It’s that time of year. Thanksgiving is on the way, followed quickly by Christmas and New Year’s. It’s a fun and exciting time, particularly for new parents who are excited to share these firsts with their new child. But it can also be a frustrating and stressful time, as family and work commitments make demands on your time – and your new baby.
So how do you handle the holidays gracefully and without making things harder on yourself than they need to be? How do you share Baby’s firsts with those who love him while also protecting Baby from illness, drama, and overwhelm?
Read this guide to surviving the holidays for a few tips on how you can have a beautiful holiday season that doesn’t stress out you or your newest family member.
Do not feel obligated to put yourself out for family
Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and others always want to see the newest addition to the family tree. The holidays are a great time to do this, as so many family members are often gathered in one place. However, this can also be one of the most stressful aspects of the holiday.
Traveling long distances, whether by car or plane, with a small child can be nerve-wracking. Between the seemingly constant stops for feedings, diaper changes, and if your baby has colic or is sick, you may feel like you could walk and get there faster.
Then there’s everything you have to pack. Diapers, rash cream, formula if you bottle-feed or supplement, changes of clothes, infant meds, etc. And unlike a trip to the doctor or the park, if you forget something, you can’t just shrug it off or run back home. You have to find a store and buy what you forgot in often unfamiliar locations.
If you don’t feel up to traveling to see family, say no. Don’t exhaust yourself and your new baby to satisfy others.
And what about the ones who want to come visit? It’s great if you’re inviting them and excited to see them. However, even then you should set boundaries. Ask them to stay at a hotel or to be prepared to entertain and/or feed themselves. With a new baby on board, it’s not unreasonable to expect adults to fend for themselves, even if you did invite them.
But what if they invite themselves? Grandma might be well-meaning when she says she’ll come “help” you with the baby and the decorating and the gift wrapping, but we both know it really means you have to shop for her special diet, air out the guest room, and be prepared to entertain her with a newborn latched on to your boob.
Put your foot down with uninvited guests. Explain that you appreciate their desire to see the baby, but you are just not open to guests right now. Offer a better time for them to visit, if you want, but don’t allow yourself to be bullied into having guests you don’t want.
Put health first
Your baby’s physical health, and your own mental health, come before anything else this holiday season.
Whether you are pro- or anti-vax, there are plenty of other illnesses that run rampant at this time of year for which there is no vaccine. A cold might seem minor, but for an infant or other young child who can’t clearly express how they feel, it can be a miserable experience for both parent and child.
Be honest with family and friends. Express that you don’t want Baby to get sick and request that they not visit you if they are ill. Ask them to cancel plans with you if they think they are coming down with something, and not to invite you over. If you arrive at a family function or a friend’s party and find that someone there is ill, give your regrets, turn around, and go home.
And don’t feel guilty about it.
Your mental health also needs to be a priority. This is the time of year when people will try to guilt you into hanging out with the cousin you can’t stand or the bigoted aunt. You’ll be told you should set aside grudges and arguments in favor of the love and happiness because ‘tis the season of love.
You’ll also be expected to find a way to be in four different places at once, to travel to multiple relatives’ homes for opening gifts or having yet another holiday dinner in the same day, and to do it all with a smile on your face.
Tell those who want to see you and the baby “visiting hours” during which they can come to your home on the holiday to visit. Or decide which events, meals, and other activities you wish to enjoy, and stick to them.
Refuse to be around extended family who stress you out or create conflict with or for you. You are not obligated to make peace, even briefly, with anyone else for anyone else’s sake.
And once again, don’t feel guilty about it.
Skip the debt
I know, believe me, I get it. Everything in the stores and on Amazon is so cute, so adorable, and how can you not buy it? Been there, done that.
But here’s the thing. Those adorable clothes? Your baby is going to outgrow them in a matter of months, if not just a few weeks. And the precious little toys? If your child doesn’t prefer playing with the boxes, she’ll probably lose interest in the toys by the end of the week.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy your kid anything for Christmas. What I am saying is don’t buy her EVERYTHING.
Don’t put yourself in the poorhouse buying everything in sight because it’s all cute, precious, and just so perfect. Consider your choices carefully. Look at toys and when you notice that two or three options all do the same thing, choose just one. Look at age ranges. If your child is about to be beyond the age range for a toy or an item of clothing, save your money and buy something from the next range up.
Also, remember that babies and young children can get overwhelmed by too many choices. You might think you’re doing a good thing, by giving them so much to play with. But in reality, you can leave them unable to choose because there’s just too much.
Don’t forget that others will be buying gifts, too. You aren’t the only one who wants to shower your little one with everything, so leave some space for others gifts.
Coordination is key
Speaking of others buying gifts for your baby, coordinating with others is the key to keeping your sanity after the holidays are over, too.
Some things can be duplicated and it’s not an issue. Having two of the same shirt can be perfect if your child spits up on one when you’re about to get family pictures taken, for example. But that obnoxiously loud toy that takes 10 batteries? You’re going to want to throw it against the wall, and if you have two or more of it, there’s going to be a lot of damaged walls in your home.
While you can’t necessarily order your family or friends to buy specific items, you can coordinate with them to discuss who’s buying what. You might choose to set spending limits and tell everyone to spend less than $25 per gift, so that you can get the more expensive things. Or you might choose to create a list of the things you’re buying for the baby, share the list and ask them not to buy anything on it.
Make sure to coordinate on big ticket gifts as well – and don’t forget to do so across both sides of the family. If your parents are buying a swingset, make sure your in-laws are aware and don’t buy another one. You don’t want to be caught in the middle of an in-law war between your family and your spouse’s because both families bought the same expensive gift and both expect you to keep theirs and return the other one.
Online shopping all the way
For many, one of the big joys of Christmas shopping is standing in the store, looking at the options, touching them, smelling them, and looking for the best prices. But with an infant in tow, this quickly goes from being a joy to being a chore. Combine it with the lack of sleep, and not only might you spend more money because you don’t hunt for deals, but you might also end up forgetting gifts or buying things that aren’t what you really want just because they’re convenient.
Online shopping is the easy solution to this. You can shop when you’re feeding the baby at 3AM, or when she’s napping at noon. Have everything delivered right to your door. Pay a little extra for gift wrapping, and you can even have it delivered straight to your recipients if you want.
You’ll be able to compare prices between websites, and look for the exact gifts you want for those you love. Even without a new baby, the savings in time and gas make online shopping worth it, even if it’s not something you’d usually do.
Online shopping is also great at this time of year for things like diapers, formula, and even groceries. More people are sick, and with shopping for gifts, holiday meals, and more, there are often more people out and about. By switching to online shopping for as many of your needs as possible, you avoid exposing your new baby to the germs left behind on carts, as well as the ones still on all the well-intentioned folks who just want to squeeze precious cheeks and kiss your baby.
Simplify what you can
Even if Baby isn’t old enough to crawl this year, the next few years will be filled with curiosity, adventure, and a burning desire to touch, taste, and eat everything they can get their hands on. You may love decorating to the hilt for the winter holidays, but now is the time to start scaling back.
It’s not just about making sure that your child can’t choke on tinsel or cut their foot on a dropped ornament. Decorating takes time, and when you’ve got a young child (or multiple children!) underfoot, time is a precious commodity.
If you usually buy a real tree, you might consider switching to a fake one. Go with uncomplicated ornaments, and put them high and out of reach. String up a few strands of lights outside and carefully consider the placement of things like candles, ceramic Santas and other decorations that you would ordinarily put on the coffee table, entertainment center, or in front of the fireplace.
When it comes to glass ornaments, or those that have special meaning or are otherwise irreplaceable, consider putting them up for the next few years. This will allow you to enjoy the holiday season without being constantly stressed over trying to make sure that the ornament your deceased uncle left you won’t be harmed.
A final thought on decorating: If you usually enjoy decorating early, around Thanksgiving or even before, and Baby is already mobile, you might reconsider. The longer everything is out, the longer you have to work to keep a curious and energetic little one away from it all. This is truly a personal choice, and if you feel comfortable with continuing to decorate early, go for it. Just make sure you think about it first.
If you typically throw a holiday party or host one of the big holiday meals, you might feel obligated to do so despite having a new baby – or you might just really want to do it.
Parties are fun, but the prep work and clean up after can be time consuming and difficult with a new baby. If you host a party or meal in your home, make life easier for yourself.
Start by making the food potluck. Prepare a simple main dish yourself, like baking a ham or turkey, but ask your guests to bring their favorite holiday dish to share. For those who don’t cook, ask them to bring drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, based on your preferences), disposable cups, paper products and plastic utensils. Alternatively, if you don’t want to create a lot of trash or worry about recycling, line up a few people to help you wash dishes after the fact.
Make clean up easier by stationing a variety of trash cans around the entertaining areas of your home. Put small ones on tabletops and larger ones by doors. Put aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and lids that match the containers on the counter or table where the food is being served. This may encourage others to start wrapping things up as they see that people are done eating, and even if it doesn’t, it will at least make it easier for you to start doing so.
Whatever you do this holiday season, whether you go to visit family or refuse, throw a party or stay cozy at home, or buy out the toy store and the clothing boutique, have fun. Your child’s first holidays will be unmemorable for them, but you will always treasure those moments.
Take lots of photos and live in the moment as often as you can. Drink up these irreplaceable memories and know that whatever decisions you make are the right ones for you and your family.