I LOVE Christmas and the holiday season! I do! However, for many years, all of the weight of the holidays seemed to land on me, the daughter, mom, wife — and now grandmother. (In case you missed it, all the roles women play really do add up.)
While I’ve learned to better manage the demands of these roles — and the juggling act it involves — my husband, in all honesty, would probably advise me to give up my high expectations of what the holiday season should be like. The trouble is I don’t think anyone would enjoy this time nearly as much if I did. Can you relate? There are so many little things we mothers/wives do to make this season special and memorable for those we love.
The resulting mental load is real and exhausting. And — spoiler alert! — it isn’t confined to the holiday season. Thankfully, researchers, social scientists, and mental health professionals are beginning to formally quantify this mental load.
Harvard recently published a piece entitled The Unseen Inequity of Cognitive Labor, featuring the work of Allison Daminger, a leading researcher of the inequity of cognitive labor. And back in 2017 — long before COVID-19 and ongoing quarantines exposed our fraying capacity to manage all the things at home — Harper’s Bazaar published this provocative article on the subject of emotional labor: Women Aren’t Nags—We’re Just Fed Up.
This got me thinking: Even though many partners are aware of the mental load women carry and the inevitable stress of the season, I’m not sure they know what to do about it.
Granted, as women, we may need to scale back our expectations for the holidays and ask for help. But our partners can also learn to turn toward the stress of the holidays and be proactive about helping out.
What does this look like, practically speaking?
Maybe your partner can handle some of the communication and logistics surrounding holiday gatherings. Here are a few that come to mind:
- Do all friends and family know when we’re hosting Christmas dinner?
- Who needs a ride from the airport? Will we need to make multiple trips or arrange a shuttle?
- Do we have enough clean linens prepped for overnight guests?
- Is there a gift or two stashed in a closet to reciprocate any surprise gifts from friends or neighbors?
- Is there extra toilet paper on hand?! (Really! The details matter!)
Or perhaps they can share in the work of shopping, wrapping gifts, and decorating your home. (In recent years, Eric has relieved my mental load by taking on some of those tasks and it has been so helpful!)
On the big day when all our family is around, I have appreciated Eric’s help as my sous chef in the kitchen. It has been so lovely! We turn on some favorite jazzy Christmas music and pour a glass of wine (or whatever). He’s even grabbed me for a spin around the room with an impromptu dance! His awareness and attention changes everything for me. Suddenly, I don’t feel alone in making the magic, and it is so much more fun — and less stressful! — for both of us.
So if you start to feel like you’re fraying at the edges, pause, check in with yourself, and ask your partner — or kids or friends or relatives — for help. I’m confident that sharing your mental load will make a difference!