Updated: Sep 12, 2022
By Philip Mott, www.philipmott.com
Our children come into this world, and our heads fill with images of what might be. My wife, for example, talked about visions of apple orchard visits in the fall and warm cookies on a Saturday afternoon. I envisioned big dinners together and weekend camping trips. Then the children come, and you feel it’s all you can do to just stay awake. The traditions in our minds were of an older family.
Traditions are often thought of as the things that shape the culture of a family. As we approach the conventional holidays, I wanted to discuss the hidden traditions of the youngest ones in our family experience.
Consent A trend I’m happy to see in young parents is the growing awareness of getting a child’s consent. Around the holidays, our baby is around people they don’t recognize. One Western tradition is putting reluctant babies and toddlers on the lap of a jolly old man for a Christmas picture. But many young families are starting to question this tradition. They feel their infant has the right to be free from uncomfortable situations. Does that mean we can’t get the picture? In an age where pictures no longer just live in shoeboxes but in digital form, it’s important that we consider the life cycle of our child’s pictures. Your family may find it adorable that your daughter had a tantrum on Santa’s lap, but when she sees it at the age of 10, or a peer makes a meme of the picture at the age of 12, how will everyone feel about it? Consent is about getting past our own desires and thinking about what our actions say about how we relate to children. Maybe take the picture but be open to holding your child yourself or finding a way to make it a pleasant experience.
It may be somewhat uncomfortable at first but you can extend consent to who has permission to hold the baby. Look for clues about whether the baby wants to be picked up or not and try to honor that choice.
Change of Routine Holiday gatherings bring big changes to a baby’s routine. Even if you aren’t a family who heavily schedules the days, the holidays always seem to bring changes. People stay up later, eat and drink more, go to more places, and see new and old faces. You can’t really explain to a baby all the things they are going to experience. But that won’t stop them from feeling the changes. With a change of routine, it’s a good idea to be aware of how a baby or toddler might respond. Babies and toddlers sometimes go through drastic changes when they are hungry, tired, or nervous.
You may value the holiday traditions more than other times throughout the year, but your baby is not likely to share this sentiment yet. To her, the day-to-day is what she’s used to. Her traditions are being where she’s normally cared for around the people who care for her. That doesn’t mean you should forego your holiday celebrations—just keep her perspective in mind and be ready to see her behavior change.
Maybe this year, you leave a little earlier, or you find periods of time to steal away from the family to be one-on-one with your baby for a few quiet moments. You might consider bringing more familiar items than usual so that not everything is so new to them.
Consumption One of the traditions we may take for granted is our tendency to consume gifts. Many celebrations revolve around gift-giving. But just because it’s a cultural tradition doesn’t mean it has to be your tradition. You may decide you want to show your love and appreciation in other ways. Maybe your family decides to take trips instead of giving gifts. Or maybe you choose to volunteer over the holidays to practice giving to your community. Starting your family is a great time to explore the kinds of traditions you want to keep, change, or get rid of in your life.
We can show our love to our infants and toddlers partially through respect. We can do this by talking to them instead of talking at them. We make eye contact, and we try to make time to go at their speed instead of trying to get them to go at ours. Regardless of the activities your family chooses to do to celebrate life’s ups and downs, if the foundation of your traditions is built around respect, everyone will enjoy the celebrations more.