Holiday Stressbusters for Parents and Parents-to-Be

by Ann Douglas

Holiday Stress Busters'Tis the season to be merry-or stressed out, depending on how you pace yourself during the upcoming weeks.

While partying until the wee hours of the morning and dragging yourself into the office the next day was probably no big deal back in your pre-baby days, you may find that you want to limit the number of social engagements you say yes to at this already crazy time of year.

After all, your parenting responsibilities don't disappear just because it's rum and eggnog season: you're still as likely as ever to get a 3:00 a.m. visit from a hungry baby or nightwaking toddler!

Make Your Holidays Stress-Free!

If you're pregnant during the holiday season, try to time your shopping expeditions so that you can avoid the crowds.

That means shopping at off-peak hours (e.g. 10:30 a.m.) or -- even better -- wrapping up your shopping a few weeks ahead of time. Not only is battling the holiday crowds stressful, standing in one place for prolonged periods of time can cause the blood to pool in your lower body, something that could cause you to keel over while you're waiting in line to pay for your purchases. The problem will be one hundred times worse if you're overheated, by the way, so don't make the mistake of shopping with your winter coat zipped up.

If you're pregnant and you're planning to head out of town over the holidays, make sure you ask your doctor or midwife for a copy of your prenatal record. That way, if you run into a health problem while you're on the road, you'll have full details about your medical and obstetrical history with you. It's also important to make sure that you have adequate health insurance in place if you will be traveling out of state. (Note: Most travel insurance policies don't cover women who are more than seven months pregnant, so this is an issue you'll need to discuss with your travel insurance provider.)

Rather than attempting to do a lot of traveling with a young baby -- something that can be both stressful and exhausting -- invite friends and family members to visit you over the holiday season. Just make sure that potential house guests understand up-front that you're not in a position to wait on people hand and foot this year: after all, you're already playing servant to the most demanding of masters, your new baby!

Give some serious thought to which holiday decorations you're uncrating if you've got a crawling baby on the loose.

It's best to leave breakable ornaments with tremendous sentimental value in storage -- or ensure that they're placed well out of the reach of your roving explorer. Ditto for strings of Christmas lights that could result in burns or cuts, if chewed. After all, the last thing you want to do is spend Christmas Eve in the hospital emergency room.

Accept the fact that visiting other people is likely to be stressful if you've got a toddler in tow, and limit the length of your visits accordingly. While you might be up to a one-hour visit at Great Aunt Mildred's, an entire afternoon of trying to keep her Royal Doulton figurines away from your increasingly determined toddler might be a bit much for all concerned. (Personally, I feel that people who refuse to toddler-proof their homes when they're playing host to a toddler deserve to lose the odd Royal Doulton figurine, but that's just a bit of mean-spiritedness on my part!)

Don't expect your toddler to give up his picky eating patterns in honor of the holiday season.

If the only thing he's willing to eat for lunch these days is a plain cheese sandwich, don't expect him to whoop with joy when whatever relative you're visiting plunks a turkey-and-stuffing sandwich down in front of him instead. You can avoid an intergenerational crisis by keeping a backup sandwich in a cooler in the trunk of the car: that way, if your toddler balks at the idea of eating whatever Grandma's dished up, you'll have an easy out. (Of course, Grandma will then be convinced that you're mercilessly spoiling the child, but that's a whole other issue!)

Don't convince yourself that you'll be depriving your children of a happy childhood if you're not able to squeeze a million different opportunities for memory-making into a single holiday season.

Yes, it's wonderful to take your kids on a sleigh ride, decorate a gingerbread house together, and whip up a batch of positively mouthwatering Christmas cookies but trying to accomplish all this in a single day is a guaranteed recipe for burnout. And besides, just how wonderful are those memories going to be if you're so exhausted by the end of the day that you end up shouting at your kids about things that normally wouldn't bother you at all?

Speaking of holiday baking, don't be afraid to cut corners on things that don't matter.

While your child may be disappointed if you neglect to make his favorite cookies, he probably couldn't care less if the fruitcake that you serve is store-bought or homemade. (After all, it's a rare kid indeed who actually likes fruitcake!) So rather than trying to make everything from scratch, invest your culinary energies in those areas that are likely to yield the greatest payoff.

Schedule plenty of downtime in the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle.

Rent some holiday videos and curl up on the couch with your kids. Who says that the holiday season has to be insanely busy to be fun? Sometimes the most extraordinary experiences you have as a parent happen when you're not doing the most extraordinary things: reading a child a bedtime story, giving him a bath, or curling up on the couch together watching How The Grinch Stole Christmas for the umpteen millionth time!

Take time to pamper yourself at the end of the day. Toss some peppermint-scented essential oil into your bathwater and light some festive holiday candles. Then soak in the tub while you escape into a magazine or book. You owe it to yourself and your kids to pamper yourself on a regular basis. After all, a happy and relaxed parent is the best present of all.

Happy holidays!

Ann Douglas is the author of The Unofficial Guide to Childcare , Baby Science How Babies Really Work , and The Unofficial Guide to Having A Baby . She writes the monthly "Mom's the Word" column for Canadian Parents Online and is a regular contributor to a number of print and online publications. She and her husband Neil have four children. Ann is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. She can be contacted via her management firm, Page One Productions Inc.

Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario, with their four children Julie, Scott, Erik, and Ian . A fifth child, Laura Ann, was stillborn in 1996 due to a true knot in her umbilical cord.

Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.