How to Have a Happier (and Less Hormonal) Holiday Season Post-Baby
If you have a new baby, the once-exciting holiday season can seem like yet another hurdle to navigate as you try to adjust to your new lifestyle as a mom. Princess Ivana offers some
tried-and-true tips to help you enjoy the weeks ahead without burning out or breaking down.
Los Angeles, CA (December 2012)—The holidays can be hectic, stressful, emotionally charged, and at times, overwhelming. You’re under a lot of pressure: for your house to be decorated a certain way, to look nice and be charming at social events, to host and feed family members, to buy the perfect gifts and wrap them flawlessly, and so (so!) much more. That’s under normal circumstances. And let’s face it: If you’re a new mom, your life is anything but normal. You’re hormonal, emotional, and easily frustrated. You’re tired all the time. And even though you’re overwhelmed with love for your child, you’re also overwhelmed by the new responsibilities stretching out in front of you.
Princess Ivana Pignatelli Aragona Cortes understands. Add a new baby to the usual December chaos, and you can easily have a recipe for the holiday blues on your hands.
“It may seem like everyone else around you is having a great time, and they expect you to feel the same way—after all, you have a brand-new bundle of joy in your life!” says Ivana, who is a featured blogger at Modern Mom, founder of Princess Ivana—The Modern Princess, and coauthor of the upcoming book A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year. “But if you’re feeling more like Scrooge than Tiny Tim, don’t worry. You’re normal, and so are the post-baby holiday blues.”
Ivana speaks from experience. While she’s a modern-day princess, she comes from modest means and met her Prince Charming while on scholarship at Pepperdine. What’s more, she has worked with children for over twenty years, has a master’s degree in education, and is a digital strategy consultant. But Ivana’s most valuable source of education by far, she says, is her experience as a mother of two.
“When you have a baby—especially your first—you can feel like you’re being constantly bombarded with lessons from the School of Hard Knocks, no matter how many books you’ve read or pieces of advice you’ve been given beforehand,” Ivana points out. “You’re operating on low (or nonexistent) margins of time and energy. Your hormones can make you feel like a weepy, angry, irrational alternate-universe-version of yourself. So yes, fulfilling holiday expectations and obligations can definitely turn from cheer to chore in a hurry. Adding more things to your to-do list when you’re already exhausted and just trying to make it through each day can seem totally overwhelming.”
If you’re feeling more blue than red-and-green as you consult your holiday calendar, read on for ten of Ivana’s tips to help you minimize stress…and maybe even enjoy the season more than you thought you would:
Know the signs. First, it’s important to acknowledge to yourself that feeling tired, overwhelmed, emotional, and less-than-festive is normal. There’s no need to worry—and definitely no need to beat yourself up—if getting one more load of laundry done before your baby wakes up (or before you crash) is more important to you than preparing the perfect hors d’oeuvre for the upcoming family potluck.
“However, it’s important for all new moms to know about and watch for post-partum depression,” Ivana warns. “If you are feeling altogether detached and uninterested in the holidays, if you notice a big change in your attitude from last year, or if you feel persistently sad and/or angry, you may be experiencing something more serious. Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.”
Make a (reasonable) to-do list. As is the case for many things in life, being prepared for navigating the holidays is half the battle. When you have a plan in place, those inevitable bouts of stress, frustration, and sadness will be less likely to derail you. So as soon as you can, make a list of the things you want to do and accomplish over the next few weeks, whether that’s attending certain events, putting up your favorite decorations, or hosting friends and family. Most of all, make your list REASONABLE.
“Writing out pages and pages of tasks to accomplish will make you more crazy, not less,” Ivana promises. “So choose five or six things to accomplish, max. When it comes to your holiday-with-baby plan, less is best. You can always add on more as you go if you feel up to it. I promise, having the most important priorities listed in writing will help you to feel more in control of things, especially during those moments when it’s tough to focus on anything other than soothing the crying baby in your arms. Also, keep in mind that now is not the time to list big projects or cleaning tasks. Wait until after the new year to finally clean out your closet or scrub the baseboards, for example!”
Buy in bulk. Even without a baby, it’s practically inevitable that you’ll forget to pick up a present for someone, need something for a Secret Santa exchange, or have to scrounge up a hostess gift. Save yourself some hassle and buy something generic and universally appealing in bulk. For example, you can kill two birds with one stone and grab a case of wine while you’re out picking up the economy-size box of diapers. Or buy some gift cards to your favorite coffee shop while you’re (most likely) grabbing a caffeine fix to help you power through your errands.
“Needing to frantically find a last-minute gift can cause a meltdown even when you’re not burdened by an infant carrier and diaper bag,” points out Ivana. “Having some just-in-case gifts on hand will give you peace of mind, which money can’t buy. And if you don’t end up using them, just save them for birthdays, anniversaries, etc. in 2013!”
Let go. In other words, let yourself off the hook. Remember, you are not Martha Stewart, and no one’s holiday actually looks like a real-life Pinterest board. You don’t have to put out every.single.decoration. Your tree does not have to be magazine-photo worthy. You do not have to bake cookies or have the best dress at your husband’s holiday party. It’s okay if everyone on your list gets gift cards this year. Most importantly, it’s fine if you’re a little more frazzled than usual, and it’s perfectly acceptable to focus more on making it through the day than celebrating the season.
“Don’t set crazy expectations for yourself,” urges Ivana. “As a new mom, your most important responsibility is taking care of yourself and your baby, not decking the halls. And realize that if some (or all) of those things on your list don’t happen, it’s okay. The holidays will go on. No one will die. Be okay with that! Give yourself a pass—to back off, to leave some of the decorations packed, to be less social, to cry—you just had a baby!”
Say no to something. Depending on your personality type, cutting back on your holiday celebrations may come as a welcome relief. On the other hand, the thought of not following through with your typical holiday plans may cause you to fight back panic! If the latter sounds familiar, don’t worry; no one is going to force you to stay home. Still, says Ivana, you need to make concessions to the fact that your life is fundamentally different.
“The one thing you can be sure of is that with an infant, lots of things won’t go according to plan,” she assures. “And with the cocktail of hormones, lack of sleep, and major change you’re dealing with, you probably won’t be able to consistently predict your own moods and preferences, either. So even if you’re a social butterfly, give yourself some wiggle room by choosing just one ‘major’ thing to cut this year. Don’t send out Christmas cards. Don’t have a big bake-a-thon. Don’t host Christmas dinner. Taking even one thing off your plate can help to relieve stress and anxiety…and chances are, you’ll be glad you cut yourself some slack.”
Order online. Being out and about in large crowds, bombarded with bright lights, noise, and (possibly) cold temperatures can be overstimulating and overwhelming even when you’re alone. If you’re shopping with an infant, the ante is upped tremendously. In addition to the pressure of checking everything off your list in time, you’ll be worried about your new baby: Is she too cold? Is he comfortable? Does she need to nurse soon? Not to mention the facts that you’ll be more tired than usual, and dirty diapers and tantrums tend to happen at the most inopportune times.
“Avoid situations that may trigger anxiety by ordering gifts you can get online or in a drive-thru (restaurant gift cards, for example) to save yourself some stress,” Ivana advises. “Chances are, most of your family and friends will be more excited to see the new arrival than they will be to open a gift, anyway!”
Don’t overdo it. When you are feeling vulnerable or overly emotional, it’s all too easy to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Overeating and overspending are two very common culprits, and the holidays are full of opportunities for going overboard on both.
“I definitely don’t want to lay a guilt trip on you if you happen to slip up over the next few weeks,” Ivana clarifies. “My point is simply this: Be honest with yourself about how you’re likely to handle extra stress, uncertainty, and frustration. If you know that holiday treats or super-sales will be a temptation, be extra wary, and don’t be afraid to ask for support and help. Having a healthier support system in place can head off a lot of regret, which might only perpetuate the overeating or overspending cycle after the holidays are done.”
Know your triggers and designate a go-to supporter. We all have triggers that make us angry, upset, or frustrated. And it’s a fact of life that a lot of those triggers are present during the holidays: your impossible-to-please mother-in-law, the brother you’ve never really gotten along with, the social unease you feel at big events, and much more. Since it’s normal for your emotions and anxieties to be magnified after having a baby, it’s important to identify these triggers beforehand so that you can avoid as much stress as possible.
“Eliminate as many triggers as you can,” Ivana suggests. “For instance, as I’ve already mentioned, you don’t have to go to every party, so pare down your social calendar. And for triggers you can’t eliminate, such as a disagreeable relative, have a strategy ready to nip trouble in the bud. You might say, for example, ‘I know you disagree with some of my parenting methods, Aunt Edna, but my husband and I are doing what is best for our family. Let’s talk about something more pleasant.’ And no matter what the situation is, remember, you can use the fact that you’re a new mother with an infant to care for as an out—after all, it’s true! And your well-being, as well as your child’s, should be your first priority.
“Lastly, I recommend setting up a support system before the holidays are in full tilt,” she continues. “Have someone, whether it’s your husband, a friend, or your mother, you know you can talk to when you start feeling overwhelmed. When I was a new mother, I found it helpful to talk to girlfriends who had been in my shoes and knew what I was going through. They didn’t mind listening to my rants and worries, and they were able to assure me with the voice of experience that I would make it through the present crisis!”
Ask for help. Whether you make a list and send your husband out to do the shopping, hire a mother’s helper or babysitter so you can catch up on chores or run some errands, or invest in a house-cleaning service, give yourself the gift of help.
“No matter how well prepared you were for your baby’s arrival, the bottom line is that you have a lot to do, and at times, you’ll feel like you literally can’t add another thing to your plate,” Ivana points out. “Chances are, you have some family and friends (especially women who have been in your shoes) who would love to help share the load. And as long as you stay within your budget, trading some money for extra time or saved sanity is a great investment.”
Focus on your family. Commercial hype does its best to make us forget this fact, but the truth is, the best part of the holidays isn’t gifts or décor or parties—it’s the chance to focus on your loved ones. If you’re a new mom, you have lots to celebrate on that front.
“Make sure all the ‘other stuff’ that comes with the holidays doesn’t become first priority,” Ivana urges. “Set aside time to be with your family. Whether it’s a quiet night in enjoying a movie, sitting around a lit tree, attending a religious service together, or sharing a meal, focusing in on what really matters this year will give you peace and help you to tap into that joy you’re looking for.”
“Yes, banishing the ‘bah, humbugs’ can be a challenge with a new baby,” Ivana concludes. “But feeling the fa-la-la spirit is possible. The key to navigating the next few weeks is knowing what to expect, being reasonable, planning ahead, and most of all, cutting yourself some slack! Above all, stay in tune with your mental and physical needs, as well as those of your baby, and don’t be afraid to make whatever changes are necessary to keep both of you healthy and happy.”
About Princess Ivana:
Ivana is the author of the upcoming book A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year, which was cowritten with her mother, Magdalene Smith, and her sister, Marisa Smith. Their blog, Princess Ivana—The Modern Princess, is a blend of humor, practical advice, and lifestyle tips on the essentials. Ivana is also a featured blogger on Modern Mom.