Stressed over that picture-perfect family holiday? Take the emphasis off all the "magic," and relax.
I noticed that my husband and I shared the responsibilities of household work pretty equally, like vacuuming, dishes and laundry. But when it came to maintaining family relationships in the form of kin work, my husband took little initiative and I did much of it alone. I started realizing that I felt responsible for thinking of Christmas presents, sending birthday cards, and even planning Father's Day and Mother's Day events—for his family and mine. This really got me thinking.
It bothered me that, as a woman, the message I'm sent from society, my family and my network is that I can accomplish anything in my life. We encourage little girls and young women to choose career paths that are exciting and rewarding to them, and to shoot for the moon. But within the family, women often remain in the same roles they've played for decades. Why Be A Stay-At-Home Mom When You Can Have It ALL?!
This topic interested me so much that I decided to write about it in my doctoral dissertation. Through my own research, I discovered a couple things about us ladies, and the work we do around the holiday season especially. 1) Mothers feel responsible for creating happy holiday memories for their children, and while this is joyful at times, especially seeing children so happy, mothers also feel stuck in that role. 2) Mothers want their children to want to come home when they are grown up, so they feel the pressure to make the holiday season as perfect as possible. They feel torn about this role because it's a source of power in their lives. This is one area, in a world that still typically views men as more powerful, where women are experts in charge. But it's also a huge burden to bear.
Does this sound like you? Do you feel the pressure to make Christmas completely perfect for your family? Does everyone expect you to make twelve dozen different types of cookies, set up two Christmas trees, and top each gift with a perfect little bow? Some women in my research reported feeling as though they had "created a monster" by making the holidays so darn magical. They felt stuck doing all the work, even though they would have liked to put less emphasis on the decorating and preparing, and more emphasis on simply "being present" during time with their families. 10 Ways To Have A Loving Holiday Season
If you're feeling the burden of the holidays, why not make things a little less magical and a little more enjoyable this year? If you fall into the category of "overwhelmed to the max" as we enter this wonderful season, you've come to the right place. I've gathered a few tips that might make a difference, and even allow you to create lasting change within your family so the work is finally spread out. (Hint, hint: It's time to get your husband and children involved in the work this season!)
Tip #1: Make work more visible. Part of the reason the holidays can be so stressful? Women conduct much of the work behind the scenes. We want to make things as enjoyable as possible for our families, so we put events on for our families rather than with our families. For instance, many women I talked with said, "after the holidays, I'm left to take the Christmas tree down alone." We've been making our families so happy, which is a lovely gift, but at times, it's at the expense of our own happiness. Many mothers in my research cited complaints from their children as a major reason for doing all work behind the scenes. They would rather have their children remember the good of the holidays than participate in the nitty-gritty part while complaining. Mothers fear that their children will only remember the hard part of the holidays rather than the joy and magic. But sometimes letting our families in on the less-magical side of things makes them appreciate the experience more. 13 Things You Didn't Know About Christmas Traditions
As an example, my mom spent an afternoon making raspberry jam for our family celebration. When she was finished, instead of simply packing her creation up until the event, she texted a photo of the finished jam to her kids. It was a small thing, but the gesture was important. Including us in the process generated more gratitude among our family members for the work she'd done, and we were even more excited to see each other. It clued us in: She's thinking about our celebration, months prior to the event. The raspberry jam we all love doesn't just appear, does it? The process deserves appreciation.
Tip #2: Involve family members from start to finish. Although it might be easier to complete the tasks by yourself (because, hey, you've been doing it for quite some time), include your kids. Consider it an investment in their futures. Try to keep them involved through their "growing up" years, as it may make a big difference in their involvement in your family as they go through big life changes, and when they have families of their own. They will be more compassionate, understanding and helpful in the future if they practice it now. 10 Smart Ways To Keep Your Kids From Growing Up Too Fast
How about creating a ritual where the whole family takes down the Christmas tree together? Even if you have adult children. Everything has the opportunity to become something fun and joyful. It's all in how you and your family choose to see it. It might not be the event they're used to looking forward to, but it is still togetherness. It's another opportunity to interact, learn, create memories, and be playful together. Also, it communicates to your family that idea that Christmas does not happen "magically." It takes a lot of work. You might hear complaints, especially at first. But consider the alternative: What are they learning if you're not involving them in the step-by-step process? They're learning that women (specifically mothers) are the only people who can and should be responsible for family matters.
Tip #3: Communicate about expectations. We all live incredibly busy lives. We work at our jobs, we work in our homes, and we work at our relationships. But this holiday season, if you're feeling like the burden has, once again, fallen only on you, talk to you partner about how their contributions might improve your stress level. Importantly, his involvement (or lack thereof) is telling your kids that it is Mom's job to care for relationships and dad's job to just show up. Your kids aren't the only ones who need to learn the holidays don't magically come to fruition. Your husband does, too. Just making him aware of your feelings will go along way. 3 Common Communication Mistakes and How to Fix Them
Tip 4: Let go of control and super-high standards. In order to create lasting change, change that includes our children and husbands becoming more involved, we'll have to become comfortable with imperfection and some messiness in the process. And yeah, that may compromise the "magical" image of the season a bit, but hear me out.
Many women claimed they don't trust their family members to be highly involved in holiday work. I, for one, can completely relate. I think we've all probably had the experience where the husband says he'll call his mom to nail down the details of where and when you'll get together. But upon asking him the results of the conversation, he looks at you blankly and says, "Oh. Oops..." 4 Non-Annoying Ways To Get Him To Do What You Want
Of course, this makes you both look bad, right? And we ladies don't like to look bad. So we take it upon ourselves to do everything. We assume the responsibility because we don't trust our partners to do it. You have to get over this. But how?
Get together the women in your family and say, "Hey, let's include the guys more in planning this year." Acknowledge to the other ladies that involving them might make things a little messy. Miscommunications might happen. You may even end up without a turkey because someone delegated this to one of the boys, who didn't check it off the list of holiday essentials you've all been following for years. But, if you don't try, you might never know what your holidays could evolve into—happier, less stressful, filled with gratitude, etc.—and this could be an opportunity to find humor and joy in the planning process. Why not give it a try?
Tip #5: Set holiday goals... as a family, or as a couple, and continue to make a goal or two each year. It may sound laborious for the light atmosphere of the holidays, but it doesn't have to be. Keep in mind your life stage, and what is most important to you right now, this year. Goals will be different for families with young children than they would be for families with high school children. 7 Tips For Setting Goals In Your Marriage
For instance, I recently spoke with a grandmother who said this: She wanted to play with her grandchildren as much as possible this year. So, she decided to shape her holiday around the goal of "play." Rather than focusing so much on having a perfect meal like she's done in the past, she wants to take her grandkids sledding and ice skating, while spending as much time outdoors with them as possible. So, instead of slaving away in the kitchen, she's going to prepare homemade hot chocolate with all the fixings and think of fun things to do with the kids during the holidays.
Do you think you could do that? Let go a bit? It might mean a little less time doing prep work, a little less of your typical "magic," but the memories you'll create and the stress you'll avoid will be well worth the sacrifice.