It’s that time of the year with twinkling lights in the windows, the scent of freshly baked cookies in the air, and an abundance of holiday cheer all around: Christmas is just around the corner! But for some, the most wonderful time of the year can also be the most stressful one. For many women, the festive season means a whole host of extra items on their to-do list. That’s because, even in our modern world, it is still mostly women who take on the childcare and household chores in relationships, and it is also mostly them who are in charge of organising the Christmas celebrations. But it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to be that way. In this blogpost, I want to introduce you to the concept of equal care and share my tips on how to achieve it.
Note: While equal care doesn’t exclusively refer to women, it’s predominantly them who undertake the majority of unpaid care work in relationships. That’s why in this blogpost, we’re taking a more traditional standpoint and are focusing only on women. Nevertheless, everyone, irrespective of their gender, is encouraged to explore this topic and benefit from this article.
Photo: Elina Fairytale on Pexels
What is equal care?
Equal care describes the fair division of unpaid care work between both partners in a relationship. That means that any household and childcare responsibilities are distributed evenly. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
However, despite the fact that modern women enjoy more opportunities and rights than any previous generation, traditional gender roles and stereotypes still influence the distribution of care in many relationships to this day. Internalised social expectations and the influence of our own childhood and upbringing also play a part in this. Even in our contemporary society, these factors often result in specific assumptions regarding women’s roles, particularly when it comes to caregiving. This tendency leads to women still shouldering a disproportionate share of family and household duties in many modern relationships. The cognitive burden of only one partner having to remember, plan and organise the majority of responsibilities in a relationship is referred to as the “mental load” (read more about it here).
As the Christmas season approaches, this unequal distribution of responsibilities becomes even more apparent. If you’re a woman in a heterosexual relationship, chances are that you’re the one doing a disproportionate amount of the work this Christmas – from shopping for presents, wrapping them, coordinating family visits and decorating the tree to preparing the Christmas dinner and doing the dishes at the end of the day. This can further add to an already high mental load and transform what should be the most wonderful time of the year into one of the most stressful and exhausting periods for many women.
The belief that only women should handle certain tasks is outdated and doesn’t reflect the diverse and dynamic nature of modern relationships. So, to prevent this holiday season from ending in burnout, here are my tips for achieving equal care in your relationship and sharing the mental load this Christmas.
3 steps to achieving equal care
Effective communication is the cornerstone of achieving equal care. So, if you find yourself doing the majority of care work in your relationship, you should start by having an open conversation with your partner about how responsibilities are distributed.
Remind yourself and your partner that everyone can contribute in their own way. Celebrate each other’s strengths and interests, and let go of rigid expectations. Share your feelings, your concerns, and your ideas for a more balanced holiday experience. Take time to discuss what constitutes a fulfilling Christmas for both of you, for example, whether it involves any specific traditions, an intimate gathering at home with close family, or a lively festivity with extended family and friends. By understanding and embracing each other’s expectations, you pave the way for a collaborative and harmonious holiday plan that works for both of you – see step 2.
Break down tasks:
Sit down together with your partner and write down all the tasks you each feel responsible for. Make sure to include even the smallest of tasks and discuss every detail involved in completing it. And who knows, you might even be surprised by some of the things your partner is already taking care of without you noticing.
Once you’ve gathered all the duties, examine your priorities together and (re)distribute the responsibilities evenly between the two of you. For Christmas, this could be questions such as:
- Who chooses and buys the presents for the children? Who is going to wrap the gifts? And who will store them until Christmas?
- Who will coordinate the visits to relatives? Specify whether this involves setting dates, communicating with relatives, organising transportation, or planning activities during the visits.
- Who will take care of the sick and/or elderly parents, and what exactly does this involve? What special needs do they have, and what support do they require? For instance, do they need to be picked up on the day?
- Who is responsible for the meal preparation? Who’s buying groceries, cooking, cleaning up the table after dinner, and doing the dishes?
Enjoy the benefits:
Once you have collected every small task involved in the Christmas preparations, define what the responsibilities include exactly and who will be responsible for what – let go of them! Trust your partner to complete the chores, acknowledging and respecting that their approach may differ from yours. You might even find yourself enjoying letting go of something and leaning back, knowing that someone else is taking care of it now. Sharing the load and responsibilities equally will not only lighten your own mental load, but it will also strengthen your relationship.
Equal care for a Merry Christmas
Christmas is meant to be a time to bond and create beautiful memories with your loved ones, not to be overwhelmed with chores. So this holiday season, I encourage you to embrace the concept of equal care and thereby alleviate the mental load imbalance. By sharing responsibilities and ensuring that the magic of Christmas isn’t overshadowed by stress and exhaustion, you can enjoy a more harmonious and stress-free holiday season.
With this in mind, I wish you a wonderful and relaxed Christmas! If you found this article helpful and want to receive more valuable tips on stress prevention and nurturing your mental well-being, sign up for my monthly newsletter.
Photo: Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels