Staying Home Instead
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 2, March-April 2000, pp. 49-51
We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.
"Staying Home Instead" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
Before I had my baby, holiday gatherings were the highlight of my year. I cooked for weeks, decorated our home, and always had lots of company, both for meals and as overnight guests. I loved it. But now, I cringe at the thought that the holiday season is almost here. How can I find time to make the seasonal dishes that everyone loves or clean for company when I can barely find time to sleep? And having all that company to take care of would definitely deprive my baby of his mother. How can I balance my baby's needs, my love of holiday extravagances, and everyone's expectation that this year will be just like all the past years?
I also consider the holidays from Thanksgiving through the New Year to be the highlight of my year. As a "Martha Stewart wannabe" and a perfectionist in recovery, I lived, ate, and breathed decorating, cooking, entertaining, making cards, and shopping for gifts. Since I decided to stay at home after the birth of my baby, I initially expected to be able to do even more than before. However, my high-need child was only seven months old and was still waking up two or three times a night when the holidays rolled around last year. It was all too apparent that the standards of Christmas Past would not work for Christmas Present. As much as I hated to, I had to let go of some things. I first cut out the things that did not have a high joy-to-time-spent ratio for me, such as handmade cards, elaborate gift-wrapping, and complicated cooking. I then assessed how I could do the remaining things in a way that allowed me to meet my son's needs as well as my needs. For example, I entertained fewer times and accepted my guests' offers to help by bringing desserts or appetizers. I made only two kinds of cookies instead of five. I enlisted the help of two neighborhood girls as "Mommy's helpers" and used that time to clean and complete tasks that were more efficiently done without interruptions.
What helped me to make these changes were two realizations: 1) Scaling back for one or two holiday seasons did not mean scaling back forever, and 2) In reality, I was the only person who truly held the expectation that the current holiday would (and should) be just like all the past years. In looking back, I am pleased to say that no one seemed to miss the things we didn't do, and we all had a wonderful, relatively stress-free holiday. This year my son is 19 months old and I have been able to add a few more activities to my plate, largely due to the help of two dear friends whom I met through LLL and who have children my son's age. We swap child care and have gotten together for cookie-baking sessions. And although I am able to do more this holiday season than last, I seem to be perfectly content with my new simpler approach. I hope for this year, you too will embrace the notion that "less is okay" and enjoy the holidays with your new family.
Tigard OR USA
Holidays with a baby in tow have been difficult for me. One of our solutions was to shop by ordering from catalogs or on the Internet. Some of these places even gift-wrap! I feel that decorating will become less of a chore when our children are older, for now, we've tried to simplify things. We only taped a few holiday-themed cardboard cutouts up on the windows this year. I have also heard of people who get a smaller tree and put it inside a playpen or on a secure table to keep it safe from a small child. Cooking is much easier with a slow cooker. You can put something in it hours before a meal, when you have a chance, and it will be ready when you want it. I gave up all the extra baking and no one seems to mind. In fact, there are so many cookies and treats wherever we go at that time of year that we don't miss anything. Maybe we even stay a little healthier for not having them at home! Most important for us has been to remember that the best part of the holidays is having peace and love around us. Our family appreciates the time just as much, or more, when I remain peaceful and loving throughout the day than when I provide lots of gifts and treats but stress out and maybe even lose my temper.
Boulder Creek CA USA
Trying to get everything ready for a home invasion of relatives can certainly test one's housekeeping abilities. You may have to scale back your holiday extravagances for a few years. Reduce your participation now by letting everyone know that you are trying out "new traditions" this year (they don't have to know you are actually downscaling your part). As for meals, how about farming out parts of meals to guests by asking them to bring a salad or dessert? Or, if you can afford it, pick up some ready-made dishes at the local supermarket. It will be more expensive than if you cooked it, but the savings in anxiety to you can be well worth the cost. The less you actually have to do, the more time you can spend with your little one.
One method I've used to prepare for visitors is to make a list of everything I need to do to get the house ready (only in the areas which will be seen) and then schedule the chores. That way, I wasn't overwhelmed with the amount of work to be done and once I did the chore(s) for the day, the pressure was off.
Lastly, tell your guests to feel at home and they will often times pick up on this and do for themselves. You can also ask for help from them. Most people, especially when visiting someone with a baby, will be more than happy to help, if you suggest something specific for them to do. I'm sure that your visitors would gladly lighten your load.
Franklin MA USA
Holidays can be so much fun with a baby in the family! Look at this holiday season as a "new beginning" for you and your family. When you and your husband combined to make a family you probably combined holiday traditions, which have now become yours. Your new baby gives you another opportunity to develop traditions that fit your family's style and beliefs.
Anyone who would expect this holiday to be the same extravaganza as it was when you didn't have a baby is being unrealistic. Write down the things that really make the holidays special for you: what you really enjoy and would miss if it didn't happen. Then, pick the top two and make them happen for your family this year. Forget the rest of the things you used to do. You'll have time to do them in the future. Children really make any holiday special because they see the holiday for what it is—a time to celebrate family, community, and love.
Lawrence KS USA
Bravo for recognizing that your baby's needs would be compromised if you tried to do what you've done in the past! That said, I totally understand where you're coming from. My husband and I were married 11 years before starting our family, so there were many years to build traditions of decorating, entertaining, and an annual cocktail party. The first step is simply recognizing that you can't do it all anymore.
Maybe you could choose a few events that mean the most to you and leave the rest for future years when your child is older. Our annual, sophisticated cocktail party became a daytime open house this year. Since we so rarely go anywhere without our children, we wanted to have a more family-oriented gathering. When our two boys are older, we can go for the fancy evening parties again.
As far as cleaning goes, letting go of the expectation of perfection is a very freeing experience. Before children, I made sure my house was spotless before any guest arrived. Now my house has hand-printed windows and dried macaroni and crumbs under the kitchen table and I think how others must feel really good about how much cleaner their house is than mine! A sense of humor is important when you're dealing with the pain of change! Pat yourself on the back for taking care of your baby. There will always be future opportunities to make those seasonal dishes, but you only have one chance with your little one. Starting the process now of experiencing the holidays with your baby in mind will help you transition into the new, joyful traditions of your expanded family.
Mindy J. Wittekiend
Marietta GA USA
This is one of those situations where it may help to adjust your expectations. I'm a great one for writing lists. It may help to take a sheet of paper and divide it in three columns. In the left column, write everything you would love to do for the holidays. In the right column write the bare minimum you need to do, and use the middle column to come up with new ways to celebrate that will promote mother and baby closeness. Our holidays aren't the same as they used to be. Our activities have changed. It would never occur to me before I had children to park and walk by all the decorated houses in our neighborhood more than once in a season. Even a little baby bundled in a sling enjoys the colorful lights. Gathering a group together to walk around a neighborhood and sing is festive with minimal work. My holiday parties are potluck so I only have to make one dish. Everyone takes home their leftovers so there is a minimum to clean up. And you could not get better food. It was hard to give up what I was used to, but I've found much joy in our new, easier celebrations.
Palos Verdes CA USA
When my children were small and I was having a holiday party at my home I often made many lists. I delegated different dishes to different family members to bring. I made sure there were items from all of the food groups so that our meal was balanced. If there are specific foods your family cannot eat, specify this ahead of time. I asked people who cannot or do not like to cook to bring paper plates, plastic silverware, or drinks. A quick centerpiece could be a big bowl of fruit!
It should be fun to get together with family, not stressful. Keep meals as simple as possible. If there are older children coming they can make some simple decorations with crayons, construction paper, scissors, and glue sticks. I also find that playing holiday music helps everyone to stay in a good mood.
If your baby seems overwhelmed, use a sling or retreat into the bedroom for a little bit of quiet time. It is the very lucky child who gets to be surrounded by family for the holidays!
Buffalo Grove IL USA