The Holidays Are Burying Me In Emotional Labor

I know I'm not the only one

A few months ago, Maddie wrote a post about trying to get her husband to handle more of the emotional labor in their household. Working on that post as an editor, I was full of questions. Why was she working so hard to break him of bad habits? Why wasn’t she just refusing to put up with his shit? (Answer: different people handle things differently, and different men arrive at adulthood with different levels of feminist awareness, and we’re all working with what we’ve got.) Since then, NBC news picked up the story, because the emotional labor conversation is real and needs to be had. The invisible labor that women are doing is slowly crushing us, and we need to start doing something about it.

Most of the year, our family has a pretty decent balance of emotional (and actual) labor. It’s part of the benefit of marrying someone whose mom was a feminist breadwinner. But it’s also come at the expense of a lot of fighting, and me flat-out refusing to do things that needed to be shared.

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But then, the holidays hit. And if there is anything that knocks me off my emotional labor high horse, it’s the damn holidays.

The holidays in our house seem to be a relative breeze for my husband. He plays it off as growing up Jewish and not wanting anything to do with Christmas. But in reality that excuse seems to get him through everything from Halloween till New Year’s Day, which is particularly galling given that our Christmas is minimal at best. I, on the other hand, often emerge on January 2nd positively exhausted, with other people’s happiness to show for it. (Literally, I can count the number of holidays where I didn’t even receive a gift—from anyone, parents, husband, or kids—because I didn’t personally organize it myself.)

My holidays start nice and early. (I’ll excuse everyone from the part where I make elaborate Halloween costumes from scratch, because that is a passion, and I have nobody to blame but myself.) But starting in early October I start making lists. What family members we need to buy for, what they might like, what dates different activities need to be scheduled for. Then I start working on the more labor-intensive parts: making photo gifts for grandparents (which of course means sorting through a year’s worth of pictures), ordering wrapping paper, making cute holiday cards, planning meals. Y’all. I even go so far as to make a photo calendar for my husband, and then make a slightly different one for myself… and then wrapping it and giving it to myself.

I’m not sure what the solution is. Because the truth is, I do care about the holidays more than my partner does. I want to give photo gifts, and I want to order cute wrapping paper. But what I don’t want is for all the list making, planning, wrapping, and shipping to be on my plate.

During the rest of the year, would I even consider buying a present for my mother-in-law, or any other member of my husband’s family? I would not. If he wants them to get birthday presents, or Mother’s Day cards, he better get his shit together to make himself look good. But somehow, at the holidays, I can’t even get him to express an opinion about what his family members might like as a gift. “I donno,” he’ll say, “They’re hard to shop for.” File under: no shit, but I’m somehow doing it anyway.

I don’t have any smart tricks or tips that I’m using to solve this pesky feminist dilemma. This year I just reverted to doing all my holiday chores earlier, so I’d be less stressed about them. I mean hell, I’m still trying to get my family members to notice and thank me for all the work I’m putting in. But I do know that I’m far from alone in this dilemma. And given that my household celebrates a very minimal Christmas, I know that for many women this problem is even more intense.

And since we all deserve holidays where we didn’t personally create and then wrap the gifts with our name on it under the tree, we’ve got to do something about it.

How much emotional labor (and actual damn labor) are you doing for the holidays? If you’ve managed to split the holiday burden, what advice do you have? Is there a way get out cute holiday cards, without being personally responsible for the whole project?

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