Surviving the Holidays with an Infant

The holiday season is a greatly anticipated throughout the year, and for most of us signifies a time to be with family near and far, spread joy to others and enjoy a season of giving. However, for a parent with young children, especially a brand new baby, it can seem incredibly overwhelming to think about how to tackle everything during the holidays.

Did you know there are at least a dozen holiday themed parades in your hometown, or that you can create an ornament out of your tree trunk every year? Did you know the neighbors are hosting a gingerbread house competition? Remember all the Christmas-themed posts you saved on Pinterest? Better check those out! Not to mention the in-laws, who haven’t stopped talking about how much they’re going to “kiss those adorable little cheeks.” Oh, and matching family pajamas are on sale right now!

Woah. Who has time for all of that? You may find yourself wondering, how do I decide what to do and what to pass on? How can I say no to my family?

First step, take a long, deep breath. Next, consider some of these tips from Pine Rest’s Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder clinical specialty team* to help you get through the holidays!

Plan your boundaries ahead of time.

It goes without saying that protecting your new baby from germs is a top priority these days, so not wanting to pass baby around is a boundary you are entirely allowed to have.

Keep in mind some strategies that could help communicate unwanted contact with your little one:

  • Babywearing eliminates the “You’ve got your hands full; let me hold him for a while!” comment.
  • Having discussions with your extended family ahead of time to let them know your expectations can help eliminate awkward situations in the moment.
  • If you must communicate in the moment, try having a go-to phrase such as, “I can’t wait for you to hold her either, but we are going to hold off on that to protect her immune system for a little while longer.”

Remember, you and your partner are a team.

Just like on the field, the best teams have a plan going into their big games. How long will you stay? Is there a code-word to signal to your partner that you are ready to leave?

If you normally are comfortable nursing in public but need to sneak off to a quiet room for a break, be sure your partner isn’t going to question this in front of the crowd.

If you don’t want baby to try grandma’s sweet potato casserole even though Grandma is insisting, “It’s just like the sweet potatoes she had last night,” having your partner support you in this decision can be incredibly helpful.

Don’t forget that once boundaries are decided on, they may have to be communicated to extended family. You take your family; your partner can take on their family.  

Communicate with your partner.

Adding a baby to the scene adds a lot to your plate. Maybe in previous years you could handle all the shopping and wrapping and packing. Maybe this year, it’s a bit too much!

If you are feeling overwhelmed with your responsibilities, try delegating tasks:

  • Make a list of all possible festivities.
  • Put a star next to the important ones.
  • Decide together how you’ll prioritize the things most important to your family this holiday season.

Depersonalize.

Being a parent in front of others inevitably results in comments that can sometimes feel like personal attacks.

  • If you’d like to drive your newborn around to look at holiday lights even though your neighbor reminded you, “she won’t even be able to see them from her car seat,” then drive around and look at lights.
  • If you want your toddler to eat four sugar cookies, he just proudly decorated even though you’ve been warned, “He’ll be bouncing off the walls tonight,” then take the time to enjoy those cookies.

You’ll hear unsolicited advice from others than can feel like judgment. Remember, do what works for your family, and if you must learn a hard lesson about the impact of sugar cookies, then so be it. But hey, you’ll remember that one-on-one time enjoying messy cookies together. The point is, the holidays are a time to celebrate, indulge, enjoy one another and be present in the magic of the season.

Packing.

It can feel like you are overpacking, but it it is okay to bring everything you will need for you and your baby! There might be pillows at the in-laws, but nothing works like that breastfeeding pillow you have at home. Bottle brushes? Four extra pacifiers? A whole bag of extra toys? Bring them all if makes you feel better!

On the flip side of this, it is also okay to bring the bare minimum. If you forget something, remember there are stores everywhere and there is likely something where you are traveling that will work in a pinch! Think about if other people have kids and what they will be bringing that you might be able to leave at home, like a bottle warmer or bath toys.

Stick to your routine.

Kids thrive on routine and structure. This has been proven through research and in our own experiences. Once you find the magical routine that works well for your family, the threat of shaking it up could be enough to deny invitations. Spend time challenging some black-and-white thinking here.

  • What are possible options to still attend the company holiday party, while managing your evening routine with your kids?
  • Can you attend part of the event? Driving two cars can provide an optional emergency exit if needed. Feed your children when, and what, is normal for them.

This season can already be overly stimulating, adding hangry children who refuse to eat cranberry sauce is just not necessary. It’s totally OK if your kiddos eat peanut butter and jelly for their Christmas dinner.

It’s OK to say no.

Having little ones, especially brand-new little ones, usually prompts adamant invitations to all the holidays. Maybe in the past you’ve been able to attend Christmas celebrations across the state in one day. Now, more than ever, it’s okay to say no.

Offering alternatives can sometimes alleviate any guilt you may feel.

  • For example, “We aren’t going to make it on Christmas day this year but would love to visit the weekend after. Are you free?”
  • Or even better, invite them to your place so you don’t have to pack and can enjoy the comfort of your own home for the celebrations.

Traditions can be changed.

Once you have a little one of your own, holidays can be a very different experience and starting traditions is often something we think about for years before even having children. However, this can be really tricky if the traditions you’d like to start will conflict with traditions your family has had in the past.

For example, spending Christmas Eve at your childhood home might conflict with your desires to wake up on Christmas morning with your own little family in your own home. Plan, communicate in advance, and show a united front with your partner.  

Grief and loss.

Around the time of the holidays, loss—both new and old—seems to weigh at least twice as much. Pregnancy loss, infant loss and child loss can make this season feel insurmountable.

  • Maybe you want to skip the holidays.
  • Maybe you want to communicate ahead of time that you don’t want to discuss the loss at any gatherings.
  • Maybe you want to honor the loss with a candle that you light at each event.

Lean on support systems to talk about what you might need, brainstorm what will feel best for you, and communicate ahead of time.

Talk to a therapist

Planning with these tips in mind can help you to feel confident in whatever decisions you make. If you are having a difficult time applying these skills, or would just like extra support through the season, consider connecting with a therapist who could offer an unbiased perspective and help you identify what is most important to you during this time.


*The Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD) clinical specialty team includes psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and professional counselors – specially trained in treating PMAD (which includes postpartum depression and anxiety). They can provide services in person, via telehealth or a combination. Treatment is evidence-based, which means that over time they have been tested and found to provide predictable outcomes and long-term recovery.

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