Christmas with a new baby is a magical time. There’s the carefully coordinated holiday family portrait. The specially selected outfit. The time with loved ones under the gentle twinkle of fairy lights, and the bibs, stockings and decorations declaring ‘Baby’s First Christmas’. However, the fact is, baby’s first Christmas can be as fragile as the glass bauble the tagline is etched on.
For many people, this time of year already carries as much baggage as a trunkful of presents at a Griswold family reunion. Introduce a new baby into the mix, and it can dial the intensity up even further. On the other hand, by making a few decisions ahead of time, you might just navigate the season unscathed.
Set your boundaries early
“When we have a baby, the need to set boundaries is even greater, because we are not only setting boundaries on behalf of ourselves, but also the baby and your small family unit,” says psychologist and author Dr Marny Lishman.
If you don’t want to travel cross-country with a six-week-old, car seat, stroller, portable cot and baby bag on December 24th, that’s completely understandable. Likewise, if you can’t fit your in-laws into your two bedroom apartment with a new baby, it’s OK to suggest a hotel. What’s important is that you think this through, let everyone know well in advance, and stick to your decision.
Sounds simple in theory, but we all know that’s not always the case IRL.
“It can be incredibly stressful to speak up, particularly when you know someone might get offended,” says Marny, so consider what will help alleviate the situation. Having your partner in agreement is probably the most crucial thing, since there’s strength in numbers. For example, you might send presents early, to show you’re thinking about them. Or, if you’re giving the Christmas get-together a miss entirely, diarise a reunion now for a few weeks (or months) down the track, so they have something to look forward to.
Manage other people’s expectations
Most likely, you’ve already learned the hard way that babies love routine and prefer to be around people they know, otherwise they can get overstimulated and cranky. And let’s face it, whether you’re nine weeks or 90 years old, Christmas can be a bit of an overload.
Problem is, everyone wants to see the baby. Everyone wants to hold the baby. Everyone wants to take photos of the baby, including Great Aunt Esme, who just wanted a picture of the baby sleeping (understandable) but had to use a flash because the room was so dark (unacceptable).
We get it – they’re excited! But clearly they’ve forgotten the mega-meltdowns that can so easily ensue, so don’t be afraid to gently tell people that the newest family member needs a break. A good hack is to keep them in a carrier with a thousand clasps; even the pushiest relative won’t be able to manoeuvre their way into that.
Take it off your plate
Christmas can be physically exhausting. Add a new baby to the festive equation and it can all get a bit much, fast. If you can, say no to any holiday responsibilities you’re not up to, especially if you’ve just given birth.
You may have always been the one who’s hosted Christmas dinner, made the gravy or steamed the plum pudding. But this year, with a new baby, give yourself get a free pass to do absolutely nothing. Otherwise, delegate, negotiate or simply cheat. Ordering something ready-made, or opting for gift vouchers instead of present shopping won’t hurt for just one year.
Curb your present enthusiasm
The Grinch was onto something. Despite exceptional marketing campaigns from every retailer on the planet, Christmas isn’t found in the local mall. It pays to be realistic about the financial impact the season can have. Babies are expensive, and if you’re on unpaid leave with a small kid, or facing medical bills post-birth, Christmas can really drain the hip pocket.
There’s also the question of what to get for your new baby. Every parent wants to give their kid the earth, but don’t feel the need to go overboard. They genuinely will not remember, and even once they’re a little older, they’ll most likely enjoy playing with wrapping paper more than the presents.
Manage your own expectations
Lastly, accept reality. Christmas is not an offensively inoffensive Hallmark movie with a happy ending. It carries huge emotional weight, and it can get messy. Everyone wants a baby’s first Christmas to be special. Sometimes, however, the greatest gift can be to make sure your new family is safe, secure and together.