Your first year of parenthood is full of milestones: baby’s first time sitting up, eating solids, crawling, the list goes on. The first family Christmas with your baby is also particularly special.

While there is a lot of focus on Baby’s first Christmas, this is also your first Christmas as Mum and Dad. So how do you make your first Christmas enjoyable and memorable, not stressful and exhausting?

Our culture holds almost unattainable expectations of Christmas and puts so much pressure on “Baby’s First Christmas”. There are the first Christmas outfits, gifts, ornaments and feeling the need to start lifelong family Christmas traditions immediately. But let’s just take a step back pause and breathe. Then consider – what’s really important to me and my family? What do we as First Christmas Mum and Dad/Partner need? What does my baby really need?

Here’s permission to simplify this Christmas. To accept that mum, dad and baby are all still adjusting to life as a family, learning and bonding. To relinquish you from the perceived pressure of showing that you’re all coping and ‘back to normal’.

How to make your first family Christmas enjoyable and memorable

1. Christmas isn’t that important to your baby

Their interest in Christmas varies depending on the age of your little one. 0-5 months probably won’t care at all. 5-11 months, waning interest (at best), predominately liking the shiny decorations on the tree, Christmas lights, and sound of the wrapping paper.

Most importantly your baby needs to be fed, rested, warm (or cool, if like me you’re in Australia), loved, cuddled and their parents to be emotionally responsive, calm and relaxed. It’s often the latter needs that can be a challenge around Christmas time as you are busy, stressed and tired.

Tips on how to meet your baby’s needs this Christmas
  • Simplify – less is more, Marie-Kondo your Christmas. Your baby doesn’t want presents, they want you. A few presents can be nice but please keep it simple.
  • Reduce stimulation – baby is likely to get over-stimulated with the noise, movement, colours, people, smells and change in their environment. It is perfectly fine to excuse yourself and baby to a quiet space to calm down and reconnect.
  • Consistency – maintain elements of your routine where possible. May that be sleep associations, food, comforter, a favourite book. Whatever works for your family
  • Let go of unrealistic expectations – do what you’re comfortable with, not what you think others want you to do. By doing less it will be easier to be responsive to your baby and importantly keep you calm.
  • Keep calm – your baby will follow your emotional lead. If you’re stressed or agitated, they are likely to be unsettled and upset.

2. Your expectations of Christmas

Christmas is a big deal to many families. For some it is the best day of the year filled with food, family and friends, presents and reflection. For your first Christmas with your baby, prioritise being realistic instead of perfect.

How to have helpful and realistic expectations this Christmas
  • Reflect on what are your expectations of Christmas, where have they come from, are they realistic and helpful

  • Let go of what others think should happen
  • The traditional family Christmas Day schedule might not go to plan this year. The food might be late, you might be caring for your baby when everyone else is eating or you might not be able to make it to both sides of the family in the one day.
  • You’re likely to be tired and emotionally sensitive – treat each other with kindness
  • Realise that coping as parents doesn’t mean getting back to normal. You are carving out your new normal as a family. This year will be different and that’s ok.
  • Christmas Day is just one day in the year. Share the joy over many days if you wish.

3. Celebrate your First Family Christmas as Mum & Dad

This can be a big milestone for many new parents and it’s not just about your baby. For most of us Christmas is always better with children around and you may have been looking forward to this for many years. This is a special time for you and your partner. Talk with each other about how you would like to celebrate together. Even if it’s just something small like sharing a hot cup of coffee. Taking the time to be focused on each other and appreciating the moment could be the best Christmas present for you both.

4. Simplify and Share the Load

Christmas is a busy time of year for many families with most of the work falling on the shoulders of mothers. There’s the decorating, present planning, buying, wrapping, writing cards, making food, organising, delegating and coordinating family members.

Why are woman doing this? According to Leslie Bella, author of “The Christmas Imperative: Leisure, Family and Women’s Work”, women feel compelled to create rituals and follow traditions, especially around Christmas, because of a need for “family-making.”

But, this year you have a baby to also care for which will significantly limit your time. Dad’s/ partners need to take some of the load.

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Tips on how to simply and ask for help this Christmas
  • As a couple minimise and prioritise your things To-Do. Focus on the essential jobs and reconsider the preferable.
  • Buy presents online where possible. Dealing with the Christmas crowds, noise, trying to find a carpark with your baby will be challenging.
  • If hosting Christmas plan for simple and easy to prepare dishes. Or ask everyone to bring a dish and assign the task of coordinating this to someone else.
  • If you’re going out for Christmas feel free to leave early or arrive late. You have the perfect excuse.

5. Identify your family Christmas priorities

Your first family Christmas is the perfect time to consciously decide what traditions or rituals you want for your family, even if you’re not going to implement all of them this year. To also evaluate what extended family traditions work for you and what you want to keep. If the point of Christmas is “family-making”, sit down together and talk about what type of family you want to make to relieve some of the stress that typically comes at Christmas time.

Making space, valuing and prioritising your family Christmas ideals can be challenging but will help your family grow closer and stronger and set you in good stead for future Christmas’.

6. Unsolicited Advice from Others

You might have experienced already that when you’re a parent people deem it socially acceptable to comment or question your parenting and family decisions. Visits with extended family and friends can be no exception. Their advice might come from a place of genuine love and wanting to help, but sometimes it doesn’t. What people say often has little to do with you, but instead is a reflection of their own parenthood experiences or what were parenting methods at the time.

As new parents your confidence is likely to be waning, which is completely normal and to be expected. But when friends and family are offering “advice” or commenting on your parenting this can be particularly distressing. Remember that you know your baby best and if you need to, re-group with your partner afterwards to reaffirm your family choices.

7. Grief & Loss

As well as many wonderful gains in parenthood it is common to experience grief and loss. According to Wendy LeBlanc, author of “Naked Motherhood”, 50% of mothers grieve for their pre-mother selves and 65% were affected by childhood issues resurfacing in their own motherhood.

Christmas is a time for celebration, social events, family connection and relaxing but as your first Christmas as Mum, Dad and Baby there are likely to be some changes which can be challenging.

Some things new parents might grieve
  • Loss of your pre-baby self and lifestyle – e.g. your ability to attend Christmas gatherings is likely to be reduced
  • Your own childhood – what you missed out on and how that impacts your parenting now
  • Family members not here to share your milestone
  • Ruptured relationships with friends and family.
How to cope
  • Acknowledge and accept your feelings
  • Share your feelings with someone you trust
  • Complete a meaningful ritual to validate the sense of loss
  • Seek professional support

8. Mental Health Concerns

Christmas is often seen as a ‘magical’ time of year filled with joy and happiness but for many parents the first year of parenthood is a struggle. The rates of mental health concerns in the first year of parenthood are high and becoming a parent is one of the most challenging transitions that you go through as an adult (PANDA). So, it’s understandable if the reality of parenthood or mental health concerns are particularly distressing at this time of year.

How to cope
  • Treat yourself with kindness, compassion and acceptance
  • Check in and adjust any unhelpful expectations you place on yourself
  • Simplify and share the load of Christmas
  • Reach out and talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling
  • Seek professional support

Your first year of parenthood is full of love, growth, changes and challenges. Many parents find the transitions difficult so please treat each other with kindness and compassion. Staying connected and communicating with each other and seeking help where needed will increase your coping.

The first Christmas as Mum, Dad and baby is a wonderful and special occasion for many family’s. Christmas can be a magical time of year filled with family, food, presents and relaxing. But it can also come with unrealistic expectations, stress and exhaustion. To make this years Christmas an enjoyable and memorable occasion simplify and focus on what really matters to you both and your baby.

Leading up to Christmas 2020 I am hosting a FREE series of tips, resources and support for families to help you make the most of your holiday season together. Check it out on our Facebook page.