Sunday night was the first night of Hanukkah, and I can predictably report that I spent both Saturday and Sunday trying to calm my white hot rage while rage folding a giant pile of laundry. (The irony that the tool I had to cool my anger at OMG DOING EVERYTHING FOR THE HOLIDAYS AGAIN ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME, was folding my family’s laundry, was not lost on me.)
I’ve written (and written and written) over the years about the emotional labor that women take on over the holidays. And while I’d like to tell you that 12 years into my marriage, with two children, and a whole system of holiday planning down, we no longer have the issue of me doing all the planning and emotional heavy lifting for the holiday… no. We’re still here. I’m still rage crying into laundry while I text my friends long relatable screeds about partners who don’t see the work that’s required to pull off the holiday.
While the details vary every year, this year it went a little like this: I knew we were going to have a marathon holiday run. For those of you following along at home, this year our family schedule went like this: hosting 14 (fully vaccinated, rapid tested) people at Thanksgiving, oldest child’s birthday, one day off, Hanukkah starts, eight days of Hanukkah. If someone were to design some sort of Holiday March of Doom, this would be it. So to get through it, I started planning two months in advance. I wrote lists of what we would need to host 14 people. I ordered supplies, I wrote task lists. I organized. I operationalized. And then I assigned a few tasks out to my husband.
My loving, feminist husband who every year says, “You don’t need to do it all, you just need to tell me what you need help with.” (The fact that assigning out tasks IS emotional labor is another story for another time, but hey, he had tasks!)
Except. I found out at the last minute that he hadn’t written down his tasks. He hadn’t understood his tasks properly. Or he’d wait till the absolute last minute to do his jobs and then wanted my help. Either way: no good.
Which lead me to rage-fully text some girlfriends while I folded laundry “What the EFF is the point of giving him tasks to do, if they don’t actually get done???”
Because that is the essence of holiday emotional labor. It’s the pre-planning. It’s the putting all the pieces together in your head. It’s keeping tabs on a million people’s emotions. Knowing what will make your guests feel welcomed. Knowing what will make people feel appreciated when you give gifts. Knowing what needs to be done when, so the next thing can happen on time. It’s all the little things nobody notices unless they don’t happen.
One zillion lifetimes into writing my annual article about how women bear the brunt emotional labor on the holidays, I don’t have a tiny solution. I don’t intend to stop celebrating the holidays in a way that makes me happy, and makes my family feel fulfilled. I don’t intend to stop asking for more from my partner, or letting him know I’m disappointed when he falls short. I won’t stop asking for what I need. I’m not going to accept it as “just what is,” and stop getting mad about it.
I’m also not going to stop leaning into the joy of what I’ve created, and watching the joy on my family’s faces.
BUT THAT SAID: if you have tips for better engaging your partners in the emotional labor of the holidays I am ALL EARS.
Who else is struggling with the gendered way that holiday tasks get done? Has anyone come up with a good solution to get uninvolved partners to do more (or even see the complex planning that goes into it?) We’re here for your best ideas, and any venting you need to do.