From the moment you find out you’re expecting, it seems like those living outside your womb start expecting, too. That is…expecting more out of you. Though these wishes and expectations often come from a place of excitement and love from family and friends, it might not always feel that way to you, as a pregnant, new mom, or seasoned mom – no matter how old your baby/babies are. The pressure builds to attend every party, to uphold all of the traditions, make a thousand lists, check them twice – you get it. It also doesn’t help that you also impose some of your own mom guilt to make the holidays as magical as possible for everyone else.
Here’s the thing: when we place our needs on the shelf (with the elf we forgot to hide again) and are too generous with our energy, but not with grace for ourselves, we miss out on the whole point of this special time. So, in the spirit of true joy and all that is nurturing, we’re here to tell you that being a little selfish will make you feel whole for the holidays.
It isn’t lost on us that the word, “selfish” has inherited a pretty negative connotation over time. Us mothers are often labeled as “selfish” when prioritizing our needs and wants over the needs of others and a literal laundry list of expectations. But, let’s open our minds a bit and take a look at the word for what it is:
When we use the suffix –ish, it means “somewhat.” So why is it not ok to be “somewhat” about ourselves? Why is this word used as an insult when we choose to take care of our own needs and wants over someone else’s?
Why we’re not settling for “self care”
Though self care is a strong part of what we’re challenging moms to commit to, it’s simply not enough. Self care can either be interpreted as a luxurious indulgence that stops at a facemask, or it could be taken as aiming for the bare minimum: like brushing your teeth. Either way, it’s surface-level, and we deserve deeper self-nurturing that creates long lasting change beyond the holidays. We’ll get to the point: There is nothing wrong with putting yourself first. In fact, putting yourself first is critical to our survival as moms. When our cup is empty, we have nothing left to give. Now that you have the permission obligation to put yourself first, we’re also giving you some of our best methods to put selfishness into practice so that you can fully embrace the joy that this season can bring.
For expecting mothers
Scenario 1: I committed to hosting/attending a holiday gathering when I had the energy, but now I’m really regretting it. Is it too late to pull out? Whether it’s your first baby or fourth on the way, you might be feeling tired, sick, or just “off” in general. It’s your job to listen to the signals your body is giving you, and answer them. Being pregnant and growing a human is enough work – anything layered on top of that shouldn’t come at the expense of your mental or physical wellbeing. Here’s how you could say “no” after already saying “yes”: Hey, I was so looking forward to having everyone over, but I severely underestimated the level of exhaustion I’d be feeling at this point in my pregnancy. If we’re set on having things at my house, I’m going to need someone else to do the legwork (prep, cooking, cleanup). Our other option is to change locations. Can you all help me brainstorm a solution? Do you see how we’re keeping our boundaries strong there? We’re not asking for permission to change plans, but rather communicating that the way things have been done in the past is not going to work this year, so what other options can we agree on? It can be difficult for others to accept a change in traditions. But, consider this: when we break our own boundaries, we will disappoint ourselves every time – and that SHOULD feel much worse than disappointing someone else. Scenario 2: I’m already feeling anxious about the comments my relatives are probably going to make about my pregnant body. I want to make it known that I don’t appreciate those kinds of comments, but I’m afraid of it affecting my relationships with people. Comments on your body, good or bad, pregnant or not, can often feel pretty violating. While you don’t have control of what others say to you, you have complete control over how you respond. In the moment, it can feel like you’re frozen, and forced to accept or laugh at what’s being said, only to feel upset about it later. This one is particularly sensitive, so here are a few options you could try out in response to a negative body comment, without making the confrontation too awkward: Them: Wow, you look like you’re about to pop! You could say something like:
- Wow, thanks, just what every expecting mom wants to hear!
- I think you meant to ask how I’m feeling…? I’m tired but happy to be here. How are you?
- Come on, you know better than to say that to a pregnant lady!
Remember, Mama, prioritizing your needs means protecting your boundaries, guarding your spirit, and only letting in what feels good and right to you physically and mentally.
For new mothers
Scenario 1: I’m so worried about the baby getting sick, and I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of them being passed around. Everyone is so excited to meet the baby, I don’t want to disappoint them.
This time of year can be so nerve-wracking with newborn babies. Their immune systems are pretty much non-existent, and there isn’t much that can be done to treat illnesses at this young age. But regardless of the circumstances, your baby is your baby. You get to make the call on who is holding them and when. You are their voice, and they share your energy. And when the vibes are off for you, your baby feels the same way. It’s important to make decisions that put you at ease. So, if you’re feeling anxious about your family playing hot potato with your baby at the holiday gathering, here are some strategies you can use, ranging from sneaky to clearly spoken:
- Keep your baby in a carrier as much as you (and they) are comfortable. Whether it’s a carseat or baby wearing wrap, having a physical barrier between them and others can help send a subtle message that they are not accessible.
- Blame it on the newness. It’s a new world for the new one, and that can be leveraged in so many ways. From mentioning separation anxiety, sleepiness, or that fresh immune system, some folks just need to be gently reminded of how sensitive and fragile those early days are. Try out something like, “Oh gosh, you know, we just got them comfortable after a really long day. I’m going to keep them here so that we don’t go through that all over again! Do you want to get next to where they are and take a photo real quick?”
- Take breaks! If you sense the urge to hold from others, take your baby to a quiet, private place for a few minutes. Maybe it’s feeding time, maybe she needs a diaper change. Or maybe, you just need ten minutes to catch your breath together. When you come back, you may have a response ready, or guests might already be onto the next thing.
Scenario 2: Everyone is giving me all of the unsolicited advice, or mocking my decisions as a new parent. How can I engage with people but also shut down the firehose of feedback coming my way? You know who loves to give advice? Well-rested people not in your current position. Sometimes it’s easy to laugh it off, but when you’re surviving off of the whiff of coffee you didn’t even get to drink this morning, you’re probably not in a place to receive tips from your mother in law who hasn’t birthed a baby in over 30 years. So, we’re going to ~gracefully~ take back our power, keep up the momentum of our budding confidence, and enlighten those who we feel may be overstepping.
- The comment: “Parenting is so easy these days, you have all of the technology to do everything, and you get three months off work! I had to go back to work 5 days after having my baby.” The response: “Sheesh, I’m sure when you went back to work, it was really tough on you. Access to paid leave is still not a federal right. Can you believe how many moms are still in that position? I’m grateful to have this time and gadgets here and there to help me care for my baby, but it doesn’t make having a newborn any easier. At the end of the day, I’m still mom, and they still need me just as much as your baby probably needed you back then.”
- The comment: “You’re *insert feeding method here (formula feeding, nursing, pumping, tube feeding)*? Why?” The response – plain and simple: Because that’s what’s best for our family. What’s new with you?
- The comment: “Oh just wait ‘till they get older. This is the easy part.” The response: “I’d like to think every part has their unique challenges. Right now, ours is sleep. What was your biggest challenge around this time?”
Here’s the goal we’re trying to accomplish: Show a little empathy, give a little insight, move onto something else. By demonstrating empathy, we’re more likely to receive empathy in return. By sharing what we’ve learned or how we feel, we’re drawing the boundary and showing that we’ve made a choice or accepted an idea that we’re confident with. Talking about your growing intuition as a new mom can also be a verbal sign that you’ve “got it,” and not looking for help. With the subject change, we’re signaling that we’re not open to receiving any more feedback.
For moms of infants, toddlers, and multiples
Scenario 1: I need my kids to stick to a schedule in order for us all to get good sleep, but my family sees our schedule as an inconvenience to them and their plans. Whether you decide to stick to schedules or let them bend, we encourage you to not let guilt lead the way. You might feel really optimistic about keeping the kids up late, or skipping a nap. You also might not, and that’s ok! You know your own “pain tolerance,” and in some cases, the tradeoff of fun traditions to a horrible night or next morning just isn’t worth it. In any case, you get to decide what you all will participate in, and what events you’ll have to postpone until you all can enjoy them. If you’re trying to make something work, you can try to make some compromises by saying:
- “Shoot, our baby has a nap at that time, and we’ve been working so hard to get good sleep. Can we do something more intimate before everyone arrives? That way, we can leave once the nap clock strikes.”
- “We’d love to see you, but we’re not going to be able to pull it off this year. Can we have a Facetime date or do a Secret Santa/White Elephant by mail between our families this year?”
- “We’re in the thick of it right now with the kids. How about you all come to our house for a gathering instead? That way, we can put the kids down when we need to, but still hang out while they sleep! We understand if you can’t change plans, but just know that the door is open.”
Scenario 2: I want to do all the things, but I don’t feel like it’s possible with all we have going on. I miss the connection, but I can’t handle all the stuff that comes with the holiday rush. Sometimes the mental and physical burden is just too heavy to carry ourselves – and we shouldn’t have to! Others may not realize how much effort goes into making the holidays magical. So, swallow that pride and ask for help! Here are a few ways to lighten the load:
- Assign tasks or items to bring: “I need some solid helpers to make this a fun time for everyone. Here’s a list of what I could use the most, what would you like to contribute?”
- Outsource: If budget isn’t a big deal, leverage meal delivery services like DoorDash, errand help with TaskRabbit, or schedule pickup orders to spend less time getting caught up in logistics.
- Audit your event commitments. If it doesn’t scream “hell yes,” and light you up, it’s a “no” this year.
For moms of kids who are aware of all that’s happening around this time of year, it’s important to keep in mind that those core memories are made with happiness and togetherness, no matter what the focus of the event is. Take time to experience that childlike wonder with your family, even if it costs you a burnt cookie, or twelve.
Time to recharge
Let’s face it, you can be as selfish as you want, and draw all the hard lines, but the holidays are probably never going to be completely stress-free. Once the shreds of wrapping paper are put in the recycle bin and you’re able to catch your breath, continue to practice these long-term strategies of nurturing yourself. You deserve time to rest, recharge, and greet the new year a little less exhausted than you’re leaving this one. Need a little extra support this holiday season? We’re the village you were promised. Register for classes or browse our resources page.