The holiday season is filled with joy, big expectations, and major performance anxiety for me. Being surrounded by family in close quarters makes me feel like I’m being watched. According to the year on my birth certificate, I’m a grown up. I’m supposed to know what I’m doing: what to serve for dinner or how to help in someone else’s kitchen; how to handle my child’s sleep needs while traveling; and what traditions are being carried in my newly created family and which are being left behind as memories of generations past. (See ya in the history books, fruitcake.)
Perhaps I’m just paranoid. Maybe you feel supported and lifted up by all the love when you hunker down at your parents’ house for a few days. But if it’s a mixed bag or you do relate to my feelings of angst, read on.
Here are a few tips I’ve put together after eight holiday seasons in this dual role of mother and child.
1. Verbalize your needs.
Just like your husband cannot read your mind, nor can your extended family. Saying, “We’ve become early risers since Liam was born, so we’ll go ahead and have cereal on our own instead of waiting for everyone,” is actually helpful to your hosts. It might even liberate them to take their own sweet time in morning and not rush around trying to meet you for breakfast that you don’t even care about. If you need a quiet space for a bedtime ritual, make sure to ask for it, rather than stewing because your brother-in-law has the television volume up loud.
2. Take breaks.
It’s okay to pop out for a walk or lie down with a magazine while your baby naps. Together time does not require 24/7 active visiting. Again, discuss your plan so that you don’t feel guilty about it. Blame your baby if you like, “She’s a little fussy, so I’m going to take her for a quick walk.” Or, if you have willing participants, use the opportunity to take a break from your baby. “Can Stella watch football with you guys? I want go out on the porch to call my girlfriends for the holidays.”
3. Help however you can.
It’s a big hurdle to go from being the newbie mom who can barely remember it’s dinner time to being a gracious host or guest, but knowing that you’ve made the effort might make you feel more comfortable with how the whole visit goes. Stuck on a couch breastfeeding for 40 minutes every other hour? Bring store bought items with you: a spread of veggies and dips; wine; or dessert. If your baby-free time allows, ask to be put to work chopping, unloading the dishwasher, or setting the table.
4. Practice accepting help.
We are not all good at this; in fact, I’m terrible. It takes some trial and error to learn which aspects of life you are comfortable turning over to other people. Most grandmothers would love nothing more than to give a baby a bottle. If you can make that happen for your mother or stepmother, consider it a gift to them. Be ready for the question, “Is there anything I can do?” and make it work for you. Is there lettuce in your fridge that needs washing? Do you wish your phone was charging, but you are trapped under a sleeping baby? Did you run out of diapers and need someone to make a run to the store? My obstetrician told me very early in my pregnancy to say “Yes” to every offer I received.
It’s a holiday! You have food! A roof! A family! Now that you’re the mom, you get to decide how these occasions will be made special. Your little one might be too young to watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas or to make pumpkin pie with Bubbe, but he can pose for a picture with the whole clan, get passed around for multi-generational snuggles, and begin learning the faces that make up his family tree.