By Andrea Paterson
I remember Christmas as a child as a time of extraordinary magic. Even now when the lights go up and the carols begin I experience an almost unbearable excitement. I also see that the magic associated with the holidays has hard working magicians behind it. Parents, and often mothers in particular, have a heavy burden to bear during the holiday season. Creating a winter wonderland is no easy task and being faced with a laundry list of chores, visits, decorating, hosting, cooking, gift wrapping, shopping, and weaving the mystery and mythology that makes the holidays special for our children can take a serious toll. For those parents who are suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety the holidays can be downright daunting.
Self care is a key component of the healing process promoted by the Pacific Post Partum Support Society, and during the holidays it is especially important to return to some basic self care practices to get you through. Here are some tips for making it through the season in one piece, and perhaps even getting a chance to enjoy it!
- My group facilitator at PPPSS, Shealagh, gave us some simple but profound advice when it came to event planning—Plan the event but not the outcome. I have tried to make this a personal mantra. We often get caught up in our expectations. We want to see the joy on someone’s face when they open our gift; we want our family dinners to be a perfect scene of domestic bliss; we want to host a party that people remember for years to come. But in reality we can’t control the outcome of our carefully laid plans. Things go wrong, plans change at the last minute, and sometimes things go better than expected. The key thing is to let go of our expectations, make the best plans we can, hope for the best and then let what happens happen. It’s an exercise in mindfulness where the goal is to take what comes in the moment for what it is, without judgement, and without comparing to an imagined ideal. It’s an excellent practice for the holidays.
- Don’t expect people to read your mind. We want our friends, family, and partners to know exactly what we need or want in any given moment. We expect partners especially to be able to pick out a perfect gift and know what to do to make the holidays special for us. The problem is that it can set us up for disappointment when they, in fact, have no idea what will make us happy. It’s not always realistic to expect a partner or other family member to know what we want or need the most, so as part of your self care practice you can try outright telling them! Try picking one thing that would really make your holiday special. Maybe it’s having a family snow shoe outing. Maybe its getting a particular gift, or finding time to watch a treasured holiday movie. Whatever it is, just ask for it and then enjoy it thoroughly without being resentful that you had to spell it out. Our loved ones aren’t mind readers, as much as we wish they were.
- Be sure to take some time out to be alone and enjoy the aspects of the holidays that are most wondrous for you. I make sure to head out to the craft fairs and Christmas markets (without my child!) every year. Go somewhere alone. Sit in a coffee shop with some apple cider and a book. The holidays are busy and frequently overscheduled. Make sure you schedule in some alone time to rest and recharge. Even if its just having a bath or getting into bed early.
- If you’re beyond the bulk of your postpartum issues, remember that the holidays may be a trigger for old symptoms and habits. Watch for signs of anxiety or faltering mood. Be ready to pick up the old self care techniques that worked best for you in the midst of your postpartum journey. Try making a list of your top five self care practices and post it somewhere so you have a plan in place if things start to slide.
- Set limits. You don’t have to do it all. Your partner can probably bake some of the cookies. You can probably get away with fewer decorations, fewer gifts, and fewer outings. This year I want to think very carefully about what is essential to the enjoyment of the holidays and be careful not to overdo it.
- Don’t be afraid to let some darkness in. My final tip is about the inevitability of darkness during the holidays. As we approach the darkest day of the year and all the associated festivities I like to remember that its normal for some emotional darkness to emerge as well. The holidays are a deeply emotional time and for many people loneliness, grief, loss, and isolation are a reality. It’s okay to mourn over the holidays. It’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to revisit past griefs and invite in the pain that comes with being apart from those we love. The darkness of winter feels like the right time, symbolically, to nurse those griefs. They can be a part of your holiday ritual and just as we light fires in our hearths to chase away the winter chill, its a good time of year to return to the self care practices that will light a fire in your heart to make the darkness bearable. Share with friends you trust, write in your journal, honour whatever darkness comes and let it exist next to the joy.