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A Christmas Question: What’s It Really Like?

Gents, you may want to pay attention to this one.

Each and every year of my life, whether it be through my childhood and later into adulthood, I recall fond memories of Christmas and the surrounding holidays (Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve and Day). I remember the great times with family that were due in large part to the fantastic efforts of my Mom, Donna, and wife, Debbie. I always seemed to remember the holidays as a time to relax and recharge my batteries for the upcoming year.

This year, just like any other year, I watched as my wife and mom ran around with their hair on fire, trying to make everything as perfect as possible for the whole family; the perfect decorations, the perfect gifts, the perfect holiday meals, all in an effort to make each year as memorable as possible for all.

Then I started to think.

Even though I ask if there is anything I can do to help, I always seemed to get the same response, “Nope, I’ve got it!” With the said response, I would go back to watching football and laughing and joking with other family and friends that were all standing by for the announcement to eat.

This year, at least through Thanksgiving at this point, was more of the same. I decide to do a bit of a quick “social experiment” and ask the following question to both my mom and wife (Neither of which knew I was asking the other):

“Quick question… what’s it like for you during Christmas? I always see you running around… you seem to have it all under control… and you RARELY ask for help from anyone. What goes through that brain and heart of yours as you prep our home and family for Christmas? J Looking forward to your answer (and don’t give me the PC “sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns” answer… I’m crazy, not stupid!)”

Here are the answers I got in return…

From my wife, Debbie (Who is undoubtedly schedule-oriented):

“Wow…. Bold question you have there, my love! From an outsiders perspective, I do hope that it comes across as me having everything under control because ultimately that is my goal. If my timing all works out as planned Christmas should feel like a magical time and relaxing time for you and the kids. That comes with its share of stressful events during the planning and execution phases of everything. Have I forgotten any gifts? The exhaustion at the end of the workday, knowing I have gifts to wrap and probably won’t sit down until at least 9, balancing budgets and gift shopping, grocery shopping (which I haven’t even started yet), cooking for a houseful (3 meals a day), keeping everything tidy, how did we run out of toilet paper I JUST BOUGHT SOME, crap…. I lost my list of side dishes I’m in charge of making. But you have to be able to find the humor in all of it. I laugh at myself a lot, and I try to anticipate what everyone may want, or need so that the memories of the holiday are enjoyable for all. At the end of all of it, I’m grateful for the chance to have such amazing people in my life that allow me to care for them. But I’m also pretty tired. Remind me to buy paper plates and extra toilet paper this year…. Lol”

From my Mom, Donna (Who is undoubtedly naturally good at just pulling it all together even though she goes ridiculously over the top):

“First of all, I never have it under control. I just try to make it special for everyone. I enjoy the holidays because we are all together as a family. I just do it out of love. I know that was a pretty simplified answer, but it’s truly that simple.”

So ladies and gentlemen, what do we hear with these profoundly different, yet eerily similar rebuttals to my question?

If you’re on the same wavelength as me, I think you/we are hearing that throughout all the holiday chaos. For the men, it appears that the loves of our life might have it all under control, but really don’t and could use some help. Although some are a little hesitant to admit it (Debbie) others will say it openly (Mom) but still, refuse any help, because merely seeing everyone together enjoying family and friends is truly what makes them happy (Mom and Debbie both).

You see, tradition dictates that the woman of the house is responsible for the festivities for the holidays. We, the guys, have a pretty limited list of responsibilities in comparison. If your family is anything like mine, you really only have a few things to do as the “man of the house.”

  • Put the Christmas tree in a vertical position somewhere in the house to later be decorated by others.

  • Make sure the kids buy Mom something nice for Christmas.

  • Eat everything Mom and your bride cook.

That’s about it. I mean, we do hang lights outside and try not to fall off the roof, so there’s a bonus prize in that, although that's not always necessary.

On a more serious note, distinguished professor and author Joan C Williams wrote her take on the holidays in her blog A Survival Guide to the Holiday Season: A woman’s guide to surviving the holiday season.”

Williams suggested that the holidays are a perfect storm of three trends.

First, women are expected to do what anthropologists have coined as “kin work” or the planning, organizing, leading, and controlling of holiday festivities for those of you that are more business management oriented.

Second, even though women take on the task of prepping for the holidays, they are still doing the same old household management things that make our worlds go round, which only adds to the stress of the magical holiday season.

Third, Williams coins the phrase “Martha Stewart syndrome” that has taken place over the past 20 years or so where women (mothers, wives, and other titles alike) feel the need to run themselves into the ground making everything perfect for everyone else around them.

Ladies, Williams asserts that women can change these trends with four easy steps:

  1. Negotiate – Talk with your significant other and suggest a plan of action where you can call in reinforcements to help ease the holiday stress.

  2. Simplify – Not every single thing on the table needs to be made from scratch. Not every bow needs to be hand wrung. Your guy doesn’t care that there is even a bow on that gift. Its just going to be worn on a kid or pet’s head for a few minutes before either getting sucked up by the vacuum or thrown in the trash with the other 400 pounds of wrapping paper.

  3. Get over yourself – I have to quote Williams on this one. “Note well: you cannot expect your husband to stay up til 2am baking those cookies. Why? He’s not insane.” Guys have no societal gender pressure to bake the best cookies on the planet nor do they care if their wives or mothers do. Believe him when he says you don’t have to bake like Cake Boss Buddy Vilastro. He means it.

  4. Self-reflect – Check your own standards to ensure that you aren’t going overboard. Remember what the holiday season is about and what a true family celebration is. The rest will fall into place.

Now that I have covered the gals in this equation, it’s our turn, guys.

Just as everything else we do around the holidays is simple-minded and seemingly unneeded (if you don’t believe me watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and try not to compare your antics to those Clark is found doing) we need to think about the sanity of the beloved women in our lives.

Keep it simple, help however you can and don’t make the ladies have to ask (as Williams suggests them to do). If we are tired, imagine how they feel.

Even though we know the ladies will resist (as noted in their responses to my question), we can still help in any way possible. We may not win the war in the equitable distribution of holiday workload, but every little thing we take off of their plate can be considered a battle won. And those small victories can help take the edge off for the ladies, ultimately giving them the chance to breathe and enjoy the holidays that much more.

I, along with the rest of the team at Power Dynamics, wish you and yours and very happy holiday season and a fantastic start to a successful and prosperous 2019!

Oh, and PS… Debbie, I’ll grab toilet paper on my way home.

Be sure to read Joan C Williams' A Survival Guide to the Holiday Season:

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