Christmas is meant to be a happy time, but it can be extremely stressful for many mums.
We are, by now, all familiar with the concept of the 'mental load'; the burden mostly borne by women when it comes to running a family and a household. At this time of year, I find the mental load is suddenly a lot heavier. It’s the mental Santa sack I drag around in the lead up to the festive season. And honestly, I’m not feeling too merry about it.
Talking to my friends shows me that I’m not alone. Right now, there are probably millions of us in the same tinsel-decked boat.
The gift shopping is a big one. Some well-organised mums out there had their shopping done and dusted a month ago. Some of us (me) are very conscious of the layby still to be paid off AND the fact that what we’ve put on layby is only stuff for the kids. There are still nieces and nephews, extended families, our parents and partners to buy for. Plus something for the daycare provider/teacher. And our closest friends. Oh, and the in-laws. Plus the gifts “from the kids”. Don’t even get me started on the women who essentially buy their own gifts because no one else bothers. Gift shopping; if only that’s all there was to it.
Don't accept disrespect from your child. Never allow her to be rude or say hurtful things to you or anyone else. If she does, tell her firmly that you will not tolerate any form of disrespect.
One year, fed up with the consumerism of it all, I employed my thermo cooker and everyone outside of the immediate family got homemade gifts. Jams, relishes, fudge, pasta sauce, caramelised balsamic vinegar, cookies- you name it, I made it and packed it lovingly into a hamper. They were well received. I was exhausted and never wanted to see another Mason jar again.
Are homemade Christmas gifts worth it? Image: iStock.
The festive season hustle
The pre-Christmas period involves so much more than just gift shopping. There are all the pre-Christmas functions to sort out. “Will you be home in time for me to go to this?” “If we are both invited, who can we get to babysit?” “Can kids come to your work party?” And speaking of kids, school holidays is looming. Have you already started looking at who has annual leave and what the vacation care options are? I bet you have.
So many women are already in the throes of menu-planning for Christmas Day, working out what to cook for other celebrations and trying to balance delicate negotiations between their families and their in-laws about who is going where. One friend is looking at a three-hour drive on Christmas morning to attend lunch at the in-laws. With two kids in tow and the obligatory presents as well. And she has to bring two salads and a dessert.
Keeping the magic alive
In between all the planning, baking, shopping and organisation, just about every mum I know also does her best to make sure it’s a magic time for kids. We drive around looking at Christmas lights, read them Christmas books, watch terrible “family” Christmas movies on repeat, play Christmas songs and, in my family at least, take them to the local Carols by Candlelight each year. I try really hard to make it fun and special, every year.
"Ask your child what he wants for dinner only if he’s buying." - Fran Lebowitz
This year, however, I’m over it before it’s even begun.
Kids can be so demanding at Christmas time. Image: iStock.
This year, I’m stepping back
I have my layby on, but I’m not going overboard. I have a couple of desserts to make for family functions, but that’s OK. I have even already organised the Carols by Candlelight. But I’m throwing in the baubles and refusing to do it all on my own. My darling husband, who is an excellent father and partner, will be taking some of the weight this year. He can certainly help with the cooking and the organisation and he will definitely be doing a bunch of the shopping. Even our teens can pitch in here and there.
The Delegating Elf
This year, it’s all about delegation. This isn’t a perfect solution. I will still have the mental load associated with assigning tasks and seeing that they are followed through. Not because I think my family will let me down but because I am 37 years old and have been a mother for 16 years and therefore planned a family Christmas of some sort for all of those years. My Christmas cooking and planning started as a teenage girl, helping my mum with the cooking, planning and decorating. It wasn’t something my brother or dad worried about.
Tina Fey (mom to daughter Alice): “I think every working mom probably feels the same thing: You go through big chunks of time where you’re just thinking, ‘This is impossible - oh, this is impossible.’ And then you just keep going and keep going, and you sort of do the impossible.”
It's not just a Christmas thing
By starting a system of delegation and communication, my family is learning to pitch in. We all do chores. I am not the only one who cooks. I probably still bear the biggest mental load in terms of organisation and planning, but it’s not as heavy as it once was. It’s a process. Undoing social conditioning won’t happen overnight, but hopefully we can break it down a bit more this Christmas!