My mother-in-law died yesterday, and I’ve been thinking about the work she and others of her generation did to maintain family ties and traditions. When I was still dating Glenn, I once told her I had made arrangements to take him out to dinner on his birthday. She called Glenn’s brother and invited him over, then told Glenn she was having a birthday party for him. I was angry with her at the time, but as she told me on the day, “Family is important to Glenn, and he’d rather have this.” She was right.
My own mother, who died Nov. 6, 2014, organized countless family get-togethers. The more family present, the better. And, true to the traditions of her own mother, these get-togethers had to be celebrated with tons of food, mostly cooked by herself (she was not a fan of potluck), and we had to set the table using the good silver, good china, and appropriate seasonal decorations. As she got older, this self-imposed standard became more and more difficult for her to maintain.
Memes like the one above make me think that it’s time for women to rethink these holiday standards we’ve set for ourselves. Family is important, yes. But the trappings we surround holidays and birthdays with are not nearly as important as we think they are. There’s a reason why most men do not get involved in this “work.” I am convinced that, in too many cases, the need to find just-the-right card, to have all the decorations match, to get the perfect portrait, to create the Hallmark memory, is a self-imposed standard for women, and one which not only doesn’t help the family but can actually harm it.
If a man wants to thank the postal carrier, he’ll probably stick a bill in an envelope and scribble “Thanks!” on the outside. A woman will hunt for an appropriate card, and perhaps a kitschy gift with a mailbox on it. (My mil was a postal carrier and when we cleaned out her basement we found several of these, some still in their boxes. As a teacher, I also sometimes get kitschy gifts; I’d rather have a Starbucks card.) We need to recognize that much of our to-do list is a need to out-do what we accomplished last year, or worse, to out-do other women. Social media can feed into and make this competition much worse.
Much as I enjoyed my mother’s grand presentations at Christmas, I wish she could have relaxed her standards as she grew older. She enjoyed the work when she was younger, being a very energetic woman. But in her later years, she exhausted herself before her company ever arrived, and it grew difficult for all involved because she would not accept help.
Women who feel swamped by their to-do lists at this time of year (including myself), need to stop! Prioritize. Ask your family what they really want. Maybe everyone is feeling stressed at the idea of getting gifts for all the aunts and uncles. Maybe the parents really don’t want their kids to have another video game. Maybe your family would be happy to do a potluck if it means the hostess will be able to spend some time enjoying her company.
We also need to consider the planet. Our tendency to buy ridiculous, useless, easily breakable gifts is creating a disaster for our environment. We really, really don’t need all this STUFF. In fact, we really, really need to stop producing so much stuff.
So, Santa Moms, give yourselves, the planet, and your family a break. Don’t get gifts for everyone. Most of them truly don’t need them, anyway, and our planet will thank us if we produce less. Your family — the ones who truly care about you — will be happy to see you less stressed. And you will have more time and energy for enjoying the relationships which matter most. The youngest and the oldest in a family are the least in need of stuff and will be so appreciative of your undivided, and unstressed, attention.