Managing Christmas Chaos

Cards! Presents! Decorating! You can't do it all when you're a new mom. So, here's what to focus on--and what to give up.

Making the Holidays Manageable

I had twins in October four years ago, and while I was pregnant, I daydreamed about our first Christmas together, starting with a cheerfully decorated tree, a cute holiday card featuring our new family, and the smell of yummy cookies baking. I might as well have wished for a bright red nose that lit up. I didn't even have time to put up the Christmas lights that year. A family portrait? For real? You have to bathe and get dressed for things like that. That year, getting festive meant catching a nice Hallmark commercial on TV. I felt bad about being the Christmas slacker, but now I realize how pointless my guilt was. My newborns wouldn't remember that Christmas (or the next one either!). It's easy for the season to spin out of control, but you can enjoy the holidays without feeling as if you're tangled up in tinsel.

    Getting Organized

    I didn't know this then, but I should've prioritized. All I saw was a long and stressful yuletide to-do list, and I didn't break down the holiday into smaller parts. Some of those parts mattered to me, but others I could've thrown into my new diaper pail. "What are the three traditions you want to keep doing because they hold special memories for you?" asks Michelle Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions. When you have a newborn, give yourself permission to drop everything that's not in the top three. Everyone who cares about you will understand. "My baby was born on December 23," says Suzanne Murray, of Garrison, New York. "We didn't worry about the holidays. We just enjoyed our baby."

      The Presents

      When my twins were newborns, I spent a lot of time at the mall. It was an easy way to get out of the house while staying warm and hanging out with other moms. Because I was there anyway, you'd think I could have done the shopping. But between walking, feeding the twins, and changing diapers, I was lucky if I even made it to the food court for my own lunch. Plus, I had so much baby gear, I didn't have hands or space in the stroller to hold bags of presents. Buying gifts for everyone on the list is daunting and expensive. Shop online as much as possible, where you can easily compare prices. And gift cards are perfectly acceptable. Or there's another option: after having her twins last November, Dian Lofton, of Bloomfield, New Jersey, was showered with so many gifts that she asked everyone to please not give her family anything for Christmas. It sounds silly, but even unwrapping presents, putting them away, and writing thank-you notes can be too much. Explain to everyone that you're spent--emotionally and financially--and would love to skip the exchange of gifts this year. For friends and family who just can't help themselves, ask for an extension. You'll give them a present or take them out for lunch after you're back on your new-mom feet (read: you start getting some sleep). The one person you don't have to buy for is your baby--he'll receive plenty from everyone else. And if he doesn't, he'll never know.

        Trimming the Tree

        Once the twins were born, I never even got around to unpacking the ornaments. Our apartment looked exactly like it did the rest of the year, only with burp cloths dangling from every surface. The next year, I knew I'd miss the decorations if I did nothing, so I went all out. But that was stressful because my 1-year-olds kept mistaking ornaments for teething rings. The following year, my third baby was 4 months old, and I found a merry medium. I put up a pre-lit, 5-foot fake tree that we bought at a discount store, and I didn't decorate it. A little festivity was important, but killing ourselves decorating was not worth the hassle. So ask yourself what makes you happy. If you can't imagine Christmas without a tree, put your energy into setting one up and decorating. Even better, ask your husband to do it.

          Sending Cards

          Holiday cards involve a lot of handwriting plus the all-important picture of the new baby. To me, it was a big "bah humbug." But to be honest, I couldn't have lived with myself if I skipped the cards altogether, so I made a Web page with the kids' pictures on it. (This proved to be super easy for me--I used a baby-photo website.) I sent an email to my friends and family with the link.

          Tammy Bakos was also overwhelmed when her daughter was born in November. She took a photo of her baby with her pacifier in her mouth and one sock off. "The caption said, 'This is the best we could do on three weeks of very little sleep,' " Bakos says. Lofton fully intended to send off her cards. She purchased them before her boys were born, then put them on the table next to a pen, stamps, and envelopes. Her cards were still sitting on the table come February. She didn't feel bad about it; she just sent them out the next year, happy to cross something off the list.

          Originally published in the December 2009 issue of American Baby magazine.