The holidays are a time to gather with friends and family. And this year, you have something truly worth celebrating: the arrival of your infant. But this life-changing event means more than just a baby to show off; it also means you'll have a different holiday season, one marked by a deeper sense of family, shifts in your relationships, and, yes, a higher stress level. Rather than pulling out all the stops, it's more important to slow down and savor the moments that will make this your most special holiday yet. We've put together a guide to doing just that.
Expect Stranger AnxietyHaving a baby is a family affair, and this may be your first opportunity to show off your little one. But remember: Meeting new people can be overwhelming. Stranger anxiety pops up around 8 months. To reduce the chances of a freak-out when your father-in-law tries to scoop up your child, give her some time to warm up to him. Ask relatives to offer your baby a toy and wait for her to slowly come to them.
Try your best to keep your baby healthy this time of year. Winter is the season for catching bugs, and group gatherings are the perfect place for them to make their move. If your baby is under 2 months and not yet immunized, Dr. McCarthy suggests keeping her away from crowds and being cautious about who holds her. In fact, her immune system is not fully developed until about 6 months. So while you can't live in a bubble during the holidays, you should ask those around you to wash their hands and keep away if they're sick
Don't Drown in Decorations and GiftsWant to have plenty under the tree for your baby? Don't knock yourself out. Your little guy hasn't grasped the concept of "gifts" just yet, so you're doing it more for yourself than for him. "My husband and I didn't buy any presents for Parker's first Christmas," says Rebecca Macdonald, of Aurora, Colorado. "He was only 4 months old and wouldn't remember anyway." It's true -- your baby's not going to remember the holiday, and he certainly won't understand that what he's receiving are "gifts." Instead of showering him with a present for each night of Hanukkah, give him something that he'll always cherish such as a stuffed animal or a picture frame with a photo of him. The same logic holds when you decorate, as Shannon Salamone, of New York City -- mom to Avery, now 1 -- discovered last year. "I was going crazy with the tree," she recalls. "I looked over at her, thinking she'd be fascinated, but she couldn't have cared less."
Keep Things SaneBetween cooking, entertaining, and wrapping dozens of gifts, your to-do list is a mile long. Your baby can sense your stress too. "Don't put so much pressure on yourself to make the holiday perfect," says Kate Cronan, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at Jefferson Medical College, in Philadelphia. "For your baby it's no different from any other day." As you're bouncing from party to party or hitting the road, try to keep to your child's schedule. There's nothing like a crabby baby to sap the holiday spirit, and nothing sends a baby into a downward spiral faster than skipping a nap or a meal. "You need to have realistic expectations," says Edith McCarthy, MD, a neonatologist and founder of Care Intensive Pediatrics, in New York City. "Even if he goes down for his nap late, you should still try to get it in." Or you can get creative with your planning. "Our twins, Lyra and Sophia, were 10 months old last Christmas, and we decided to have our holiday dinner after they went to bed," says Shannon Cherry, of Albany, New York. "During the day they tried some of the foods, but when it came down to a big feast, we didn't have to worry about entertaining them. It gave us time to enjoy the holiday too."
Amidst the frenzy of the season, it's easy to lose sight of what's really important. So this year, with the arrival of your family's newest member, there's no better time to start a tradition. "When you have a baby, the sense of family becomes more significant," says Robin Goodman, PhD, a New York City psychologist specializing in children and family. "Look to your own past and see if there is something you can pass along to this newest generation. Tradition is about the comfort of routine but it also connects people and generations to each other." You don't have to go all out: Even just a photo in front of the tree or a favorite song you sing together can give the holidays special meaning and be the highlight that your family looks forward to each year.Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the December 2007 issue of Parents magazine.