Home for the holidays?

“Of course I’m going home for the holidays!” said my friend with a look of disbelief. 

Not travel back east to visit her parents and extended family? Never! How could I even imply such a thing? 

Hats off to her for being so committed to the traditions of her family. However, I wondered if she’d factored in the reality of traveling with her brand-new baby, just 2 months old at the time of this conversation.

“Oh, but everyone is just dying to meet her!” she said. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.” 

More planning, preparation 

The addition of a new baby is always a bit disorienting. If you’re in a partnership, the cozy duo is suddenly triangulated by the addition of a third — sweet and cuddly, perhaps, but also incontinent and insomniatic — who requires around-the-clock care. 

Life as you once knew it has changed overnight. In the psychedelic weeks following the arrival of your baby, a trip to the drugstore may seem like an event that requires planning. In fact, it is an event that requires planning: Will the baby be asleep? Or hungry? And do you really need to put her in a snowsuit if you’re just running her out to the car? So many details!

The planning and preparation involved with baby care becomes even more complex when you approach the topic of “the holidays.” 

Often fraught with meaning and obligation, the holiday season can be a difficult time to manage for parents with a new baby on the scene. 

A baby walks onto a plane …

“Traveling with a baby is totally not a big deal,” I told myself prior to my first plane trip to visit my husband’s family, baby in tow.  

I was wrong. 

Although the flight was completed with no major incidents, I hadn’t fully considered what came next: Frantic middle-of-the-night baby bouncing in a vain attempt to not wake up the entire house of visiting family. Or using my supplemental nursing system in front of my mother-in-law.

“Why don’t you let me give her a bottle?” she asked as she eyed the contraption attached to my exposed breast.      

Obligations and expectations 

Before I had a baby, I just kind of coasted along during the holiday season. Company holiday party? Yeah, I better go. Poorly timed bridal shower? I’d look like a jerk not showing up. Boozy baking party? Who am I, Scrooge? 

After the arrival of my first child, I realized I had to become more discerning about my social commitments, or face almost certain peril. 

Too much spiked cider on a Friday could destroy an entire weekend.

Too many random invites from distant acquaintances could equal weeks of resentment as I calculated all the time spent making forced conversation over a wheel of Brie. 

When we become parents, many of us find ourselves at a crossroads when it comes to holiday commitments (or any commitments, really). Do you really have to drag your family across the country for the holidays? Or does it just feel that way? 

I would like to encourage all of you to at least consider the possibility of another way. 

Perhaps you could agree as a group to buy gifts only for the kids. Or blow off the elaborate dinner and have it catered instead. Or maybe just stay home and create some traditions of your own. 

The way forward 

I saw the friend I mentioned earlier a few weeks after she returned from her trip home. 

“It was … intense,” she said, when I asked how it had gone. “I mean, it was great! But intense.” 

We all have to weigh the costs and benefits of our various decisions. 

But whenever I start feeling like I’m being pulled in different directions to satisfy the expectations of others, I try to step back and get some perspective. 

And no matter what the situation, I often go back to one of my mantras — stolen from Pamela Druckerman in her book, Bringing up Bebe — “I’m the one who decides.” 

I would like to suggest that you are the one who decides, too.  

Shannon Keough lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to skeough@mnparent.com.