If Your Christmas Efforts Feel Like ‘Emotional Labor’ — Chill Out

by Valerie Williams
Originally Published: 
Image via Gpointstudio/Getty Images

Always remember that you can say “No”

It’s the holiday season, and you might be feeling the stress and pressure this time of year can bring. After all, who else besides moms will make sure the stockings are stocked, the right gifts are bought, and that the freaking Elf is moved on a nightly basis (and in a creative and exciting fashion)?

Modern mom life means the holidays are just one more thing to make us feel harried and less-than. Are we keeping up with the Joneses with our swanky holiday card? Are we buying all the must-have gifts our kids have wished for? Are we making that dish everyone at last year’s block party loved (even though it takes hours)? There’s no question a lot of this work falls on women, a topic addressed in a recent essay titled Holiday Magic Is Made By Women. And It’s Killing Us.

The essay refers to the myriad tasks piling on us in the months leading up to Christmas as “emotional labor,” and while it’s true that most of the details of holiday parties, school events, charity drives, Christmas card-creating, and gift buying fall on women, it’s maybe not 100 percent correct to call it “emotional labor.”

Because the fact is, as much as a brag-worthy Christmas card feels necessary in this day and age, it’s not. The writer speaks of the stresses of arranging a professional photographer for her family’s yearly card photo, which resulted in “a flurry of back-and-forth emails deciding on time and place while factoring in the weather,” and then having to choose the photo, a holiday message that strikes the right note, and the stamp purchasing, addressing, and mailing required afterward. She notes that she could skip doing a card, but that would mean disappointing relatives and friends who look forward to receiving a photo of her family each year.

But would it?

This is the age of Facebook. And Instagram and Snapchat and email and text. People in my immediate circle see my kids’ faces on at least a weekly (if not daily) basis, which is part of the reason I made holiday cards optional for myself a long time ago. Some years I do them, some years I don’t. And guess who ultimately gives a shit one way or the other?

No one. Not a single soul.

Do we forget that we actually have choices here? That no one is forcing us to experience a certain amount of Ina Garten-approved Christmas merriment? The essay does point out that even therapists advise “dropping a ball, or two” this time of year in order to feel less stressed.

But how about dropping like, 12?

Self-imposed pressure to be a holiday rockstar is simply not “emotional labor” as I understand it. Being a holiday rockstar is actually optional, no matter how pressing it might feel. Real emotional labor, the daily things women and moms do that would never occur to a man, is a thing. I alone am responsible for all communications with my kids’ school, pediatrician’s office, music lesson instructors, Girl Scout leaders, sports coaches, and anyone else in their revolving door of people needed to make their lives what they are. I keep an open dialogue with them about their social lives at school. I read articles about the right age to let them have a smart phone. I remember to buy toothpaste. No question, I do the lion’s share of worrying and mental work for my family.

But what’s not included in that enormous list of concerns is optional holiday stuff that, if done at all, should be enjoyable.

So much of the modern holiday hoopla we perform is wholly unnecessary, but obviously, many of us have convinced ourselves otherwise. Instead of finding ways to cope with the “emotional labor” we impose on ourselves this time of year, why don’t we just say “no” to whatever we don’t feel like doing?

No one will die if I skip the holiday card this year –I can say “fuck it” and post a quick photo and message on Facebook for Aunt Greta to feast her judgy eyes on. People might be bummed if we skip our block’s annual Ugly Sweater Christmas Potluck, but everyone will still have fun without us. I can buy gift cards for some names on our list instead of driving myself nuts trying to come up with a showstopper of a present. This is simply not the sort of thing women should be stressing themselves out over — we have enough shit to stress out over.

The fact is, most of the tasks we force ourselves to do this time of year involves preventing the disappointment of others. Well, how about preventing the disappointment of you? If there are people in your life who will hold you to meeting certain fluffy expectations despite the duress it puts you under, maybe you need to stop giving a shit what they think. Your own mental health should never be sacrificed to please someone else on such a superficial basis. If all the things you feel you must do this season are stressing you to the point where you can’t even enjoy this time of year?

Just say no.

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