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The holidays are serious business these days. The strain of endless commitments, events and obligations can take it's toll on the most committed celebrant among us; if you happen to be in late pregnancy or any stage of postpartum, it can quickly become overwhelming. There are a few things you can do right now to stave off the inevitable holiday chaos and carve out space for a peaceful, sacred, and truly relaxing season. It will take some work, and may require skipping out on some fun things and replacing them with life-giving things. If there was ever a time to be intentional with your calendar, it is now, good reader. A peaceful postpartum is possible- from October all the way to the New Year.
1. Ask for postpartum things for Christmas
Put it on the wish list: A postpartum doula, housekeeper, cook, spa day, or even gift certificates to your favorite takeout places. Ask for things that will help YOU thrive.
2. Plan YOU time first
Let’s be real- time for yourself won’t happen in normal mom life, let alone during the holidays. So plan it out! Calendar in a few hours here and there for whatever recharges you- alone time, a nap, time with girlfriends or out of the house. Treat this scheduled time as you would a paying job- compromise for nothing.
3. Get your people on board
Get your partner and kids on board with the fact that health during postpartum (or nesting in late pregnancy) is the most important thing you’re doing this season, and everything else happens only after making sure your family is prepared and nourished during the introduction of a new member. Break out the calendar together and plan out your time, including big chunks of family time, rest time, and do-nothing time. Leave more space open than you think you’ll need, because inevitably things will come up that will require your time and attention. Compromise these all-important categories for nothing short of major crisis.
4. Anticipate the needs
Planning ahead couldn’t me more important in your peaceful postpartum, especially around the holidays. Finish gift shopping and wrapping as early as possible. Make and freeze holiday food and meals for the next few months (ready-made meals are a best friend during the holidays, homecooked or found in the freezer section of your nearest grocery). Stock up on host gifts and have a list of family time options and events (for those relax days when you’d rather go and do instead of sit and rest).
Also plan by cancelling commitments, delegating responsibilities, and clearing out the family calendar for the holidays. The more you plan, the less likely you are to become overwhelmed.
5. Ask early
You’ll need help in postpartum- with dishes, childcare, laundry, getting a nap here and there-even when delivering around the holidays. Ask early for close friends and family (or those you might hire) to set aside time to help out. The earlier you ask, the more help you’ll have.
6. Limit commitments
Make sure everyone knows that you won’t be taking on responsibilities and holiday commitments this year. Secret sauce of success: Practice how you’ll politely decline before the invitations come up, so that you are not stranded with 'yes’s' because the 'no’s' didn’t come quickly enough. It is perfectly acceptable to say “That sounds amazing, but I won’t be able to participate this year” or“I'm sorry, but we’re busy that day”- because you ARE busy resting and staying healthy. No need to explain. No shame.
7. Find alternatives
Traditions are beautiful, but can be way too labor-intensive for the postpartum season. It's wise to consider alternatives to what you normally do that are easier and less consuming, but still give the family that grounding and joy that come from your traditions. A few ideas to get you started:
- Volunteering at a soup kitchen: Instead, purchase meals for the soup kitchen with a donation. Or drop off some holiday groceries to the food bank on the way home from the grocery store.
- Baking cookies: Premade dough is your friend this year. Feel no guilt about buying a few tubs and going to town. Same with Gingerbread House Kits.
- Holiday Meals: Order takeout from a favorite restaurant or from a restaurant with hearty, holiday-meal food. If you want, you can focus on other holiday staples—purchasing cider, eggnog, cinnamon rolls and a few pies is not the same workload as creating a holiday dinner from scratch, Decorate the table as you normally would to give it the whole thing the same holiday flair.
- Gifts: keep it simple with giftcards, activity or event vouchers or memberships, and shipping directly to the recipient (three cheers for no giftwrap or out-of-the-house shopping!). Consider purchasing certain items in bulk (such as a case of wine for host gifts) and where possible, gifting items that multiple people would enjoy to cover a lot of ground in one shopping trip or online order. Nix this year: handmade items, time-intensive gifts.
8. Change up the Gifts
If your family is big on gift giving, now may be a good time to consider scaling back. There are a lot of ways to do this, but when shopping for kids I really like Jen Hatmakers idea: Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read, and something to give (that they can shop for to give to another less fortunate). For extended family, create a name-draw where each person only buys for one other.
9. Less is way more this year
Gifts, traditions, plans, all of it. Keep it simple. An idea for decorating: make it a family affair if it’s not already, and decorate in phases, planning to do the most important things only. If you’re enjoying yourselves and want to do more, great. If not, the tree is up. Good enough.
10. Get out of the house
It might feel good to get out of the house, and the holidays can be a perfect time to enjoy good company and food just for showing up. Sit down with your family and decide on a few things that you’d like to attend together throughout the season. Only consider events that have an open-ended RSVP (if there’s a specific head count/you can’t show up or back out at the last minute, strike it from the list.) Once decided, work with the hosts to make sure a loose RSVP is acceptable so that if you don’t show, there will be no hard feelings. The day of the event, assess how you feel, and if it feels like too much, cancel the plans. (Feel no guilt. Social rules about attendance don’t apply in postpartum. It’s ok if people don’t understand.) One note about events: you may want to avoid the things where you have to dress up and posture a lot. These are stressful without a newborn; with a newborn, forget it. Not even worth it.
The calendar can morph into an unruly beast this time of year, and before you know it, you're juggling a newborn, regular life, and a million commitments that leave you gasping for air. Please remember this, good reader: You don't HAVE TO do anything. Here are the things: 1) Work-related commitments for which you will get fired based on attendance or performance 2) Yourself and your family.
Regardless of how people will feel, what they'll say, even how much they love you and want to see you-- you don't HAVE TO do any single other thing. Be free of social expectation. Assess how you feel, cancel (or better yet, don't commit in the first place) as needed, and be free to create a peaceful postpartum. Even during the holidays.
Three cheers for protecting you and yours from holiday chaos!