This Holiday Season, I Want Less Emotional Labor
The holidays are almost here. That means it’s time to decorate, bake desserts, and buy the perfect gift for everyone on my list.
Sound exhausting? I think so. And I’m not alone: women are more likely than men to feel increased stress during the holiday season.
In a lot of families, the emotional labor — all that essential, behind-the-scenes work of making life run smoothly — falls on women. This becomes especially apparent during the holidays.
One study found that women are more likely to take on tasks like cooking, cleaning, and shopping for holiday parties.
Planning the parties? Handling little details? Women do that, too. Gemma Hartley, author of Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward, explained in a recent article that when the holidays arrive, she’s the one who writes the holiday cards, plans the meals, and decides on everyone’s gifts.
I’ve been to parties where women do all of the food prep and cleanup, and men don’t lift a finger. Some people will say, “That’s the way it’s always been done” — but I think it’s time for that to change.
Women feel a lot of pressure to be perfect, and this time of year, that can extend to having the “perfect” holidays. There are two ways I’ve found to reduce the burden of holiday emotional labor: communicate and cut back.
Talk about your plans for the holidays early. It’s important to ask for help when you need it and set clear boundaries.
Can your partner shop for half the gifts? That can reduce a lot of stress.
If you have kids, this is a perfect time to pull them in to help decorate, bake cookies, and wrap gifts.
Guests can help with party cleanup, no matter their gender.
And if you need to, explain that you straight-up can’t do a task. For example, maybe in previous years, you’ve hosted the family dinner, but this year, an illness makes this difficult. Don’t be afraid to say, “I can’t do it this year. Can someone else host?”
Sometimes the answer is to cut back on tasks. Focus on what you want to accomplish, and let yourself say no to everything else.
You don’t have to attend every party. I can’t go to four parties (on one side of the family!) in one week, so I’ve cut it back to two.
Does your family need a custom photo card, or can you skip it this year?
Not every food item at a party has to be home-baked. I normally love baking, but I find it stressful to do it a lot around the holidays. There are time constraints and a lot of people’s expectations to meet. Often, I’ll buy cookies or a pie from the grocery store.
Can you cut back the gift list? I’ve noticed that many of the kids in my life get a deluge of gifts from parents or grandparents. I’ve cut back on buying for many of them, and the kids get so much stuff, they haven’t noticed.
If you have a lot of adults to shop for, ask if anyone else is feeling frazzled and would like to switch to a Secret Santa swap.
However, giving up tasks sometimes comes with backlash. I’ve previously written about the year I didn’t have time to send out holiday cards. Soon after, someone in my family handed me stamps and cards and told me to do it next time.
Now I send out cards, but I’ve scaled back. Does everyone I know need a card? No. Should I send one to my grandmother in a nursing home? Yes.
If people complain that you haven’t done anything, it can be a teaching moment. You can explain how much time and effort the task takes you.
Santa Claus, a man who gets presents for all the world’s children, is a myth. Let’s be real here: Women keep the holidays running, and we’re tired. So give yourself a gift this year: less stress.
You deserve it.