I slumped into the rocking chair, settled my four month old into nursing, and then began to cry. I was so exhausted, in all the ways a new mom is exhausted – sleepless nights, constant demands, uncertainties about this confusing new role. But on top of that, it was Christmas, my first Christmas as a mother.
The expectations attributed to this special time of year felt insurmountable. I wanted to experience the magic of Christmas with a child – my child – in just the way I always imagined it to be, before I was a mother, of course. Instead I was tired and overwhelmed and feeling claustrophobic by all the festivities and extended family time surrounding this holiday. All on top of caring for my very needy baby.
I have always been a more introverted, highly sensitive personality. I chose running over team sports, reading over cooperative games, coziness over craziness. But when it came to Christmas, that was when I always said yes to more. More decorations, more festivities, more family and friend togetherness. I figured, it only comes once each year, so why miss a single moment of it?
When I became a mother, however, all of this “more” suddenly felt like too much.
As I sat there in the room, alone, all but the little babe nestled into my body, I found my first moment of clarity that holiday season. I was without a phone, a book or another person taking my attention. Surrounded by my own quiet breathing, her gentle touch, and a moment just for myself. Another person might feel trapped in this isolation; instead I felt free. The tension in my chest began to ease, bit by bit, as each moment passed.
It was the evening of Christmas Day, nearing the end of a month’s worth of family and friend gatherings. Each festive event by itself was special. But all gathered together as a collection of events, I felt suffocated. This overwhelming sense went unnoticed, however, until I let myself be still and allowed the feelings in. The value of a few quiet moments for my soul’s care was pushed aside, until it was forced upon me. I was exhausted by this little baby in my arms and the weight of her presence in my life. But in this one moment, where I could finally pause from all expected activity, I realized how important it was to take care of myself at Christmas.
I looked down at my baby, in awe at her ability to so easily find comfort. Her innate knowledge of what she needed and an ability to ask (cry) for it. What an important skill to develop at such a young age. I couldn’t help but wonder when we lose it? When do we stop listening to exactly what we need, when do we stop telling others how they can help us?
While the holiday season will always be special with children – maybe even more so because of the magic they seem to carry – I’ve realized this time of year will also be hard, as an introverted mom. Over the years, usually by happenstance and as my mothering skills develop, I have learned how to care for myself in the midst of the chaos. There is still festive magic, as there always will be. But there is also more peace.
So if you, too, tend toward an introverted, highly sensitive personality, let this be your guide this holiday season, to help you keep both the magic and the stillness alive.
Build quiet pauses into your day.
“Oxygen mask on first,” they say. This is all the more important in a full season for an introvert. As you think about your schedule each day, be sure to build in a quiet pause for yourself to refuel from the busy intensity sure to come. It doesn’t have to look the same each time, and it doesn’t have to be very long.
Personally, I find peace in those few early morning minutes before the rest of the home awakens, cup of coffee in my hand, face glowing by the light of the tree (which is ironic seeing as I currently write this during my morning quiet time with two children who found me, so it is definitely NOT quiet.) If long distance travel is in your plan, use an hour in the car while everyone is either napping or quietly entertained to collect your thoughts and take a deep breath. Maybe all you have is a few minutes at the end of the day before visions of sugar plums dance in your head. Take it. Acknowledge it. Breathe. Listen to the quiet. You need this.
And before you fall asleep, make sure you know when you will pause the next day. Knowing there is already time set aside for our hearts to breathe relieves some of the anxiety that surrounds the more intense moments.
Don’t be afraid to escape.
If your holidays include visits with extended family, social overwhelm is most likely in your future. One of the first lessons I learned as a mother of a nursing baby was I didn’t mind being the one to step away and feed them. It was my small moment to be quiet and still, and not feel bad about it at all. This excuse only works if you plan on continuing to have babies (don’t let me stop you!) but there are other ways to find time to step away from the intensity of family time too.
Go for a solo walk or run with nothing but a good podcast to keep you company. Take a looooooong shower or bath while the extra hands can care for your little ones. Offer to go to the grocery store. ALONE. Whatever it is, don’t feel guilty about stepping away from your family for a few moments each day. You will be better engaged and present with the family when it is time to be together again. Give your family the gift of a well cared for you.
Host, or at the very least, offer to cook.
This may seem counterintuitive to invite more people into your home when you are already feeling overwhelmed. I have discovered, however, that being the host of a party gives me an excuse to care for people without having to carry on extensive conversations. If I am busy bustling around refilling drinks, preparing food, or washing dishes, what I don’t have to do is be significantly social. I take great satisfaction in quietly making other people comfortable.
If you are unable to host, perhaps offer to cook a meal for the family you are visiting. This gives you an excuse to busy yourself in the kitchen away from the hubbub, while also giving the host a break from some of their responsibilities. If people offer to help, don’t be afraid to say, “No thanks, I’ve got this! Why don’t you go set the table/lay out the cheese plate/read the kids a book.”
Focus first on quieter family traditions.
There is never a shortage of events to say “yes” to in December – parties, lighting ceremonies, parades, Santa breakfasts, and more. While delightful to the young child, they are also sure to be loud, busy, and maybe not quite as magical from start to finish. So I let the loud traditions come and go as we have time and bandwidth for them each year. In turn, I make the quieter family traditions a larger priority. Like driving around in the car with hot chocolate looking at Christmas lights, reading a new holiday book at the end of the day together around the tree, and the small, quiet, “just us” family Christmas at home the week before our big family Christmas road trip. The loud events will happen, and can still be fun. But it’s the quieter ones I put on the calendar first.
Let your heart – and your media consumption – be light.
There is a reason cheesy Christmas movies do so well this time of year. With the intensity of emotions and bombardment of responsibilities, my mind has a difficult time focusing on much. My heart aches for the comforting ease of familiarity and predictability when things feel rushed. For this, I choose to make my viewing, reading, and listening experiences as light as possible. I watch the same Christmas movies year after year to feel that comfort of home. The heavy literature goes to the side for a bit, making room for the ridiculously predictable and equally enjoyable Christmas themed books I can get my hands on at the library. And I never tire of listening to all of the Christmas music, all of the time. The heavy topics can come around in January when I have more introvert-bandwidth. For now, I let my heart be light.
Plan a break in January.
Equally as important as planning your breaks in each day, a much larger break to look forward to in January is life giving. I have found it possible to be a person who moves through the business and energy of the holidays with more grace if I know I have a gift of space waiting for me on the other side. This is the moment when asking for what you need is at its greatest value. Do not be afraid to ask your partner for a day, a morning, an evening away from all of the people. Communicate what you need now, so that you can both plan accordingly. Maybe think about asking for it as a gift. Time for me, and only me, sounds like the perfect gift to find wrapped up under the tree.
So the moral of the story is that the mom who cried cradling her new baby that first Christmas learned a few things over the years. Time teaches me so much of who I am and who I am still becoming. I am a person who is easily exhausted and burned out by multiple festivities, intense emotions, and extended social time. And I am also a person who loves magic, joy, beauty and love. These can, and should, coexist. I still love the holidays; I don’t want any of their magic taken from me. But caring for myself takes priority. This requires me to listen to my heart and what I need for self care, as well as to learn how to communicate when I need it. The attention is important always, but this season, when love and giving abounds, is a perfect time to practice it. It just might be the best gift you give yourself this year.
Take care, introverted moms. May your holidays be merry and bright, and a little bit quiet.