'Tis the season ... to feel a bit stressed. Particularly when it bookends a year of lockdowns and isolation. Demanding travel schedules, social engagements, over-opinionated family members and the pressure to give it your all—in dollars and energy— it's a lot. Especially if you have small children. To help ease some anxieties and get some coping techniques under your Christmas tool belt, we spoke to Melbourne-based clinical psychologist Caitlin Arthur about the things our community told us they feel most overwhelmed about at this most wonderful time of year.
Feeling overwhelmed about the holidays? People kissing your baby, judging your parenting, naps getting screwed, pressure to participate, the travel, the expense, the inevitable drama... The first thing Arthur wants you to do is give yourself a pat on the back. "Good on you for noticing that you feel overwhelmed. In order to regulate our emotions, we first need to be tuned in to how we feel and our state of being. So that's so important." She also wants you to know it's OK to feel a bit swamped. "Christmas time can be busy and full on, and for some people it can be a time fraught with difficult emotions, depending on your wider family story, so give yourself permission to feel a bit stressed. It has also been such an intense couple of years. We’re coming up to the second anniversary of Covid and there is a global sense of burnout and fatigue. There’s wear and tear from constant uncertainties, and with all that, you're also a new parent. With kids, it can be so tough any time of year, let alone when you’re staying with others or trying to do a heap of social activities. So yes, it's so understandable that you are feeling overwhelmed, and that is OK."
Arthur says as a first step, speak with your coparent, "Acknowledge that you have your own little family now, and set parameters to protect it. Word-up your larger family ahead of time that you’ll try your best to be part of as many events as you can, but you might have to sit some things out, and then decline offers if you need to — especially true, if you’re someone who finds company depletes your energy stores."
With those positive actions in place, let's get into your more specific stresses.
You're worried about your routine getting messed with...
"Having a regular routine definitely helps our kids to thrive," says Arthur. "It can be really unsettling when the routine is thrown out. When you're going to stay with other people, it can be helpful to clue them in and let them know the points in your day that you work around and ask, if it’s at all possible, for them to be accommodated." Mostly families are happy to work around you. Lunch at 2pm rather than 12pm, so baby gets their nap in? It's a small adjustment for everyone else that might mean a lot to you, so ask. Unless they have recently had kids themselves, they aren't going to know the sleep cycle of a 6-month-old, and you can't expect them to, so clue them in. Arthur says it's also good to get comfortable with saying 'no'. "If there’s an event or activity that’s just really going to throw things out, and it's really not going to be worth it for you, just say no." Finally, know that it's not the end of the world if naps get missed or meal times pushed. "Give yourself permission for your routine to get a little messed up. It’s only natural to want to hold tighter to routine and search for more control when things feel as if they are unravelling, however it can be wise to know when to let go of your usual expectations and procedures. Also, know that a few days of your routine being messed up isn’t going to unravel all the good work you’ve done. When you get back to your own place, things will fall back into place. You, as the mum, are your kids’ constant, and at the end of a Christmas pud-stuffed day, your love and emotional presence is all they need. Take comfort in knowing, and things will resettle when you’re back home and the chaos will become a distant memory."