Second Day of Stress-less Christmas: Share the Mental Load


My mother, a nurse by profession, was trained to make observations.  Many Christmases ago she made this interesting remark that has always stuck with me.  Mom was working out at the gym and she noticed that all the women were rushing in and out of the place, with little time for chit-chat.  If the women did stop to talk, it was about the shopping, wrapping, cooking or baking they had to do.   They were busy, busy, busy.   The men, however, were all in a festive mood, relaxing, hanging out and socializing after their long workouts.  A study by the American Psychological Association found that more women than men feel stressed at Christmas.

In most households, women take charge of the Holiday To Do List:  from shopping to entertaining, from cooking and baking to wrapping.  From remembering every teacher, coach, bus driver, mail deliverer, baby sitter, and hair stylist.  And let’s not forget about that Elf.  There’s all this on top of an already overflowing mental load.  Even those households with the most equal distribution of labor can’t escape the phenomenon of the Mental Workload of Motherhood.  Jami Ingledue in the Huffington Post described the most tiring aspect of a mother’s work is being “Knower of All Things.”  You are the one “who plans, who notices, who anticipates, who researches, who worries."

To be fair, my husband is Knower of All Things in other areas of our life – like gutters, the lawn mower, and the snow blower.  I have no idea what’s going on in that department.

Still – it’s only fair that the mental load of the Holidays be shared with others in the house.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Take your Holiday Plan (from the First Day of Stress-less Christmas) – and sit down with your partner and share it.  We actually update it and email it back and forth to each other.  OK – really – I email it to my husband.  He never updates it.  After all, I am the Knower of All Christmas Things!
  • From the plan, give your partner some of the To Do’s.  Share them!
  • Find a calendar/family organization tool that works for you. is a free app (small fee for premium version) that consolidates family activities, shopping lists and To Do lists. 
  • Create a weekly punch list of small things you can both get done during the week to make you feel like you are getting things accomplished (pick up stamps, bring gift to post office, buy gift card for mailman) on your way home from Sheehan Personal training or between kids sports.   
  • If you have kids (and they are old enough), start giving them a role in holiday preparations.  This year, I designed and ordered our holiday cards.  My husband and kids addressed and stuffed them while watching the movie Elf.  

Women will probably continue to carry the Holiday mental load as we have a need to make the holidays magical for our families.  But we can be a little less stressed by sharing that load.