Christmas time, mistletoe and wine….or should that be, wine, wine and more wine (forget the mistletoe)? The festive time of year can be a stressful time for anyone, but as a new mum, it can place further demands on you. You are already trying to get the hang of breast feeding, changes in your body both hormonal and physical, and perhaps the pressure of planning a return to work. You may also feel ‘mum guilt’; that woeful sensation that you are not good enough, that you are doing things wrong, that you are not as good as the other new mum you met at baby club.
And these new mum challenges don’t suddenly go away at Christmas. They are compounded by to-do lists consisting of looking after visitors, buying presents, and travelling to faraway relatives. Running around after everyone else, however, leaves no time for you and is enough to send anyone a bit crazy.
Having been there, and quite often still there with two children later, here are my tips to get you through Christmas without resorting to wine.
1. Take the pressure off yourself
Do you feel that you are constantly trying to reach the high expectations of others and yourself? At this time of year, the media displays families enjoying Christmas together surrounded by food and an abundance of gifts. Remember that the media is there for a reason: to sell. Television adverts and photos in magazines are not a true representation of the majority of parents in the UK. I for one have never cooked a Christmas dinner, despite the television telling me that’s what I should be doing as a mum. Who has time to cook a three-course meal whilst burping a 6 month-old? However, with the pressure from the media, no wonder you feel stressed and that you are not doing enough. Parenting website Made for Mums refers to this as Supermum Syndrome. The website explains that this is when you feel that you can and should have it all, and that when you realise that this is not possible, you feel guilty and deflated. The Huffington Post reveals that 9 out of 10 mums feel pressure to be ‘perfect’. If this is you, recognise where these pressures come from. Do they stem from the media? Your family’s expectations of you? Your own expectations? Now recognise and separate the emotion that comes with these expectations. Without the emotions of guilt, fear and anxiety, expectations feel less tangible. You are then able to distance yourself from them, and with practice, make decisions without unhelpful pressures on yourself. A great article on tools to stop self-pressure can be found at Psychology Today. These include recognising when you are placing pressure on yourself and replacing this pressure with gratitude
2. Have something to look forward to
When was the last time you did something just for you? With the new responsibilities that come with raising a child, that time was probably a long time ago. By having something to look forward to that isn’t a Christmas-related errand, you create a feeling of positive anticipation, especially when the monotony of nappy-changing and trips to Santa’s Grotto leave you feeling bored and uninspired. The Independent has highlighted how looking forward to the things you enjoy benefits your mental health. How about making a weekly trip to your favourite coffee shop? My personal favourite is Good Boy Coffee in Chiswick; my children love meeting the dogs of the customers there. Christmas is a busy period, so take time to make time for you.
3. Learn to say “no”
One of the complaints that I hear most from my female friends is that they just can’t say no. They then end up burnt out and resentful. At Christmas time, the kids may become more demanding, relatives may request more of your time. As a mother, you may mind that this urge to do it all, to people-please becomes greater (there’s that Supermum Syndrome again). Imagine this: you’re looking forward to having a relaxing Christmas Day at home (as relaxing as it can be as a mum) when your in-laws call a week before to invite you to spend Christmas with them. Of course, this is a lovely gesture, but you’ve just got the baby into a wake-play-feed routine and really can’t face having to travel 30 miles with a possibly screamy toddler in the back of the car. However, your relatives miss the grandchildren. So you say yes. You’ve just said no to your own happiness for the sake of others, and whilst this may seem admirable, it could be detrimental to your health. Mindbodygreen supports this notion, revealing that saying yes (when you mean no) can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety. So next time someone makes a request of you, take a breath before you answer. Do you really want to say yes? If not, say no. Don’t give yourself the chance to waffle and make excuses. If you say no, the receiver may be upset, but as a new mum, you need to take care of your own needs, especially when most of your time is spent taking care of your mini-mes.
To summarise, taking the pressure off yourself gives you freedom to live without constantly trying to meet high expectations. Less pressure equals less stress. Adding a fun event to your calendar that is unassociated with Christmas creates positive anticipation, reducing stress. Lastly, saying “no” instead of people-pleasing allows you to spend time doing things that you actually want to do that make you happy. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
This week, try saying “no” once a day to something that you would usually say “yes”. Start small. The more you practice, the easier it will get. Share how it went with other readers in the comments section below.