Sunday, 7 January 2018

Is Christmas Stress a Feminist Issue?

Christmas is without a shadow of a doubt my favourite time of year. I am super lucky because growing up my family really invested in creating traditions and making it a magical time of year for us. Not with money, we didn’t have much of that growing up, but just with making such a big fuss of the season. So for me it’s still a magical time of celebration, happiness and fun with the added bonus of living that magic vicariously through my children.

But this year, something changed. The stress outweighed the excitement of the season and I almost had a breakdown. I started to have panic attacks and I had to go and see my *counsellor to get me through the holidays. I can’t say I actually decompressed until several days after Christmas day, despite having lovely times in between. But I just wanted it to be over. I couldn’t cope with the weight of expectation laid so heavily at my door. Laid at the door of the wife, the daughter, the mother, the granddaughter, the daughter-in-law. And that’s why I think it’s a feminist issue.

What was it this year that felt too much for me and why is it a feminist issue? Because I did it all. I did it all, on my own. As do so many other mums, daughters, daughter-in-laws, wives. And this year it was too much for me.

I’ve stated before that my husband and I are a team. We share all household/child responsibilities equally. It’s ace. But the running of extra curricular stuff is always up to me. I mostly want it this way. I like to have control, I feel like my memory retention for things like birthdays and school work is better and I am more invested in our social lives because my husband would probably be happy living as a hermit (with us and the cats, obvs).

This year I realised that I don’t think some of our partners have any idea of what goes into the organisation of a Christmas season. And from talking to other mum’s, I know this is most definitely not my experience alone.

I saw a light-hearted segment on This Morning where they bought in a blokey bloke who claimed to do Christmas himself and bragging that he got it all tied up by shopping at 5.30pm on Christmas eve...and a snorting woman, who was the other extreme, and pretty hostile and derisive to the boasty/deluded bloke. Not helpful! The points made were that women make a big fuss about everything and that it’s easy and blokes could do it with little to no effort. Eamon then underlined his point by saying: “I just want it to be simple, like when I was a boy.” To which Ruth replied: “Yes, when your mother did everything.” Touché Ruth.

There are several points to be made here. Firstly, there is an assumption that we put pressure on ourselves to to make everything perfect, sparkly and special, as if that’s what we alone desire. That we don’t HAVE to go to so much effort to lay a nice Christmas table or pack a pretty present with a bow. The effort we go to isn’t to fulfil our own glittery expectations but that of our families...specifically the children’s. There’s also increasing pressure from social media to do things we never had as a child, elf on a shelf, Christmas eve boxes etc. A mum the other day told me her kid had asked her why they didn’t have an elf on the shelf!

Secondly as much as your partner may protest at you bringing stress on yourself with all the effort, has he ever told you the tree is over dressed? The decorations are too much? The lovely wrapping paper is too gaudy, you have too many Christmas cards, the food is too delicious, the presents are too shit and thoughtless? But these are minutiae in comparison to the real effort that goes behind the organisation of Christmas.

These are things I’ve heard being said by male partners at Christmas:
You are going to too much effort! You don’t have to invite family, I don’t care. You don’t have to send my family cards / presents / photo calendars. You don’t have to invite them for lunch / dinner / to stay.”

It’s not that simple though is it? Unless you genuinely dislike your partner’s family and really wish to banish them from your lives, you will always make the effort. Not just for his relationships’ sake but for the sake of your kids’ relationships with said relatives. The maintenance of familial bonds almost always lies with the wife / mother / daughter.

I don’t care about presents. Don’t get me ANYTHING”

Has anyone ever actually been brave enough to do this? To actually get your partner NOTHING to open on Christmas day? Whilst everyone else sits in their own tornado of wrapping paper? And how has that gone down?

Just tell me what do, and I’ll do it!”

Firstly, it isn’t just a matter of “doing”. It’s thinking, planning, booking, ordering, paying, wrapping, packing, sending….the list goes on. The actual “doing” part is usually the bit at the end which requires no thought, effort and very little time. Therefore it’s usually pointless and too late.

My Christmas stress breakdown this year wasn’t caused by my partner not pulling his weight. Whilst I was fretting and doing ALL THE CHRISTMAS THINGS, he was quietly behind me doing the washing, cleaning the kitchen, feeding the kids… doing his bit. There were also some stress-inducing situations, it was a super busy time of year at work, and one of my children decided now was a good to time to give up on sleep and develop a teenage attitude problem to rival Sid in Toy Story and as a result I got a bout of insomnia too.

But even with the support of my husband, it’s a tough time of year for us Mamas. And for many, I think it’s still a feminist issue. There is definitely a disparity in gender roles at this time of year.

Below is a little (not little) time line of the things I did in the run up to Christmas. The list is pretty long. It might be quite dull to read and it’s not essential to the post. Some of it people will deem unnecessary, a waste of money/time. There are definitely things I won’t be doing again to save my own sanity. There will be lots of things on there that most mums do every year however. Enjoy!

*Let me put a little disclaimer: when I walked into my counsellors’ office, the first thing I did was blurt out how ridiculous I felt having panic attacks because I couldn’t cope with Christmas. And how of all the Western-First-World-Middle-Class problems there out there, this had to be pushing for top. I am aware this could sound crazy to others who have lost people they love at Christmas, or are in hospital with loved ones at Christmas or any of the plethora of other, “PROPER” reasons to be stressed/anxious at Christmas. My counsellor told me this statement was unhelpful for addressing my own anxiety. I still felt like an idiot nevertheless.

That's me, sifting through the kid's pressies, trying to write a list of who sent what. Mum in apron behind me going to check potatoes. What else do you see?  
A timeline of Christmas tasks for 2017

Previous December 26th/27th
Brace sales IRL (in real life) or online to search sales for next year’s:
1) wrapping paper
2) Christmas cards
3) Christmas pjs for kids
4) Christmas jumpers / or outfits for kids
5) Crackers / any decs / lights that have broken
6) New Family Calendar for coming year (which you’ll spend ages transferring all birthdays / significant events / term dates / inset days onto)

September
Start thinking about Christmas pressies and panicking about where the money will come from.
Sort secret Santa in work/help decide venue for Christmas meal/quiz etc.

October
Book father Christmas visit as soon as tickets go on sale. (Super popular venue)
Panic more about lack of funds. Shop around for credit cards.

November
Apply for credit card. Await it’s arrival nervously
Start buying THOUGHTFUL presents for all extended family members (12 people).
Buy stocking presents (non thoughtful!)
Arrange & Book venue for blogger Christmas meet up
Buy presents for kids and husband.
Help Dad buy presents for Mum.
Spend a fortune / painstaking hours creating online photo calendars from the last 12 months for older relatives.
Buy stuff for Christmas Eve box
Take kids to Winter Wonderland.
Buy advent calendars
Sell 100 Scout stamps
Book Christmas shop slot. Leave it too late, get rubbish “click and collect” Asda slot
(this requires thinking about all the food and drink we will need over Christmas period)

December
Take proceeds of sold stamps back to Scout hut. Get guilted into sorting Scout post after work. Have strop with passive aggressive Scout leader and don’t go.
Write Christmas cards
Send photo calendars.
Order school pics. Promptly lose school pics before Christmas and have to send out in January.
Send Scout cards, International cards, UK cards
Wrap all presents. (Emlyn did half)
Pay school for panto trip
Buy sets of tickets for all concerts for all times for all relevant people
Add and replace various items for ULTIMATE Christmas supermarket shop
Book time off work for concerts
Attend a few birthday parties (having bought and wrapped presents)
Sort 2 x random kids costumes for concerts, remember to get them to school
Make gingerbread cookies (not essential but a tradition)
Make Christmas decoration for work competition (!!!!)
Attend concerts for all relevant family members
Wrap “fake pressies” for Scout Christmas party (!!!) Remember child has party, remember his Christmas jumper and entrance money
Remember to dress kids in home clothes / Christmas clothes on various different dates throughout December
Put up decorations (kids do tree...wait til they in bed, re-distribute a few items)
Get extra green bags/food bags in case we get snowed in *hollow laugh*
Buy all bottles of booze and or chocolates and or flowers to take to parties / relatives
Pick up Christmas shop on 23rd, realise half stuff is missing, go to another shop to find missing items.
Plan/make food for boxing day visitors & freeze
Make food for Christmas day
Keep a note of who got what and from who.
Write/ hassle kids into writing Thank you cards
Send Thank you cards
Contact absent family members to wish merry Christmas/happy new year

26th December… brave the sales for next year….. and repeat….



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