I am decidedly not a holiday person. Or at least, not in the Hallmark sense.
The Elf never made it off our closet shelf. We’ve never done a Satan Santa picture. We don’t even own stockings, or a chimney to hang them by, for that matter.
Somehow, even with me aggressively leaning out, the holidays still have a way of leaning in.
My lack of Christmas cheer is intentional, and none of it stems from a Stoogey attitude. Instead, I’ve been consciously trying to keep it minimal for the sake of teaching my kids what the holidays represent to me: family, food, maybe a gift or two that communicates a message of love and gratitude. That’s the good stuff, in my opinion, and I’m all about promoting that.
But yet, even with my message of less, I still find myself doing more.
It wasn’t until today, when I was standing six-deep in a line of fellow shippers at the local UPS store, two tired kids on the verge of a meltdown in-tow, it occurred to me why.
I’m a mom.
Yep. It’s that simple.
There’s a lot of talk about the mental load, and how mothers carry such a tremendous burden.
We are the caretakers, the planners, and the last line of defense when nobody else can accomplish what needs to be done. Yes, many of us have wonderful partners who are helpful, supportive and kind, myself included, but how many can say they split all of the duties 50/50?
Along with cookies, Christmas lights, and cash concerns, the holidays also come with an absolute boatload of extra work that gets dumped almost exclusively on mothers.
Who was I waiting in line with? Moms. Tired ass moms, who leave the busy UPS store to go to the grocery so they can go home and cook dinner, bathe the kids, put them to bed, and then attack that stack of untouched holiday cards they’ve had sitting on the table for 2 weeks, all AFTER WORK.
And mailing a single package of a few gifts, wrapped by moms, is just the beginning.
Who plans and organizes the babysitter so you can attend the work party?
Who makes sure the teachers get a gift of your appreciation?
Who thinks through and plans Baby’s first flight back home to meet the extended family?
Who does the laundry beforehand?
Who packs for the kids?
Who organizes a pet-sitter, and makes sure there will be enough food?
Who packs the snack bags and the diaper bags, and thinks through how many diapers one child could possible go through on an 8-hour flight?
Who cleans your house if you’re hosting this year?
Who plans the menu, and goes to the grocery?
Who cooks? Who cleans again?
Who writes the thank yous and carefully puts the holiday decorations away?
Who does ALL OF THIS while still doing ALL OF THE THINGS they normally do on an every day basis? (You know, like keeping the kids alive.)
You do. I do. Freaking exhausted mothers who didn’t realize just how very full our plates were until someone asked us to also find a gift for their mom, and we damn near lost our mind.
Now before your cry Grinch, let me assure you this is not a complaint.
Many people do these things with joy and excitement, myself included to a certain degree. But that doesn’t mean being point person for all things holiday-related doesn’t come at a cost.
The mental load is a constant balancing act, complicated by sleepless nights, changes in relationships, and preconceived notions about what a “good” mother is. Adding the stress of a holiday on top of that can be brutal if you aren’t keeping an eye on the scale.
As the holidays bare down on us, if you find yourself wondering where the Yuletide glory has gone, take a peek in the mirror.
You, the mother, in addition to your litany of other jobs, are also now the maker of the magic.
Maybe you’ll recognize this and lean in, or maybe you already know this and have made a conscious decision like me to lean out. But recognizing that each of these additional tasks you take on cuts into your energy, brainpower, and free time is critical to maintaining your sanity.
There’s no wrong way to do the holidays. Go big. Go small. Just don’t drive yourself nuts trying to make it happen.