Twas’ the Week Before Christmas…

(an ode to all the overworked mamas)

Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the land

All the mama’s are stressing, wrapping gifts tirelessly by hand ;

The glitter and ribbons they place on each present with care,

In hopes that just one person might recognize the burdens they bear.

The Hubby’s are lazily posted up on the couch;

While mama is stewing, and feeling quite the grouch.

Daddy yawns and retires, forgetting to help move the elf

So Mommy swears quietly, cursing hisself.

When from the kids bedroom arose such a clatter,

She thinks surely daddy will rush to see what’s the matter.

But of course he’s already asleep, doesn’t move an eyelash,

And it’s up to mom to hide the goodies and dash

The moonlight on the face of the now awake child,

Makes mama’s flared temper decrease, feel more mild

Because we toil and slave for those we hold dear,

And daddy doesn’t understand how it drains us of cheer

So after tucking the little one back in to bed,

Mama sits down and tries to clear her head.

Between Baking and wrapping, shopping and planning,

Mama’s resentment has been ballooning, flames rapidly fanning

The parties, the potlucks, the plays and after-school functions

The cookies, the cards, family pictures, and school luncheons

The unaddressed Christmas cards she’s got a whole stack of!

It is all too much for one person to keep track of

So what can she, do this mama who is dead tired

She can’t alone do all that is required

She must ask for help, it is plain for her to see

To daddy she must make her plea

For Christmas is a time when mamas do so much more,

It is only reasonable to give ourselves a break, therefor.

Be kind to yourself, don’t set the standard to high,

Just delegate and do what you can to scrape by.

The holidays! The sparkly decorations; the cinnamon and pine spiced air; the excitement that rises in a child’s face at the mere sight of Christmas lights; the endless hours spent locked in whatever small, private space I can muster after the kids have gone to bed- maddeningly organizing and packing presents for the kids, their teachers, the in-laws, my parents, cousins, aunts and uncles, our new neighbors (who have lived patiently with our construction noise for the last 4 months), my husband, even the pets (because inevitably if the kitties and doggies don’t have a treat on Christmas Day, my kids will start lamenting at the injustice of it all).

While I am squirreled away surrounded by bags and boxes, my husband (who did the dishes, so, in his mind, he’s done his nightly housework) sit’s on the couch surfing Facebook on his phone, probably unaware of what I am even doing. His lack of support is indeed unintentional, he assumes all this stuff is optional, or that I enjoy doing it all by myself. And while I do enjoy many of the Christmas tasks, I don’t think it’s fair that I get to carry the burden by myself. So I start to build up resentment, and stew in it, and it starts to fester like the unattended wound that it is.

Is this what the holiday’s bring for all mom’s? I wonder this absentmindedly, while placing yet another mug and hot-cocoa set, for yet another teacher, into a shiny Christmas bag. A bag that has, along with the other 10 garishly decorated bags, covered my sweatpants in chunks of glitter. Glitter which surely I’ll still have covering me in the morning, when I peel myself out of bed at 6am for the mad dash to school. Glitter covered sweatpants will be my new “look” for the next week, because it will probably take me all week to get these thoughtful gifts assembled and packaged- gifts I so painstakingly shopped for – spending harried hours trudging through tj maxx and local shops on main street – and that’s just for for the teachers and extended family members. I haven’t even made it to my own kids boxes of unassembled toys and gifts.

So, is it like this for most mom’s during the holidays? I think the answer to this is, of course, yes! It is the “invisible work” of motherhood that is the most stressful to shoulder. The keeping track of multiple schedules and activities, doctors appointments, and school assignments. The constant inventory of groceries and household items. The rsvps, birthday presents shopped for, birthday parties attended, and playdates scheduled. Acting as house manager so that everything runs smoothly and on time, and checking in with each family member’s moods, so that everyone is generally taken care of emotionally. It is all this “invisible” work that we do, that can often leave us feeling completely drained and devoid of the time to take care of our own emotional needs. So throw in the holidays, and although they may bring joy, they also bring a huge load of additional work.

It usually falls to us moms to plan for and attain the presents for our own children, but also for all of the extended family, and Childrens teachers. Once the shopping is completed, there is assembling toys, wrapping everything, shipping many of them off or shuttling them to school, and at home there is the task of keeping them hidden and kept track of. Add in: scheduling and attending Christmas gatherings, school performances and functions, holiday meal planning and baking, as well as sending Christmas cards, staging the mischievous elf, putting up the decorations, and all the other traditions one must carry on to keep up with the seasons expectations, and it’s no wonder us mom’s are so burnt out! And yes, while I do love to shop, I find the task of choosing everyone’s gifts, and staying within a reasonable budget, very tasking.

So what gives? Doesn’t my husband pick up on my stress, and the nasty looks I’m giving him while he lounges on the couch? Why doesn’t he offer to help, aside from the Christmas Eve assembling of any large toys for the kids? I decide to do some late night googling on the subject, and come across some helpful information.

The reality of why my husband isn’t picking up on my dagger eyes and huffing, is that scientifically speaking, men and women’s brains actually develop differently! Women typically have a larger limbic system than men, which makes them more in touch and expressive with their emotions.  Women are usually more empathic and comprehensive in thinking, while men focus on exact issues and disregard impertinent information. Men have a difficult time understanding emotions not explicitly verbalized but can think more logically, while women have a more wholesome view of thinking & understanding but their emotions can sometimes influence decisions.

Gregory L. Jantz Ph.D, author of Brain Differences Between Genders in psychology today explains further:

“Male brains utilize nearly seven times more gray matter for activity while female brains utilize nearly ten times more white matter. What does this mean? Gray matter areas of the brain are localized. They are information- and action-processing centers in specific splotches in a specific area of the brain. This can translate to a kind of tunnel vision when they are doing something. Once they are deeply engaged in a task or game, they may not demonstrate much sensitivity to other people or their surroundings.

White matter is the networking grid that connects the brain’s gray matter and other processing centers with one another. This profound brain-processing difference is probably one reason you may have noticed that girls tend to more quickly transition between tasks than boys do. The gray-white matter difference may explain why, in adulthood, females are great multi-taskers, while men excel in highly task-focused projects.”

He goes on to state, that

“Females often have a larger hippocampus, our human memory center. Females also often have a higher density of neural connections into the hippocampus. As a result, girls and women tend to input or absorb more sensorial and emotive information than males do. By “sensorial” we mean information to and from all five senses. If you note your observations over the next months of boys and girls and women and men, you will find that females tend to sense a lot more of what is going on around them throughout the day, and they retain that sensorial information more than men.

It all becomes so much more clear to me! My husband, literally, doesn’t get that I’m resentful and overstressed! Why? Because I haven’t spelled it out for him. I haven’t actually asked for help, giving him the concrete tasks that need attending to, which his brain will actually process better. I need to find a way to ask for help, without the request spewing with the spitfire resentment I have been holding on to for the last couple weeks. I know from experience that my husband freezes up and shuts down, as soon as he feels attacked. If I am at all accusatory when I bring this up, he won’t even be able to hear me. And honestly, I’m not great at addressing issues I’m upset about without causing the other person to go on the defense.

 In the article titled “How Anger Works” by Molly Edmunds, I read:

“In studies, respondents have identified talking things over with the offender as the most appropriate way to deal with anger [source: Weber]. It’s not just venting or yelling at the person; it’s telling them why you’re angry in a way that moves toward a solution. This method of expression is why anger can sometimes be good for us. We’re moved to address a negative in our life and make it a positive. It can force us to fix problems in relationships that we want to maintain. In some cases, it might be a simple fix; the person may not have known that what they were doing was angering you.”

So, I resolve to calm down. I spend some time breathing deeply and drink a cup of tea. I write down, objectively, what I’d like help with. I’m much better at writing lists of things that need to get done then I am at calmly asking my husband to do stuff when it is so obvious to me that it needs to get done. My husband also functions much better with a list of tasks he can check off one by one, I now know that this can be contributed to his brain makeup.

I write my list, title it “Christmas honey do’s”, and leave it on the table. The next morning, a Saturday, my husband is having his coffee and spots the list. He asks me a few questions about where I’m keeping certain items (because I am the all knowing wizard behind the curtain, I am tasked with knowing at all times where every item we own is kept) he asks how I want a few things done (what wrapping paper, UPS or USPS, etc.). He finishes his coffee, and sets off to complete his list of duties, with quite a bit of enterprise.

He has had the list for two days, and to my surprise and pleasure, he’s completed all that I had charged him with.

Huh, I think, that was almost too easy. I promise myself that I will try to remember to use this course of action as much as possible. And, even though I am not thrilled to have to be the delegator of duties at all times, I am hopeful that we will get to a place where the ongoing weekly chores will become more evenly balanced and won’t require constant list-making. My husband seems up to the challenge, he enjoys accomplishing the tasks I give him, and seems to feel more capable and omniscient at home, retreating less to the couch while I labor, and instead jumping in and asking what he can do to help.

We’ll see if it lasts, but for now, with the chaos of the holiday season, I am relieved to not alone carry the weight of all the season brings.

Featured Photo Courtesy: Emily Sunday