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  • Writer's pictureMegan Furman, LPC, LCPC

Managing Holiday Stress for New Parents

Updated: Apr 10

In case you haven’t noticed from the changing weather and bombardment of ads, the holidays are upon us! For some folks, it’s a time of year filled with wonder and joy, and for other it’s stress and overwhelm. I’d actually argue that for most, it’s a mixture of all of those things.

Being a parent during the holidays has its own unique set of delights and stressors. Experiencing the holidays as a new parent is a big adjustment. You won’t make it through dinner without having to get up to fetch something your child needs or be able to loaf on the couch to watch the game afterwards. You’ll have less time and capacity to decorate, shop, plan, and cook the way you used to. And you’ll probably have your candle-lighting or caroling interrupted by your baby’s crying (or, I’m sorry but… their BM). You may also enjoy creating traditions with that new little person or get some relief from other helping hands around!

New emotions might arise. There can be grief that accompanies a desire to experience the holidays as they’ve always been, guilt over not being able to make everything as “magical” as you imagined, and stress around adding a whole new person and their needs into the mix of planning and celebrating. There can also be such elation in sharing your baby’s firsts with family and friends, and a sense of wonder having experiences from a whole new perspective.

The holidays bring together families, which can be lovely… and also potentially stressful. If dynamics within your family of origin are complicated or challenging, this might be another part of the holidays you approach with mixed feelings. Having the additional identity of “parent”, and thereby identities of “grandparent” or “aunt” for your family members, can really shake things up. And then there are dynamics with your in-laws as well.

Of course, if you are dealing with significant parenthood challenges that impact your own mental health, the holidays can feel even more impactful – either that you’re relying on the joy of the season to help lift your spirits, or that you view the holidays as an additional stressor. These could be issues of your baby’s colic, feeding difficulties, or illness, or your own birth recovery, sleep deprivation, or perinatal mood and anxiety disorders such as postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety.

However you’re entering the holiday season this year as a new parent, here are some helpful tips for managing holiday stress:

Ask for/accept help. I know you are incredibly capable and you could do many of the things you used to, but if this comes with an expense now that you’ve got a little one in tow, please consider who can help you and have those conversations. Try not to overextend yourself, because feeling grumpy, tired, and irritable is not fun for you or your kid(s). Make a plan for what responsibilities you and your partner will tackle individually and together. Consider what tasks you can outsource. Decide on how you’ll manage family requests and offers. Practically this can look like: Tag-teaming gift-wrapping with your spouse, buying a pie at your local bakery instead of making it from scratch, and accepting the diaper-change offer from your mother-in-law.

Check in with yourself. In a time of such busyness, we often forget to look inward to see what we need. Part of the response may be that you need practical help (see above), or even emotional help. It’s also important to look inward to check on what your body needs physically. Sometimes we forego rest or sleep because there are so many things to do, or forget to eat and hydrate. Sometimes we’re overstimulated and we need to minimize our sensory stimulation. Practically this can look like: prioritizing time for an appointment with your therapist, having a water bottle and easy-to-grab snacks around, and stepping outside of a loud gathering to experience the cold air and the quiet.

Allow seemingly contradictory feelings to exist at once. In case you didn’t pick up on a theme here, the holidays can elicit joy and celebration at the same time as stress and burden. It doesn’t make sense to our brains that both could be true and both felt, and often the distress feels “louder.” Maybe you don’t feel them all at once, but the rollercoaster of feeling one emotion and then the other within the same day, or within a matter of minutes, is exhausting. While this paradox can be highlighted in the holiday season, it’s not exclusive to the holidays, as it’s something frequently felt throughout new parenthood. Practically this can look like: being intentional about noticing and taking in the sweet moments. It can be a challenge to be present when your attention is constantly being redirected by a little one who needs you constantly. Even making a practice of writing down what you’re grateful for at the end of each day can be that extra step to feeling content on a day that felt hectic or stressful.

While you may not have the “silent nights” you once did, I do hope that as a new parent there are plenty of things that you feel thankful for this holiday season and are able to enjoy and cherish. Warmest holiday wishes to you all!

The content on this blog is for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional mental health or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are in a mental health crisis, please call 988 or the Maternal Mental Health Hotline at 1-833-852-6262.



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