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November 22, 2016

Setting boundaries with family and friends: Tips for managing the holiday season with a newborn

Parenting Holidays
Katie_Gagnon_Thanksgiving Colleen English Barbere/for PhillyVoice

Katie and her husband will miss their annual Thanksgiving family reunion because their baby boy will not be vaccinated until December. Some of their relatives don't understand this decision, but they are following doctors' orders. For holidays and every day, Katie recommends making decisions and setting boundaries that are best for baby.

Setting boundaries with family and friends when you have a baby can be tricky. Many friends and relatives want to visit you in the hospital or at home, meet your infant, cuddle and kiss your baby. This stems from love and excitement, the joy of welcoming a new person into their lives and celebrating with mother and father. But that new mom and dad are juggling a lot, and sometimes having too many visitors adds to the anxiety that can accompany caring for a new baby. Here are five recommendations for setting boundaries based on my experiences since having Killian.

Establish Healthy Boundaries Together

I recommend talking to your partner to develop a list of priorities and rules that work for you and your baby. It is paramount for you to be on the same page when you bring your son or daughter home because there will be a lot going on and having some sort of game plan will remove unwanted stress.

 I requested privacy for the first couple weeks since I was learning how to breastfeed and healing from labor and delivery. My husband completely understood, so visitors were limited to my close family members and my best friend. This allowed me to focus on my baby and me, surrounded by those with whom I am most comfortable.

Your Baby Comes First

As a parent, you are your child’s caregiver, with a duty to protect your baby. My husband and I make decisions about our family based on what is best for our son. Right now, most of that revolves around his exposure to people and germs. Our son will be vaccinated at 2 months old, and until then, we have to be very careful. My family’s Thanksgiving reunion brings more than 100 relatives together at the start of cold and flu season. Our pediatrician has cautioned us against taking Killian to this holiday celebration, as it would be nearly impossible to keep a barrier between him and everyone excited to meet him. I am sad to miss out on one of my favorite family traditions, but my baby’s health and well-being are paramount. Not everyone in my family understands our decision to not attend this year; some feel that we are being overly cautious. I honestly do not care. We are putting our baby first.

Set Expectations

As first-time parents, my husband and I were encouraged by our doctors and nurses to set expectations for our visitors. First and foremost, anyone spending an extended period of time with our baby boy would need to first receive a flu shot and the Tdap vaccine. Visitors need to wash their hands before they hold our son. And they need to be prepared to help us around the house, run errands or fend for themselves in the kitchen. If you have a friend or relative who you know will make things difficult, expect to be waited on, or add to your stress, explain to them that your home is baby central and it would be better if they waited to visit. For some friends and relatives, it can be difficult to have these conversations before they ring your doorbell. Just keep in mind that you are making choices to benefit your baby. Everything else is less important.

It’s OK to Say No

It can be hard to say no to visitors, but sometimes it is in the best interest of you and your baby. Close relatives of mine wanted to come to our home when my baby boy was just a few weeks old, and I was so excited to introduce them to their new cousin. When I learned that an illness had been going around their home, keeping one of their children out of school, I had to tell them to postpone their visit. I could sense their disappointment; I was disappointed, too. To ensure I was doing the right thing, I spoke with our pediatrician, who emphasized that Killian’s young and yet-to-be-vaccinated immune system needed to be safeguarded at all costs. We simply could not take the chance of bringing an illness into our home. Because of that, it was easy to just say no.

Managing the Grandparents

It is important to facilitate a grandparent’s special bond with your baby. Of all the visitors you will host, you should be most accommodating to your parents, but that does not mean you can’t set boundaries. You should evaluate with your partner whether your parents will help or hinder you as you care for your infant. If it’s the latter, encourage short visits at a time that is best for your schedule. Delay their overnight stays until you have developed a routine. Have specific tasks in mind if they ask how they can help. Understand that it is OK to say no if they want to visit and it is not a good time. It is OK to take time alone with your baby when they are there if you need a break. It is OK to put your baby to bed according to schedule even if a grandparent asks to keep holding him. My husband and I are so lucky to have supportive parents, especially my mother, who was the epitome of loving helpfulness during our first week at home. While we were taking care of our son, my mom took care of everything else. She cooked, she cleaned, she grocery shopped, ran our errands and kept the laundry going. She took care of the baby when we asked and provided invaluable guidance as we learned to be parents. She, my dad and my husband’s parents all helped us in different ways while spending precious time with their grandson.

This week I am giving thanks for all of the family and friends who have showered our baby boy with love and provided us with so much help and support. From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

If you have recommendations or stories about setting boundaries when you have a baby, please share in the comments or tweet me @ThePhillyVoice and @KathleenEGagnon.

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