The holiday season is imminently upon us. Some of us are finalizing our travel plans to visit family members, others are preparing for relatives to come and visit them, and still others are planning small celebrations with their new little families. There are gifts to buy, greeting cards to be sent, decorations to put up, parties to attend, and lots of demands on our time. Needless to say, while this is often an exciting and special time of year, it can be simultaneously stressful and filled with conflicting emotions.
Many new parents have imagined what it would be like during their child’s first holiday season. The cute outfits, family photos, memories made with loved ones. And, as with so many things about parenting, our expectations of how things will be usually are different than how things actually turn out. The amount of pressure we put on ourselves to achieve the ideal we had in mind can leave us feeling stressed, drained, and disappointed when we end up not enjoying the experience as much as we had envisioned. Feelings of guilt sometimes follow.
The pressure does not just come from within. Family members, however well-meaning, can unwittingly add to the stress via their own expectations and visions of spending holiday time with your new child. The relationship you have with various family members impacts the degree to which you feel burdened by their expectations. Do your in-laws insist that you spend the holidays with them, while your parents do the same? Do you feel caught in the middle? Are you planning to attend celebrations with people who you enjoy and are supportive of you, of are you feeling obligated to do so with relatives who demand more of your energy than you are willing or able to give at this time? How much family drama is going on and how much will you be affected by it? I’m thinking of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who have chosen to spend baby Archie’s first Christmas away from the British royal family, and rather will be with the Duchess’ mother in the United States. Given all the focus on the mess in the Royal Family in the media, it is easy to assume that the Sussex family has made a choice that will allow them to enjoy the holiday without having to deal with whatever is going on behind the Palace doors!
Of course, not all of us can make those kinds of choices and don’t have (or feel that we have) options to make other plans. If you are faced with the prospect of being with people, family or otherwise, with whom you anticipate a difficult time, and there’s no way out (and I encourage you to examine that), it is important to plan ahead for how you will take care of yourself during that time. Some suggestions:
- Remember that it is okay to take breaks. If you are in your own home, and need some time away, go off to your bedroom or some other quiet, private place to do what you need to do to calm yourself or reduce any sense of overwhelm. If you will not be at home, think ahead to how and where you might find quiet space to be alone if necessary.
- Breathe. It sounds trite, but it is amazing how often we can forget to breathe properly! The breath can serve as an anchor in a chaotic situation. Try breathing in and out to the count of four, while focusing on the sensation of the breath going in and out.
- When others have opinions about your parenting choices, whether about a schedule you have chosen for your baby, or about how you are feeding them, or some other thing (it’s amazing the things people can have opinions about!), a good mantra is “good for you, not for me.” You are still the parent, and as long as no one is being hurt, it really isn’t anyone else’s business how you do things.
- Make sure you are drinking enough water, and guard your sleep like the precious resource it is!
- Think about someone who might be a source of emotional support, someone you can call or text if not talk to in person who understands and can commiserate with you.
My wish for you is that you have a healthy and happy holiday season, full of love, special moments, and boundaries that allow you to enjoy this “most wonderful time of the year.” Or, at least to get through until New Year’s!