Episode 51: Surviving the Holidays

I recorded this episode on November 13, 2017, and it seemed like a good time to talk some sense about the upcoming holiday season. Or is the word “upcoming” wishful thinking on my part? As far as commerce is concerned, the holiday season has already arrived. I went to the pet store with Julian yesterday, and they were selling a Santa outfit for guinea pigs.

Seriously. A Santa suit for guinea pigs.

Before you go crazy, and think you have to buy a guinea pig, and then get a Santa suit for said guinea pig, let’s get down to Holiday Survival Basics.

YOU HAVE TO MEET YOUR NEEDS FIRST. Your basic needs. Sleep food air warmth.  Are you familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?  It’s a pyramid that represents our needs as humans.  The triangle at the tippy top represents self-actualization. I love self-actualization. That’s where we become our best selves. But before we can reach the top of the pyramid? We need a solid base. Otherwise the whole pyramid collapses on itself.

Maslow places physiological needs at the base. That includes sleep. Babies, god bless them, really batter the shit out of the base of our pyramid. It takes a lot of work, and luck, and sacrifices to the gods of slumber, to get enough sleep. 

Julian, my sweet rambunctious two-year-old, learned how to climb out of his crib recently and so we graduated him to a “big boy bed.” (Translation: twin mattress on the floor.) Now he is waking up early. As in 4:30 in the morning. Waaaaay too early. Nathan and I are taking turns with the morning shift, and damn, this experience has been an excellent reminder as to how important sleep truly is. Today, I got enough sleep. I am patient kind loving creative funny happy empathetic and all sorts of good stuff. Yesterday I was up at 4:30 and felt like a vicious bitchy beast all day. I literally growled at my children.  It was suboptimal. But I’m not going to beat myself up because holy crap, it is hard to do anything but survive if you are not getting enough sleep.

So why am I rambling on about pyramids and sleep? Because like newborns, the holidays muck with our basic needs. With all the commercials and carols, tinsel and traditions, it can start to feel like crafting the perfect wreath is more important than getting a good night’s sleep. It’s not!

Your mental health is everything. Not something. Not anything.  EVERYTHING. If you don’t have your mental health, then how can you even think of enjoying the holidays?

There will be Christmas 2018 and Christmas 2019 and on and on until the end of time. Do what you have to do this year – and every year! – to preserve your mental health. Don’t sacrifice your mental health in order to perfectly wrap baby’s presents. Baby don’t give a shit if the gift wrap coordinates with the bow. (Actually, baby don’t even give a shit about presents.) 

Holidays can get messy because everyone has their own expectations. It’s OK to disappoint someone if their expectations do not work for you this year. Especially if their expectations might damage your mental or even physiological health. 

You can’t manage other people’s expectations. Mainly because those expectations are floating around in their heads and you are not psychic. But even if you are psychic, or even if the people in your life go to great pains to articulate their expectations, you still have to remember the golden rule: YOUR MENTAL HEALTH IS EVERYTHING. It does not matter what your sister or father-in-law expects from the holidays if their expectations interfere with your ability to meet your basic needs. 

But you can manage your expectations. That’s what I’m trying to do this year. Manage my expectations. I started a list the other day on my iPhone. I put “holiday cards” on the list.  That made me realize I also want to take cute photos, which made me realize I also want to craft a cute Advent calendar, which made me get really honest with myself and admit to about thirty other insane expectations.

The list made me realize I’m heading into the holidays with some schemes that will interfere with my sanity. But now that I have made the list, I feel like there is more space in my head.

Next step: I have to show my list to Nathan so he can tell me where I am being insane. Confession: I’m a little afraid to do this because he’s going to get a good look at my crazy Pinterest side.

Before I show my list to Nathan, I’m taking a hard look at it and labeling things as “do-able,” “aspirational” and “societal.”

Christmas cards? I hate making Christmas cards. They stress me out. I only think I have to do them because it’s a societal expectation. And these days, a lot of people skip the cards. So maybe it’s not so much a societal expectation as a pressure generated by all the companies that want my money and create elaborate blog campaigns to convince me that my life will be perfect if only I get the best cutest hippest Christmas cards.

Yeah, I’m not falling for that this year. Christmas cards are getting slashed off my To Do List.

Then there are gingerbread houses. For me, those are aspirational, so I now have a ten year plan to eventually make elaborate houses with my kids. But this year? I will buy kits at Trader Joes and assemble the houses when the kids are asleep. Then, when we are all well-rested and happy, I’ll let the kids go crazy with frosting and candy.

With your list, be sure to listen to your gut and do what works for you. When your gut says one thing, but your head says something else, listen to your gut. 

You don’t need to get good photos. You don’t. The memories and love are there regardless of how many photos you take. By all means, take photos. I love cuddling with my children and flipping through old photos. But we get as much joy from candid shots as we do from staged fancy shoots. Actually, the candid shots are probably more entertaining. I don’t have any awesome Christmas photos from years past and guess what? That’s okay!

If there’s a tradition or expectation driving you crazy, remember: most traditions were started, or at least perpetuated, by someone looking to make a buck. The person selling fancy Christmas trees does not care whether you have a merry Christmas and they certainly aren’t worrying about your mental health. They just want your money.

If you are looking for a book to keep you sane during the holidays, I highly recommend Llama Llama, Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney. I think it is as soothing for mamas as the little llamas.

When things do not go according to plan (and with kids, they rarely do), remember that a little chaos makes for a good story. Stories about the perfect calm holiday meal? Boring. The family story about the year the turkey spontaneously combust? Outstanding!

When all else fails: there’s always next year. 

Episode 50: Starting A Peer Support Group

Episode 50? Woot woot! I probably should have baked a cake, right? I baked a chocolate cake last weekend for Julian’s birthday, so let’s just pretend that cake was also for the podcast.

Thinking of starting a postpartum mom-to-mom support group? Fabulous! These are my top eleven tips. (Ten sounds better, but hey, I thought of eleven.)

1.  If you want to start a mom-to-mom support group, do it!  Don’t worry about the frills and frippery.  You don’t need a website or blog header.  You don’t need to know who your first one hundred members are.  You don’t need a five year plan.  You do not have to be perfect in the beginning.  Your group can and should evolve over time.  Just start.

2.  Do what works for you.  In a perfect world, these groups would be offered in every neighborhood at dozens of different times.  But you are human.  You can’t be everything to everyone.  Pick the time, location, frequency, and logistics that work for YOU so the group is sustainable. 

3.  Lower your expectations.  Moms will RSVP and never show up for a meeting.  There might be weeks (even months) when no one attends.  Be patient and remember: you are helping a tough crowd.  Life with a baby? DIFFICULT.  Nap schedules change without warning.  Babies get sick.  get really excited when a mom makes it to your group, because damn, she worked hard to be there. 

4.  Don’t take anything personally.  I think this is critical for just about everything in life.  I can’t stop talking about The Four Agreements and think it should be required reading for humanity.  If you want to run a mom-to-mom support group, read that book!

But more specifically for running a mom-to-mom support group, some moms will attend and clearly hate the group.  That’s their journey.  It’s not you.  Even if it seems like you, remember, they are dealing with all sorts of emotional and psychological issues. 

5.  Some moms need to attend regularly.  Others need only attend once.

6.  Remember: you are not a mental health professional.  Be sure to mention that to any new moms who attend.

7.  If you have the money, Meetup.com is great.  At least in Pasadena.  But for spreading the word about your group, there’s also Facebook and emailing mom resources directly, e.g. obstetricians, pediatricians, mommy and me classes.   

8.  You are allowed to quit.  I quit when I was pregnant with my second child because hello, I had morning sickness until the day I gave birth.  I knew I could not keep the group going while vomiting all day long.  Know yourself.  Know your limits.  You have to meet your needs before you can meet anyone else’s needs. 

9.  You are allowed to start over if you do quit.  I restarted my group when Julian was about six months old and the second incarnation was even better than the first.  That’s when I committed to a regular time and day and asked The Family Room if I could use their space to host my meetings. 

10.  You are helping people who you never meet.  I promise, you are.  For some moms, just knowing your group exists is a huge relief.  It helps them realize they are not alone.  They need that.  I have dozens of moms whom have never attended my group but signed up for the Meetup, and I know they are helped by the group’s existence. When you start the group, you are fighting the stigma.

11.  You can’t save everyone.

Also: check our Jane Honikman’s books!  They are amazing resources!   I have listed them all below with Amazon links. I did not read these books until after I had started my group, so don’t feel pressure to read them first. (See Tip # 1.) But don’t feel like you have to invent the wheel by yourself.

Jane Honikman’s Books:

Community Support For New Families

I’m Listening: A Guide to Supporting Postpartum Families

Postpartum Action Manual: How to Provide Comfort, Encouragement, and Guidance to New Families