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Emily Writes on the greatest gift of all: not being a jerk at Christmas

Christmas is a time for togetherness and giving, with one golden rule: don’t be a dickhead. Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes shares her guide to not being a dickhead, making Christmas Day fun for kids, and being kind at Christmas time.

Whether you have wee ones or not – Christmas can be a stressful time. Or a magical time. Or some kind of magical stressful time. Every year (well, last year and this year) I get emails in the lead up to Christmas from new mums who are stressed and tired and really nervous about taking their new baby to the big family Christmas.

Children in Xmas

Christmas can be awesome, and big families can be awesome, and these things can also be really not awesome.

It’s hard to be assertive and set boundaries and stick to them and feel OK at Christmas time when you’re around heaps of family that you don’t see often and you have a new baby you’re trying to figure out how to care for AND you’re not getting any sleep.

It’s awesome if this isn’t you – it’s awesome if you have awesome family relations and Christmas Day is a super relaxing day that you’re looking forward to. This is what I think everyone should have.

But everyone doesn’t have this. So I wanted to write a post to the people reading this who maybe don’t have kids, or have grown up kids, and want to support their friends who are parents through Christmas.

And I also wanted to talk a bit about how we can make Christmas really good for kids.

And not in a Pinterest gingerbread mansion kind of way, more in a, Christmas can be really overwhelming for little ones so let’s make this easier for them, kind of thing…

Let’s break it down:

How to treat your cousin or aunt or whatever who you think is maybe pregnant

DON’T ask if they’re pregnant

That’s it. So they’re not drinking. So they look bigger. So they have been married a while. Don’t ask. Just don’t. Do you know what sucks? For a lot of people December 2015 marks a year of trying to have a baby. Imagine beginning a year and making that decision to have a baby – the excitement and joy and the little bit of fear. You might have imagined Christmas as a time when you’d be rubbing your big belly, or you’d be holding your baby. Instead, you’ve spent month after month not getting pregnant. It’s crushing. And debilitating. And now you’ve got someone asking you if you’re pregnant when you’re not. Or you’ve had a miscarriage and haven’t told family. If you’d not lost the baby you might be seven months along. You might have bought a little decoration for the tree.

If someone is pregnant and they want you to know – they’ll tell you.

End. Of. Story.

How to treat your cousin or aunt or whatever who is pregnant

I was eight months pregnant last Christmas and I travelled to Auckland. It was awful. Auckland is hot and horrible even when you’re not eight months pregnant (I’m sorry Auckland). What made my Christmas tolerable and even enjoyable was the little things my family did to help me through…

DO – help the mum-to-be to rest

The best thing was when one of the Aunties set up a room for me and put two fans on me and surrounded me with pillows and let me sleep for a few hours in the middle of the day. Do what you can to help the mum-to-be relax. This might be her last chance. If it’s hot – get a fan. Put her feet up. Bring her a nice cold drink.

DO – Look after her other children

If she has other kids, keep an eye on them and keep them entertained. Soon she will have her hands really full, don’t make her chase after her kids when you can do it. She’ll be so grateful, trust me! Also, see below on letting kids be kids. It’s going to be stressful for her if you keep demanding her other children do things beyond their abilities as little ones.

DON’T bombard her with horror stories

When I was pregnant I never heard one positive birth story. It was all – and then the baby was pulled out by the leg and another friend had a baby and then they were like OMG THERE IS TWO MORE IN THERE and did you hear about the mum whose epidural didn’t work and she got pregnant while being pregnant and do you know what a Vagus is? It’s when your vagina and anus and… I rest my case. Don’t. She might be scared and nervous about labour. Don’t make it worse. This rule is for every day – not just Christmas Day.

How to treat your cousin or aunt or whatever who has a new baby

DO – Set her up in a comfy chair

Bring her water. Bring her a plate of food. Let her relax with the baby. When today is over, she will go back to being possibly (quite probably) unsupported. Today is a great day to show her how much you all love her AS WELL AS her baby. Tell her how great she’s doing. Remind her that she’s an excellent mum and she’s doing really well.

DO – Wash your hands before touching the baby and ask first

Babies can get sick easily, but also – as a new mum, the last thing you want to see is someone put their finger in your child’s mouth when you don’t know if they’ve washed their hands. Also, don’t put your finger in the baby’s mouth unless mum says – “hey, can you put your finger in my baby’s mouth?” Don’t grab the baby. Don’t try to wake it when it’s sleeping. If it sleeps all day and mum doesn’t want you to move the baby – Too bad. You don’t get to hold the baby. Don’t ever move the baby unless mum tells you to. Sleep can be hard fought for and babies need their sleep. If someone ever wakes my kids I want to fucking stab them – and they’re almost two and four.

If the baby falls asleep on you, I’m sorry – but you cannot move until the baby wakes up. In my house we have a rule: You wake it, you take it.

DON’T forget about her other children

If she has other children, make sure you welcome them and play with them and make them feel special too. It’s a big change for a little person – if everyone is cooing over the baby they might feel left out. Talk to them about how they’re feeling about being a big brother or sister. Let them know how proud you are of how they’re supporting their mummy and daddy. Show them how much you love them too.

DON’T hog the baby

I know you want to see the baby. I turn into a bit of a weirdo around babies. I just want to sniff them and hold them and they’re so beautiful and sometimes I feel like some evil queen who wants to eat them. I get the magnetic allure of babies. TRUST ME. I am a baby fiend. It’s my aim in life to hold every baby. But a mum has waited more than nine months to meet her baby – sometimes it’s been many, many years. Now that baby is here, mum might not want baby handled by heaps of people, and she might want to keep baby close because she’s still getting to know baby. So often I see family members holding babies while mum races around cleaning and cooking and doing EVERYTHING and I often think it should really be reversed. Mum did all the hard work getting baby here, and she just wants to get to know her baby.

If the baby is really fresh do not be surprised or annoyed if she doesn’t want you to hold the baby. If you do hold the baby, make sure you don’t spend all day with the baby. Also, “I’ll hold the baby while you clean” isn’t that great of an offer. I hear SO MUCH from new mums about people visiting new babies WAY TOO SOON and just parking themselves on the couch and holding the baby while they make a new mum make them tea and coffee and fix them lunch. Don’t be that person. There will be plenty of time to hold the baby.

My next bit of advice?

DO hog the baby

Sometimes you’re like “omg if I hold this baby one more second I’m going to explode please someone take this baby” and you just want to catch up with other people and not have a hot, sweaty, sticky baby on you. In that case – hog away. Huff that sweet little baby!

Yes, this is conflicting advice – but that’s because everyone is different. Follow mum’s lead. If she looks tired and fretful and is clinging tight to baby, she probably wants you to just let her cuddle baby in peace. If she is holding baby at arm’s length and saying OMG GET IT. Well, you’re good.

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DON’T overwhelm her with stupid questions/dumb advice

“Oh sounds like baby is hungry!” Guess what? Mum knows when baby is hungry. If baby is crying – mum knows. You don’t need to say “must be hungry” or “baby is crying”. Don’t do ‘in my day’. Don’t hassle her for bottle feeding or breast feeding. Don’t shit on about how you cherished every minute and tell her while her nipples are bleeding that breastfeeding is bliss. Don’t give her shit for having a glass of wine. Not your body, not your choice. Don’t tell her the baby needs to sleep – babies always need to sleep. Don’t ask if the baby is a “good” baby. All babies are good. Don’t scare her with stories of cot death and how you know someone whose baby died. Just chill – talk about how cute the baby is and how great she’s doing. If she opens up and says she’s having a hard time – support her. You don’t have to provide answers. Just listen.

How to treat your cousin or aunt or whatever who has toddlers

DO let the kids have fun

“Just chill” is my motto for Christmas Day. So the kids are running inside or one of them has opened up a present before they were allowed to. They’re kids. Let mum handle it – and if she’s not bothered, you don’t need to be bothered. Don’t step in and don’t yell at the kids. Think about whether getting angry at children for getting too excited on Christmas day is something you need to do.

If mum decides to let things slide, let them slide. She knows her kids. She has probably decided this isn’t a battle worth fighting. If you don’t like her way of handling it wait until she’s gone and then moan. Nobody needs a scene at Christmas.

Children decorating senior man with Christmas decorations in yard

Do remember they’re toddlers.

Tantrums are Normal Toddler Behaviour. Totally normal. Tantrums on Christmas Day – EXPECTED AND ACCEPTABLE. Think about it – what’s something you’re passionate about? It has to be something you love more than anything in the world. Now imagine you are going to get this thing or experience or whatever. But you have to wait a month. And you don’t really know how days work so each day you think this huge thing is happening today but it isn’t. Each day you get excited but it’s a normal day and someone says – it’s soon! But you can’t really figure out how soon. And the thing you’re freaking obsessed with is sometimes IN THE ROOM UNDER A TREE. But you can’t even touch it let alone open it. And then finally – after all this time – you wake up and TODAY IS THE DAY! You’re about to shit yourself with excitement. And then you get put into a car for four hours. And you don’t know how long you’re driving for. For all you know it could be a year.

You finally arrive at your destination – you’re hot and stressed and you’re still waiting for the thing. AND YOU ARE SUPER TIRED. You usually have sleeps during the day but today you’re not allowed to sleep or you feel like if you sleep you might miss the thing. And now there are all these people – and some of them are kissing you and hugging you but you’ve never met them. And some of them are lifting you off the ground and you’re a bit scared but also excited because your cousins and friends are there and your grandparents. And there’s weird tension. But you still want the thing. And you don’t know when you’re going to get the thing.

And did I mention you have very little control of your emotions?

Now – you’ve got to go through all of that and you’re never once allowed to get upset or cry or complain or have any kind of reaction. Because if you do, you’re bad. And everyone will tell you you’re bad. And they’ll compare you to your friend or cousin or sister who has handled it slightly better than you. And in front of you they’ll say your friend or cousin or brother is a better person than you.

This is what Christmas can be like for kids. It’s super fun – but it’s exhausting. Naps don’t happen when they need to. There are new people, new situations, lots of travel. Worst still, people talk about you like you’re not even there and say you’re good or bad as if you can’t hear them.

Be gentle on the little ones and don’t expect too much from them. Let them be kids.

Remember: if you can handle the auntie who always gets drunk or the uncle who is really gross, you can handle the spirited toddler. Adults get SO MUCH space to be dicks at Christmas. Let kids be kids because they’re not trying to hurt anyone and they’re not being dicks. They’re just being kids. They have way less ability to handle their emotions than X FAMILY MEMBER WHO EVERYONE HAS WHO IS JUST OUT OF CONTROL.

Ask a child if you can kiss them or hug them and respect their answer.

Lots of parents are trying to teach their children body autonomy. They’re trying to teach them lessons that will help keep them safe for life. Children need to be respected – if they want to kiss you they well, but don’t force them into it and allow them the option not to kiss. Don’t be weird if a child doesn’t want to kiss you and for the love of God don’t force them to. Imagine if I made you kiss your gross uncle? And I was like COME ON KISS HIM JUST ONE KISS JUST A CUDDLE BE A GOOD GIRL BE A GOOD BOY AND KISS YOUR UNCLE KISS HIM NOW.

See it’s fucking creepy. Hi-5 or something.

Don’t judge a mum based on what you see on one day of the year.

You don’t see what goes on every day at home. You don’t see the way she handles all the kids and gets to work on time and keeps the house running and does charity work and has endless smiles for her children even when she’s exhausted. You don’t see that so don’t think you know her by a few tired remarks on Christmas Day.

If she loses it – it will be because she’s tired and stressed and Christmas can be overwhelming. If she cries – it’s probably because she’s overwhelmed. If she snaps at the kids – she’ll probably feel awful about it, and your raised eyebrow won’t help.

Be kind. The best present you can give is letting her know that this is just one day. If the kids are running wild that’s fine, if she can’t keep up that’s ok, if she’s exhausted let her rest – tomorrow is another day. And we’re family and family do what we can to look out for each other. And there’s always next year.

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Emily Writes is editor of The Spinoff Parents. Her book Rants in the Dark is out February 27. Pre-order it here. Follow her on Facebook here.


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