a new baby in tow, you will probably be on the top of all the invite lists.
Remember: It’s not your job to ‘show off’ your baby and entertain your family and friends. Your new little bundle of joy is not the star in the holiday parade.
Be sure to schedule the most important holiday celebrations first and then add in any additional ones that you feel you can handle once you have prioritized your celebrations.
2. No Guilt Trips
Before attending an event, be sure to decide with your partner how long you will stay and how you will communicate to each other that it’s time to leave [Think: Code Word]. Set expectations low when you accept the invitation or when you arrive and let the hosts know “we will probably only stay about an hour.” If baby is good moreover, you stay longer, it will be a bonus, but if baby is fussy and you need to leave earlier than expected, stand firm and do not allow any guilt trips. No one understands what your tired, overstimulated, and disrupted child is like but you, and you are the only one who must comfort, console, and calm the baby when you get home. Sometimes jeopardizing your family’s routine and schedule for the desires of others is just not worth it.
3. Make Peace with the Season
Setting your own expectations low and making peace with the unknowns and volatility of the season you are in with a new baby is crucial to surviving the holidays with your mental health intact.
There will probably be times when you really look forward to the holiday celebration and do not want to leave early, or you do not get to enjoy yourself because of a fussy baby but remember that having an infant is just a season, and next year’s celebrations will be much easier to navigate.
Perhaps you develop a plan with your partner that one of you gets to stay later while the other takes the baby home, and then the other partner gets the privilege the next celebration. Feeling left out during holiday celebrations can absolutely take a toll on your mental health if you crave connection and miss your old identity.
4. Home to the Holidays
Babies have a lot of “stuff,” and most of that stuff makes your life easier as the parent. BRING IT ALL. If baby is going to do better at grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, then bring her pack ‘n play, swing, highchair, noise machine, and doc a tot. Your family will probably joke that you are moving in when you walk through the door with so much baby gear, but if it makes the day easier on you, then it was worth it. Maybe the thought of going anywhere for the holidays seems daunting with a small baby, and you decided to host the holiday at your house. If this is the case, it can certainly make it easier in some ways and harder in others. Ask for help.
Offer to cook one part of the holiday meal and delegate the rest out to family to bring. Ask close family to come over earlier to set the table or prepare the food and be sure to delegate a cleanup team too. Take time for yourself. Excuse yourself to feed the baby or lay down with your baby and delegate responsibilities to someone else while you’re gone.
5. Give and Get Grace
This holiday season, let good be good enough. Remove the pressure and expectations, and enjoy the season. Do not worry about finding the perfect outfit, buying the perfect gift, sending the perfect holiday card, or making the perfect dessert; but instead, just do what feels right and what feels manageable. Give yourself grace this holiday season and keep it simple. Relieve the pressure around upholding traditions this year, and do not accept guilt over doing things differently this season. Do not compare yourself to the parents you see on Instagram or even your friends because you do not know the truth behind the “perfection” that you see. Remember that your friends and family do not expect much from new parents, and neither should you. Let your presence be present enough or make personalized gifts from pictures of baby or footprints.
The most important thing you can do this holiday season is to create memories while enjoying your family. Your mental health is essential, and operating within a framework to promote wellness is paramount during the holidays.
Be aware of your triggers and manage stress while prioritizing self-care. Start journaling, meditating, working out or therapy, and take care of yourself this season so you can care for baby. You cannot pour from an empty cup.