News flash: The holidays are stressful. Why do you think I’m just now publishing this article on surviving them? We feel like we’re getting a head start when we start ordering from everyone's Amazon wish list in October and collecting recipes for homemade goodies we can give as presents, and then we wake up and it’s December 15th, and our to-do list is still a mile long. How does anyone get through it? And what if you’re a new mom with a tiny human to keep alive? Well, the short answer is just breathe and take care of yourself, but I’m sure you expect more from a therapist who specializes in perinatal mental health, so here we go:
1. Say no.
I bet you saw this coming and were thinking, “Please don’t tell me I have to disappoint my entire extended family by saying the baby will not be at Grandma’s for Christmas dinner!” Yep, I kinda am. But only if that seems like it would be helpful. We can not make everyone happy and get the baby on a good sleep schedule and buy all the presents and get enough rest ourselves and breastfeed and pump and breastfeed and pump or mix formula and wash bottles . . . Think about what feels most difficult in your day to day routine (or whatever you’re doing to keep it together at this point) and what helps you get through those moments. Does the following example of a typical outing sound like how you want to spend your time?
Dressing baby in the adorable but impractical Christmas ensemble that will most certainly end up covered in pee, poop, spit up, or all three; restocking the diaper bag with enough diapers, wipes, bottles, and ice packs; packing up all the presents; getting yourself dressed; driving to the family gathering; passing baby around (and worrying about who didn’t get their flu shot); and pretending that you’re having a great time and definitely would not rather be home sleeping while your husband takes over for awhile.
If you answered with a “yes, please,” then by all means, go be festive. If you feel overwhelmed and anxious (and relieved to know I’m giving you permission to say, “no, thanks”), then you can say, “I don’t really feel up to going to Grandma’s this year. We’ll miss seeing everyone, but we’re looking forward to spending Christmas at home.”
2. Ask people to come to you.
If you actually do love spending time with your relatives, friends, and other loved ones, and you really want to make it happen but also manage the stress level, then you can ask people to stop by your house for a holiday visit. This option gives you a little more control (baby can sleep where they are comfortable, you can place hand sanitizer throughout as you see fit, you can feed baby where you like, you decide what food to serve, etc.). You could even call it a “drop-in” to send the message that you don’t expect people to stay very long.
3. Accept that this holiday season will not look like holidays of pre-baby life.
Your life has changed forever, so depending on where you are in your child's life, developmental stages can dictate much of what your days and nights look like. If your baby is still eating every two to four hours, you and your partner may still be feeling sleep-deprived. If you’re six months in and baby is sleeping for five to six hour stretches, you may be up to celebrating a little. Whatever your unique situation, know that your holiday experience will not look like it did last year, and next year (and the year after that . . .) will be different still. Lean into the uncertainty and focus on the both/and. This season is what it is and will be both joyful and exhausting, both exciting and draining, both fun and overwhelming.
4. Know that traditions evolve over time.
You don’t have to have it all figured out this Christmas. Decide with your partner what is important to you now (baby’s sleep and feeding schedule, getting rest yourself, visiting family, etc) and discuss how to manage the holidays together. Try not to worry about getting the perfect family photo for the Christmas card. So what if the cards arrive after Christmas, just in time for Valentine’s, or not at all? You have life’s biggest adjustment on your hands, so think about what you envision for next year, but don’t allow your future wishes to turn into present-day anxiety.
5. Just do your best.
Your best probably looks vastly different each day, depending on a number of factors, most of which are beyond your control. Take care of you, knowing that if you get a little more sleep tonight, you can feel a little less anxious. You can take a walk, get some fresh air, hand off baby to someone in your support network (or take baby with you), and do some little things that help you feel more confident in your new role. Decide with your partner what your little family needs from each other, be patient with each other, show love to each other, and move forward into the unknown of 2019 together as a team.
If you are a new mom in the Wake Forest, NC, area and would like some professional support or are wondering if you may be suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety, schedule your free consultation call here. Virtual sessions are also available for NC residents.
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