A Whole New Holiday

Making yourbaby’s first holidays memorable and stress free

by gina roberts-grey

Your baby’s initial year is filled with countless ‘firsts’.  From his first smile to his first trip to the store, you commemorate every event and enter them in his journal to record his development and growth.  Despite all the excitement, a baby’s first holiday season can also be filled with amazing changes for you and your family.  Socially, physically and emotionally, everything about this holiday season will be drastically different from last year.

    Many parents aren’t prepared for the stress, pressures and emotions of their child’s first holiday season.  First time parents wonder how to temper their enthusiastic shopping with practicality and seasoned parents try to balance attention fairly among their children to ensure everyone has a memorable holiday.  You face a barrage of questions from family wanting to know what gift to get your baby and wonder how to acknowledge everyone in your baby’s life.

    Family therapist Ann Cooper MA, MF of Woodland Hills, CA helps families cope with the overwhelming pressures of a typical routine of baking and shopping for holiday gifts, and preparing for a baby’s first holiday season.  She reassures parents that a memorable first holiday season does not have to be a daunting task.  “I guide parents to focus on the joy of their family rather than the pressure of trying to emulate picture perfect stereotypes,” says Cooper.

    Cooper recommends enjoying the holidays as a family by incorporating some creative options that not only alleviate stress but also elevate your holiday spirit.  “Looking at this time of year as memorable instead of stressful is the first step to lowering your stress,” urges Cooper.    She also stresses that magnificent memories don’t have to be elaborate or expensive.  “Activities like reading a favorite family book together or walking in the newly fallen snow create beautiful memories geared around your new and growing family.”

Start early and be realistic

Many shoppers thrive on the hustle and bustle of letting the shopping days wind down before joining the ranks of those in search of the perfect gift.  Having a young child can facilitate the need to alter your shopping schedule a bit.  If you’re bringing along baby on your shopping quest, make sure he’s well rested and ready for the adventure. 

    Former high school teacher turned full-time mom of two young boys, Kim Scherrer of Lake Geneva, WI, learned quickly that a well stocked diaper bag can keep your shopping season bright.  Toting the blanket from his crib or a few extra toys for the stroller are especially soothing and helpful for a long day of holiday shopping.  “Having some of my baby’s comforts from home meant we all were able to productive at the busy mall,” notes the well prepared Scherrer.

    Keep in mind that the stimulating lights, sounds and crowds can cause the most even tempered children to become agitated.  Instead of shopping during heightened times, consider shopping mid day when many shoppers are working.  Many busy parents have also turned to catalog and internet shopping options as an alternative to taking children to busy malls. 

      If you’re destined to go to the stores for your holiday gifts, shopping in intervals that allow for rest breaks will increase your baby’s tolerance.  Kim also found partnering with a friend to go holiday shopping helpful.  “In case you find something you want to try on or need to go to the restroom, you can,” she adds. This also offers companionship and adult conversation during a long outing. 

      Taking a few minutes for him to feel connected to you can stave off a baby meltdown.  Using a break to read him a book and spend some time in your arms out of the stroller helps keep him from becoming agitated with the chaos of the day.  It also reduces your guilt for not having the time to spend doting on him because you’re preparing for the holidays. 

What should I get for the baby?

Well wishing relatives always enjoying showering a baby with gifts at the holidays.  You can eliminate standing in line to return duplicate items by registering your baby’s holiday wish list at your local toy or department store.  Several national chains offer gift registry services that can be accessed from either the internet or any store location. 

     The ironic tale of the child who enjoyed playing more with the box than the toy that came in it is actually quite accurate.  If your child has already amassed a treasure trove of gifts, consider setting up a college or savings account for holiday gift givers to contribute to.  Danielle and George Schmidtke of Nashville, TN found letting their family know that they’d like them to focus on their baby’s future quite helpful.  “We suggested giving our daughter gifts that would enhance her life and future was as excellent way to direct generous holiday benefactors.  Since she was little and didn’t have the concept of the holidays, she had a great time playing with a few small items, and now has a great nest egg started for her education,” George explains.

     If you’re looking for one of kind gifts for your baby to receive from special people in his life, consider a few personalized options or beginning a new family tradition in honor of your newest addition. 

     Start a family memories album for grandparents to add pages to.  Jan Petrovich’s Crystal lake, IL family opts for gifts that her kids can add to year after year.  “I love that pictures of our kids and our family create a warm cover for our book.”  Your loved ones can add stories, thoughts and messages of hope for your child to one volume, or add on like Jan’s family every year.  Another option is a video diary filled with interviews or candid shots of your baby’s loved ones celebrating your family’s holiday traditions.    

     A mother as well as a therapist, Cooper recommends offering spending time with your child as a wonderful gift option.  “Stressed parents will receive a well deserved break, while baby and extended family members have some valuable time to bond,” she suggests.   The chance to spend an afternoon taking a walk with his busy, working aunt, or swinging in the park with his uncle who is home from college is a great gift that builds memories and bonds that everyone will treasure.

Don’t forget yourself

It is easy to neglect paying attention to yourself and your partner during this heightened hectic time.  When their first child was born five days before Christmas, Jack and Deanne Nowak of Richmond, VA realized the importance of remembering that you’re also an adult as well as a parent.  Your relationship and holidays as a couple will be different from what you’re used to.  Although sharing the season with children adds a lovely and magical aspect, it also infringes on some intimacy and closeness you two previously shared alone.

      Taking time to share a cup of cocoa after baby’s gone to bed helps the two of you stay connected during this added chaos.  Jack fondly recalls that stage of their lives “We used the time to discuss upcoming New Year’s resolutions and our goals as a couple.”  Adds Deanne, “There were times when we’d sit together staring blankly, but at least we took time to sit together.”

     Consider hiring a trusted baby-sitter or scheduling an afternoon for your baby to spend with family members so the two of you can go to lunch or shop together.  Selecting items for your baby and extended family means you both can feel proud to bestow gifts on loved ones this year.

     The first holidays you spend with your child are certain to produce a variety of emotions and it is important to allot time to keep yourself mentally fresh.  Your baby will have a memorable holiday as long as you have a positive attitude because he’ll sense if you’re feeling overwhelmed or if you’re enjoying the season.  Getting plenty of sleep and maintaining your exercise regimen helps burn off holiday stress as well as cookies and sweets we all love to indulge in. 

Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer who often writes on the subjects of families and children.