Invisible Load of Motherhood — Holiday Edition

Originally posted on Postpartum Together

As Leah Ryder indicates in this Trello piece (https://medium.com/@trello/the-invisible-work-that-needs-talking-about-the-mental-load-cc6432b3159b) , there is a mental load that goes unnoticed for mothers. Ryder goes into more specifics about the workplace and teams. This piece is to discuss how the invisible load is impacting mothers specifically during the Holidays

As a mom, you want to enjoy the holidays. You also want everyone else to enjoy the holidays and you feel responsible for making that happen.

You do most of the planning.

You find the perfect gifts for your children.

You decorate the house for added joy.

You outline the menu and coordinate the gatherings.

You hide the gifts and wrap them during those scarce moments when the kids are asleep.

You carry the holiday invisible load and it can be heavy.

In 2020, you have additional factors of

  • A world pandemic
  • Months of isolation
  • Modified activity options
  • Lack of childcare
  • Additional schooling responsibilities
  • Changed work culture.

**Let’s stop for a deep breath together because this is a lot.**

The text from grandparents and aunts come in:

What would Elizabeth like for Christmas?
Will we gather for the candle lightings each night or are we using Zoom to celebrate Kwanzaa?
Who will get together for the Thanksgiving feast?

When you’re already experiencing stress and anxiety, each text or phone call can feel like another layer bogging you down. When you feel overwhelmed by the holidays, it can be easy to lose the joy you want to experience.

The Pressure of “Supermom” During the Holidays

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Postpartum Together

The holidays were meant to be a time of celebration, closeness, and laughter and for many moms, the pressure to be “Supermom” through the holidays is a breaking point. Supermom, this illusional character many moms hold in their minds, tells us that we are not doing enough. She tells us that we need to work harder. Do more. Produce more. She tells us that a holiday is not fulfilling for our children without crafts, decorations, gifts, meals, traditions, pictures, and themed-activities. She tells us that we are responsible for doing and being all of this and carrying the checklist in our minds. She tells us that if we sleep or rest or take a moment to breathe, we are failing our children and families.

How did we get the supermom illusion?

The Supermom is like a modern-day “Keeping up with the Joneses” story. It is not new and not new to moms, but the way we experience it is different and in many ways a strong force than before.

You “Kept up with the Joneses” by having a well-manicured yard and a nice car. You worked to maintain an image from the outside. It was a family affair.

Now, the super mom illusion requires you to go deeper, go inside, go public. The supermom illusion is present in movies and TV shows, on social media and mom blogs, and beyond. There are endless opportunities to compare, to judge yourself, and to think about MORE to do and be as a mom.
Here’s how we often experience it:

The Supermom Puzzle Theory:

Jane sees 5 different moms on social media today

-Mom #1 is gifted in crafts and shares super-cute crafts she does with her kids
-Mom #2 is an amazing cook and highlights her family meals
-Mom #3 is a fitness expert and coordinates workouts with her toddlers
-Mom #4 is great with organization and interior design and her house always looks like a magazine
-Mom #5 is a make-up and style guru and always looks so put together

Jane, the one taking in these images and words, sees these moms and puts each together like pieces of a puzzle. This puzzle is the image of a “Supermom” that Jane sees and expects of herself. Jane doesn’t realize in that moment that each mom is only highlighting one expert area of her life and does not show all the other aspects. Jane feels like she needs to be the culmination of all of these moms in order to be a “good mom.”

The Impact of Holiday Stress on Moms

During the holidays, the supermom becomes the mom who creates picture-perfect memories for her family. Many women take on this stress by worrying about creating a great holiday for her family. According to recent research conducted by Zulily, 74% of moms feel they do the majority of work and emotional support during the holidays. This research also indicated 88% of moms say their role in the family is primarily that of the “giver.” Another study, conducted by Mount Sinai South Nassau in 2019 showed that 46% of women polled indicated a high or very high level of holiday-induced anxiety. “Women under the age of 50, especially those who work outside the home, feel the most stress during the holidays and at home, levels that impact their mental and physical health.”

Read more:
An Open Letter to Moms Everywhere this Holiday Season (Zulily)

How to have a less-stressed holiday

  1. Evaluate your true priorities
    It can be easy to believe we “have” to do everything we see others do. We can take on responsibilities because others are doing it. Look at your task list and priorities and ask yourself: Am I doing this because it aligns with our family values or because I think I “should” do it to keep up with others? Once you look closely, you will be able to identify the tasks that can fall of the list and stick to the priorities that align with your values.
  2. Communicate proactively
    Do not wait until high-stress or emotional times to make decisions about the holidays. Talk with your family beforehand about plans and boundaries. Look at the tasks and experiences ahead of time and use your support team to help. Let others (your partner, family, etc.) know how they can be helpful with clear communication.
  3. Form a team, not a pyramid
    Remember, the holidays are a family affair and you do not have to be over everything. Take some of the pressure off of yourself and create a team with your partner and/or supports. Think about what you really enjoy and love and be over that- allow others to take the lead on other things.
  4. Create boundaries
    You cannot do everything with everyone without losing your mind. No one can. Create boundaries around your time and energy. This looks different for everyone but evaluate your triggers and needs and let boundaries come from that. Do too many toys stress you out? Create boundaries around gift-giving. Are you someone who will stay up too late to do things that are not necessary? Create boundaries around your sleep and rest.
  5. Start and end your day with a connection
    Remember, the holidays are about connecting with others. We can get so caught up in tasks and plans that we miss opportunities to connect with those we love. Create a way to connect first thing in the morning and before bedtime in the evening. This could be reading a special story together, setting a timer for family snuggle time, sitting down for one meal a day together with no electronic interruption or another way your family enjoys connecting.

Over the holidays remember:

You do not have to deplete yourself to be a good mom.
You do not have to be stressed and overwhelmed to provide a good holiday.
You do not have to do this by yourself.

There is no reward for “Supermom” who did it all herself.

I know what can help you get through the holidays with more joy and less stress. I’m bringing you connection, community, coaching, and recognizing the really heavy invisible load you’re carrying.

Spots are limited for this 6-week Less-Stress Mom Holiday group and if you’re gifting yourself anything, let it be this peace of mind (and then maybe a personal retreat day.)

Postpartum Expert changing the narrative for new moms through writing, speaking, and cutting out the bullshit. @postpartumtogether

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