fbpx Print Friendly Logo

Want to share this page with your friends?

Newsletter: December 2023

Sharing the Holiday Load

On Thanksgiving morning, my husband popped into the kitchen, where I was working on preparations for hosting 10 guests. “You seem very relaxed this year,” he noted.

I was feeling relaxed, and a big part of my easygoing mood was the help I’d received from our teens. While my husband had to work extra hours, our kids teamed up with me to handle the work of hosting. They cleaned bathrooms (okay, I may have had to do some touch-up work there), vacuumed, carried folding tables and chairs, helped rearrange furnishings to make space for all the dinner guests, emptied loads of dishes from the dishwasher, did some outdoor cleanup, helped with food prep, and even walked to the store for a couple of last-minute bags of ice.

As I put the finishing touches on setting the tables, my 14-year-old son jokingly said, “You couldn’t have done all this without me!” He was right. And he continued to be right all throughout the weekend, when he hauled Christmas decorations up from the basement by himself and started setting them up for me; carried the tree inside and helped sweep up the needles; and remembered, without any prompting from me, to choose and order a holiday gift for his brother.

Like many working parents, I’ve spent most holiday seasons rushing around and feeling the burden of needing to “make the magic happen” for family and friends. The result has usually been that we can’t quite manage to do all the special things we might want to do, or that we squeeze everything in, and I’m the only one not enjoying myself because of the endless to-do list. But this year, as I’ve experienced the joy of having help, I’m stunned by how different things feel.

If you’re struggling under the weight of holiday expectations, you’re certainly not alone. Here are some ways to start sharing the load:

  • Start early. Obviously, my kids didn’t wake up this November and suddenly transform into competent, helpful human beings. Since they were very young, we’ve tried to give them baseline responsibilities around the house and asked them to pitch in at the holidays. Even very little kids can contribute by going with you to choose a gift for a special person, helping to fetch things like wrapping paper or your family recipe book, cleaning up their toys before guests arrive, wiping the dining table before and after a meal, folding napkins, or washing produce. We’ve got lots of age-by-age holiday task recommendations here.
  • Be clear about expectations ahead of time. Clear and consistent communication is key for all members of the household, no matter their age. A few weeks before any major celebration, start talking about ways everyone can help. For example, we talk about our holiday menus in advance, and I ask my kids which dishes they’d like to help make that year. You can also talk about chores (who will make sure the sheets and towels are clean and ready for overnight guests? Who’s going to be responsible for dusting and vacuuming before Grandma comes over? When would be a good time to tidy up bedrooms and playrooms?) and fun extras like gift-giving, games, or holiday music (can you make a playlist for our holiday dinner? What board games do we want to play with your aunts and uncles when they arrive? Will you make a list of teachers and coaches for holiday gift-giving, and help decide what we’ll give?). Knowing how each person will contribute, and giving them ownership of their tasks ahead of time, makes it easier to ask for follow-through when the time comes.
  • Avoid the “perfection trap.” During the holidays, we often put extra pressure on ourselves to make things special – which makes it even easier to fall into the trap of not accepting the help that’s offered because we might feel it’s not “done properly” or up to our standards. No one, whether child or adult, can learn to really partner with us on the holiday preparations if we constantly criticize or reject their efforts. Yeah, I had to give the toilets in our house a quick extra wipedown after my kids had cleaned them for guests. But when I walked out of the bathroom and observed those same kids carrying extra chairs up from the basement, I decided to focus on their good intentions and the things they were doing right.
  • Simplify. If your vision of the holiday season is more grand than your family unit can achieve without extra stress and chaos, it might be time to scale back. Talk with your family about the things that are most important to each of you, and see if you can take other “extras” off the plate. You might be surprised to find that you’ve been expending a lot of energy on some details that won’t be missed – and that, with fewer, more meaningful recipes, activities, and special touches on the agenda, your family has more time and enthusiasm to contribute.

Balancing the workload in a household is never easy, and it can be especially tough at this time of year. But sharing the load can make for a calmer and more joyous holiday season. And speaking of calm and joy: We’ve got a new Holiday hub, with loads of ideas for low-stress seasonal family time between now and the New Year!


Baking cookies? Make it easy with this genius 3 cookies, 1 dough recipe!

3 Cookies, 1 Dough


Make holiday family dinners extra fun with our Holiday Dinner Scavenger Hunt!

Holiday Dinner Scavenger Hunt


This one’s for the grown-ups only: We’re talking about that viral Christmas dinner episode of The Bear! Check out what Dr. Anne Fishel has to say about the Berzatto family Feast of the Seven Fishes, and talk about it with your friends and family.