For anyone who becomes a mother within nine months of a major holiday season (and, taking into account all of the holidays within every faith and cultural tradition, that means almost everybody!) I have a radical idea for you: Simplify your idea of how the holidays will look this year. Better yet, let yourself let someone ELSE handle everything. That way, holidays with your new baby can be marked by joy, connection and peace — just as they’re meant to be!
This doesn’t mean that I don’t think you are up to the task of balancing the needs of your infant with brining the tenderest turkey, setting an exquisite table and hostessing with the mostest-ing. Far from it — many new moms I meet are awesomely equipped to perform impressive feats of multi-tasking magic while bouncing a baby on their hips.
But the early months of motherhood (and babyhood) represent a special window of time that will never come again. The early months lay a foundation, set a tone that will shape and resound through your relationship with your child for life. This window of the early months is precious and irreplaceable, and yet it is so easy to blow through it and miss its profoundly quiet — and quietly profound — gifts. Regret is a guest nobody wants at their holiday table eighteen years from now.
My friend Tamara Donn works in the UK with women on what she calls the “maiden-to-mother” transformation. She helps them re-awaken their inner wisdom, truly trust themselves, listen to their hearts and honor the rite of passage into motherhood however it unfolds.
Here are excerpts of a letter Tamara published in London’s Daily Mail. I offer them to you as a Thanksgiving blessing on the transition to motherhood, which can be particularly challenging when it includes holidays with your new baby:
First I would like to explain a little understood concept – the birth of the mother. When a baby is born, 2 births occur – the birth of the baby, and the lesser known birth of the mother. The rite of passage from maiden to mother is forgotten in our culture. In all rites of passage, time for integrating life-changing transition is necessary. So instead of having a competition to see who can get back to normal as soon as possible, it would be more beneficial to support mothers (and fathers) in being at that point of transition … being in no-man’s land (and “no-woman’s land” ) … by acknowledging that it is okay not to know what to do and accepting temporary loss of identity.
The back-to-normal race is exacerbated by the fact that at six weeks, new mums go to the doctors, get checked and are told they are back to normal and can have sex again. If a woman is fit and healthy she may feel back to normal but more likely, particularly if the birth has been difficult, the physical recovery will be harder. Integrating the transition takes place on all levels – physical, emotional, mental, social and spiritual. Instead of looking for strategies to get back to normal, look for ways of getting support from mums, sisters, friends and paid help. Instead of fighting the situation, embrace and accept it. These are foreign concepts in our society where getting back to normal is seen as success.
Rather than thinking in terms of “back to normal,” I encourage couples to think instead of “forward to a new normal.” This normal takes time to develop – up to 2 years is a more realistic period of time. Spock did this to some extent by saying “do what feels right,” but nowadays new mothers have rarely had child-rearing experience so are not able to connect easily with their natural instincts.
The pressure of the image of the fit, healthy, have-it-all mum is so strong that it often contributes to postpartum depression. Repression of feelings of inadequacy and other confusing emotions that are normal in times of transition can surface, and with no support are hard to deal with.
The Holiday Gift of Gratitude
Tamara points out psychotherapist Robin Grille’s short list, in his book Parenting For A Peaceful World, of the emotional needs of a baby during the first 18 months of life: to be held, to have her oral needs gratified, to receive loving eye contact, to receive a timely response to her needs and to sleep near one’s parents.
Consider this an invitation to simplifying life right now. Consider foregoing lavish holiday projects as you grow into your “new normal.” Maybe during this holiday season with your new baby, undertake instead a subtle yet profound project to suit this important rite of passage: mindful gratitude.
The field of positive psychology finds that the single most potent means of amping up our joy — and also our physical energy and well-being — is to cultivate gratitude. Researchers talk about keeping a gratitude journal, writing gratitude letters, and an exercise one expert calls “three blessings,” in which you take time each day to write about three things that went well, and why. (Great dinner table conversation starter with older kids!)
But it doesn’t even have to be that structured. Mindful gratitude can also take the form of simply noticing more fully some of the myriad things we normally take for granted in daily life. For example, the ordinary miracle of a hot shower! Or the small act of eating a piece of fruit, which can take on a whole new dimension when we turn our attention to what is embodied in that apple — seasons of nurturance by rains, sun, and those who cared for its tree — and the amazing fact that the flesh of that fruit will be transformed into us in the coming hours and days!
This is a powerful inner way to mark these holidays with your new baby, as you begin to embody more deeply, and later model, values that most parents for peace hope their children will come to embrace and express: self-compassion, simplicity, gratitude and sustainability.
Read more about Tamara Donn’s transformative work with new mothers at Woman To Mother.