Mental Health

Readers Share: Understanding the Mental Load Moms Deal With Over the Holidays

written by LAURA ADOM
mental load of the holidays on moms"
mental load of the holidays on moms

Recently it hit me: my husband does not share the same sense of urgency around the holidays as I do. Sometimes I truly think that he believes that Santa exists and that the house is surprisingly and cozily decorated just right and the gifts magically appear under the tree with just the perfect shimmery bow. Oh, and the holiday cards? That’s Santa too because how else did they arrive on time? Don’t forget the matching pajamas! It’s a Christmas miracle that he had a set ready for him in his perfect size! I want to say “No, Buddy the Elf, Santa doesn’t exist.” It’s just that moms are often the ones to make sure it all gets done and take on the mental load of the holidays.

A 2006 study by the American Psychological Association states that “holiday stress has a particular impact on women, who take charge of many of the holiday celebrations, particularly the tasks related to preparing meals and decorating the home.” While the research in this article was done 15+ years ago, the findings still ring true today.

Although my mom now has my sisters and me do much of her Christmas shopping for her (which is another added stressor for us, to be honest), I do still see the stress and overwhelm in her after all these years. She wants so badly for all of us to enjoy the holidays, so she stresses herself out over every detail while also trying to look as though it’s a breeze. The emotional labor she takes on is essentially the exact definition on the term on; the sum of small acts performed by one person to make other people’s lives more pleasant and to protect them from negativity, including hiding the effort required to do so. Now that I have a family of my own, I, too, want to create warm, fuzzy, and magical feelings of the holidays in my home. But I’m not willing to sacrifice my mental health for it.

“Now that I have a family of my own, I, too, want to create warm, fuzzy, and magical feelings of the holidays in my home. But, I’m not willing to sacrifice my mental health for it.

While I want my family to feel loved and taken care of throughout the holiday season, I also want to enjoy them myself. While I figure out what that balance looks like for me this season and for years to come I thought I’d ask our readers to share what creating holiday magic looks like for them. Read on to hear their experiences and a few tips I’m implementing for myself this year!

moms mental load
Source: Cottonbro | Pexels

When Magic-Making is Mostly on Mom

I am responsible for 98 percent of the gift shopping, wrapping, and mailing. When it comes to decor, [my partner] gets the tree (a real one) and does most of the decorating, but I water that thing every day. For our holiday meals, I do most of the planning, although he will opine on the menu, shopping, and cooking. He made fun of me last night for trying to outsource cookie making and our Christmas Eve dinner this year! -Erica K.

I do 95 percent of it. My husband will put up the tree if I beg and plead but complains. He wraps the gifts he gives me. I do all the rest of the decorating, cooking, baking, shopping (for our toddler/family), wrapping, and cleaning up. -Rachele C.

I beg and plead with my husband to help with holiday decorating (we make a big thing out of it with cookies and Christmas music), and he drags his feet. And then when it’s all up, he says with incredulity, “THIS LOOKS GREAT.” Like, I knoooow, that’s why I made us do it! -Thao T.

I do everything except for setting up the tree. And by setting up, I mean carrying it from the car to its spot. I don’t mind, but he’s good about letting me know how happy it makes him that our house is so cozy. That makes me feel good. Do I wish he helped more though? Yes. -Kara G.

To be honest, it’s mostly me doing things, but I can’t totally blame him because I want things done a certain way. I tried to make him wrap the gifts for his side of the family one year, but after seeing his (lack of) gift-wrapping skills, I won’t make that mistake again. I always pick and buy my own present and then let him know what he got me because I’m super picky and would rather just get what I actually want vs. being surprised. And after all the effort I put into making the holidays special for everyone else, I definitely make them special for myself too. 😉  -Jaclyn V.

“To be honest, it’s mostly me doing things, but I can’t totally blame him because I want things done a certain way.

We’re a multicultural family; Christmas is my culture, not his. So, I end up spearheading most of the holiday stuff: decorating (he does help), buying and wrapping gifts, organizing dinner. He helps source some items (we live in Asia, so things aren’t always readily available and need to be ordered and shipped), but usually only if I’ve asked. It gets passed off as “Well, this isn’t really my holiday.” Which would be fine except I am also the one who takes on all the planning for “his” culture’s holidays too. -Kelly S.

I choose what I think will look good, and he’ll help put it up if I can’t reach or it requires tools. The holidays are no different for us. I know he enjoys whatever I decide, and he always compliments whatever I do around the house! -Mallory S.

I spent two hours pruning our fake tree while my husband sat on the couch because quite frankly, I knew I’d have to redo any of the branches he pruned. It’s flocked, so I was covered in fake white snow. He did go out and get me snacks for the process though. Hah! -Alaina K.

OK, I basically do most of it and direct my husband to put up decorations lol. He will help cook if tell him what to do, but he’s big on getting a real tree every year now that our boys are old enough to remember. -Melissa G.

moms mental load
Source: Cottonbro | Pexels

When Parents Share the Holiday To-Dos

I feel we are pretty equal. Decorating: me inside, him outside. Food: he does all the cooking and shopping, but I help with dishes. Gifts: he thinks of them, I get them and wrap. As you can tell he is the more creative one. -Cheyenne K.

We are an interfaith household, and our traditions are fairly new, but this year we’re going to hang custom-made stockings, decorate the tree, play music, etc. We got the gifts already for my son and just need to get them for our nephews (we only gift the kids in our family), and I’ll do the wrapping. No one wants my husband to wrap gifts—trust me. We are also doing our first holiday cards this year. I’m doing most of them most likely, but hubby is helping with the tree for sure. -Shayna H.

We individually own responsibility for the things we are most passionate about. [In previous years,] I’ve overseen the chaotic holiday party schedule and hosted a Christmas morning brunch. I thoughtfully buy the gifts, make sure holiday cards go out, and coordinate everyone’s special outfits to wear. My husband conquers a cookie baking day, holiday movies line-up, perfectly decorated indoor and outdoor spaces, and ensures we dedicate time to relax at home. I please the masses, and he pleases our small family unit … it’s a perfect balance. -Kristyn B.

“I please the masses, and he pleases our small family unit… it’s a perfect balance.”

My husband and I split up our nieces and nephews for gifts and make wishlist shopping carts until we are able to sit down and go through and choose what we are buying for everyone. We stopped buying for adults a few years ago, and nothing has ever felt so good 😂 Decorating involves me freaking out about when we should buy our live tree… and then he pulls everything out and we throw on a Christmas movie and start decorating. I do all the Christmas baking, except he makes something called Lefse which is a Norwegian potato crepe, and it’s so yummy! I also drive the Christmas movie-watching in the house. It’s a necessity. -Reshmi H.

In the past, we have not been huge holiday planners. We celebrate Hanukkah, and usually, it’s the night before, and we are both like, do we have candles? Should we make latkes? Last year, our daughter was too young to know what was going on, but this is the first year she’ll be aware of holiday celebrations, so I’m actually going to make an effort to make it special (and prepare more than one night in advance!). Amanda S.

moms mental load
Source: @themattiejames

How to Balance the Holiday Load

After seeing what our readers had to say, I was actually shocked to see so many partners are helping out more, even if it’s in their own unique ways. If you’re hoping to get a bit more assistance this holiday season or are already feeling a little overwhelmed, here are a few ideas I’m trying out this year:

1. Talk about the holiday expectations and needs ahead of time

There is nothing worse than to have high expectations and then not have them met. Talk with your partner and family about what everyone is hoping for this holiday season and see what comes up. It’s a great jumping-off point to assign certain tasks, especially if one person is particularly passionate about a certain part like wrapping gifts.

2. Ask for help upfront

If there are things you know you’d like to do or is a tradition for your family every year, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are no heroes when someone ends up burned out by the end of it all. If the whole family loves baking cookies, see if the little ones want to help with placing them in the cookie tins. Or if there are presents to buy for your partner’s side of the family, ask them to gather the wish lists rather than you hunting them down.

3. Loosen the holiday grip

I love the holidays just as much as Santa Claus himself. But since I can’t do it all, I’ve learned to let some of the holiday things go. For example, rather than wrangling a 21-month-old to sit still for a holiday card, I’m going to gather up a few of his best photos over the last year and do a collage instead. This will save me time on finding matching outfits, making sure to avoid a tantrum before we start shooting, and so much more. Take a look at your holiday list and decide what’s crucial and what you can let go of this year.

Well, there you have it! Maybe you’re mostly the one making the holidays merry and bright for everyone or maybe you have a helping hand from your partner and/or family. No matter what your holiday preparation looks like, we hope you can carve out a little bit of time to actually enjoy the holidays too. You definitely deserve it!

Domestic Labor vs. The Mental Load: Why the Difference Matters
Read More