How Forging Holiday Traditions as a First-Time Mom Has Brought Me Closer to My Own Family—And Myself

Photo: Courtesy of Ali Finney/W+G Creative
I moved to New York City from Austin, Texas, about 10 years ago, terrified of what my life would be like here, but more terrified of how I’d feel if I never gave a magazine writing career a real go. I tried to chicken out of living here and move back home multiple times; there was an eight-month stint in Dallas at a local magazine and plenty of job applications sent to brands closer to my home. But 10 years on, nowhere has ever felt more like home than NYC.

That is, until I became a mom to twins this year. While there’s long been a disconnect between where I need to be for work and where the people whom I love most in the world live, before becoming a mom, I could jet down to Texas to see family for Thanksgiving and bounce back just as easily for Christmas. But as my life has become filled with the new responsibilities of motherhood, that ease of travel and access to family has diminished. This year, it’s been replaced with FaceTiming family in our Halloween costumes, photos sent from Thanksgiving tables miles away, and a bulk of the Christmas season spent apart.

Starting a new family with my husband has made the distance from my own feel that much larger—especially as we navigate our first holiday season as parents. “Living far from family [during new motherhood] means dealing with changes and uncertainties with less support, which can be emotionally taxing,” says therapist Bisma Anwar, LMHC.

Research has shown that younger folks living in individualistic societies—like that of the United States, where the different generations of a family tend to live in different homes and cities—report higher levels of loneliness1 than those living in collectivist societies, in which families have communal homes and support networks. Taking this in tandem with a 2021 study showing that having a baby led women in England to feel “dislocated”2 from their former selves indicates that new moms often face a sea of change that can rip them from their sense of place in the world, particularly if they lack nearby support. Indeed, anthropologists often use a parallel term to adolescence—matrescence—to describe the socioemotional transition of entering motherhood, as the process can entirely transform your identity in much the same way.

Experts In This Article
  • Bisma Anwar, LMHC, licensed mental health counselor and online therapist with Talkspace

That’s certainly been the case for me. While I wasn’t sure what motherhood would be like, “dislocated” isn’t a bad description in my experience. Over the course of the nine months that I was pregnant and the eight months since my twins have been here, I’ve found myself fighting to get back to who I once was—to feel like I once felt. Free. Unattached. However, as I’ve gotten more comfortable in my role as a mom, I find these feelings just dig me further into a place where my life is unrecognizable from what it once was.

The same can honestly be said for my experience of living far away from my family in Texas and experiencing the holidays this year on my own (albeit with my husband and kids). The more I pine for shared moments with my own mom, the further away from home I tend to feel.

To shrink that distance, however, my husband and I have begun to replicate certain traditions that we hold dear and carve out new ones of our own. “Creating and maintaining new traditions can provide a sense of control and stability in a mother's life,” says Anwar.

“Creating and maintaining new traditions can provide a sense of control and stability in a mother's life.” —Bisma Anwar, LMHC, therapist

A key way we’ve done this is with food. Every Christmas Eve, my grandmother would make a Christmas punch that was an icy blend of pineapple, orange, and cranberry juice, set to sparkle with a bit of ginger ale. And in recent months, it’s become a fixture at any holiday gathering. So, too, is a chocolate sheath cake that somehow is the only cake that gets better as the days go by. With every sip and every bite, I feel a little more connected to who I am and where I’ve been.

“Establishing new traditions with local friends or immediate family can foster a sense of community and reduce feelings of isolation,” says Anwar, adding that it can also help with adaptability and resilience in early motherhood. “It teaches a new parent to navigate change positively, fostering a mindset that can be beneficial in various aspects of life,” she says.

I always knew that I wanted to get individual Christmas trees for my kids’ rooms that they get to decorate on their own to express their individuality. The Charlie Brown tree in their nursery is a chance to let them show their interests as they grow, but this year, it was also a nice way to establish a holiday tradition that I hope lasts a lifetime. And the same can be said of seeing The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center, visiting Santa in Bryant Park, and the list continues to build.

Living in New York City offers so many opportunities for anyone to have firsts. I’ve been here a decade, but I’ve probably only explored one percent of what the city has to offer, even just around the holiday season. Getting to experience so many of these firsts with my kids acts as a nice balm to not being around the other arms of my family.

After all, part of why I wanted kids in the first place was so that I could see life through their eyes and experience the wonder of childhood once more. Being an adult is filled with logistical pressures and societal expectations, but being a child gives us a chance to seek joy and believe in magic. In my first Christmas as a mom—far away from home and expecting to feel a bit nostalgic—the call to both of those feels stronger than ever.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Barreto, Manuela et al. “Loneliness around the world: Age, gender, and cultural differences in loneliness.” Personality and individual differences vol. 169 (2021): 110066. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2020.110066
  2. Taylor, Billie Lever et al. “Mums Alone: Exploring the Role of Isolation and Loneliness in the Narratives of Women Diagnosed with Perinatal Depression.” Journal of clinical medicine vol. 10,11 2271. 24 May. 2021, doi:10.3390/jcm10112271

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