Men Need to Understand the Emotional Labor of Being ‘Mama Claus’

emotional labor of mama claus universal
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He’s She’s making a list Google doc and checking it twice hourly to make sure no Christmas detail falls through the cracks. Hey, it’s all in a day’s work for Mama Claus, who works overtime during the holidays to ensure the gifts are bought, the cards are sent, the tree is trimmed and the children don’t have yule log on their face when it’s time to take the Santa photo.

Jokes aside, if we dig deep and consider the lop-sided workload that falls to women between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, it’s kinda…messed up. Not sure what we mean? Think of the orchestration of teacher presents, the purchasing (and wrapping) of gifts, the assigning of even more gifts to the grandparents, the holiday PJs that—poof—arrive at your front door just in time for the family photos. No offense to the dads, but this meme delivers a far-too-accurate summation. More often than not, everyone else in the fam simply has to show up.

So, what gives? Why is it 2023 and we’re still living in a world where Mama Claus has to exclusively take the reigns? “The holiday workload falling on women is still rooted in traditional gender norms relating to moms being responsible for the children and the household,” Erin Pash, a licensed marriage and family therapist, says. “To be fair, it also usually goes hand in hand with women’s innate capacity to get sh** done.”

In other words, women are typically the planners and subsequently the worriers, according to Pash. This contributes to why they feel the need to take on the extra burden—and handle oh so many logistics—usually because their counterpart is not quite wired to think about things in the same way. “One of the best ways to counter this is to change our thought process and behavior by looking at each other’s strengths when it comes to how parents can work together to divide and conquer both holiday joys and stressors,” Pash says.

After all, it’s true that someone has to be in charge. But per Pash, one person doesn’t have to do all the work. In short: There’s potential for change as long as you’ve got two willing partners who are open to abandoning the status quo.

What does this look like? Perhaps it’s a weekly meeting kicking off in November where Mama Claus sets the agenda, but delegates the holiday work. (In this scenario, the goal is that whoever takes on the job sees it through from start to end.) Or maybe it’s a conversation where, together, you iron out the biggest priorities and non-negotiables before letting the rest of the stuff go—say, a general agreement to keep the kitchen clean and the wrapping station stocked, but an understanding that you’re using paper plates for the Hannukah party.

And while we’re on the subject of priorities: One of the best ways to minimize the emotional labor inflicted on Mama Claus is for mom to refine what the season means for her. In my case, I made a list (OK, a Google doc) well ahead of the holidays of what makes me feel merry and jolly. Christmas carols are a yes! Forcing my family to take a picture-perfect holiday photo? Less so.

Pash lays this out more succinctly: “Do the things you enjoy, ditch the rest.” But it’s also imperative to find constructive ways to tell those around you (cough, cough, husband) that they have to play a more active role.

About the Expert

Erin Pash is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She’s also the founder and CEO of the Minnesota-based Ellie Mental Health, which has over 180 franchise clinics nation-wide.

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