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'Good enough, not perfect': How to manage the emotional labor of being 'Mama Claus'

The holidays are here. For children, the calendar turns and the joy just appears.

But there are silent sufferers behind all of that Christmas cheer: The mothers, the caregivers, those "chosen" for the work are left to it – "Mama Clauses" producing all of the magic, because they do it better anyway, right?

"Usually, we delegate to the person who's suited for the job," said , who has a doctorate in women's history. "It's hardly fair, or equitable."

Lark has dedicated her life to helping create systems in homes. As a professional organizer, she physically lifts the burden of clutter off of women, but that is only half of her work. She also helps lift the impossible standards some women have set for themselves, especially this time of year.

"I'm being hired by really cool, smart, professional women who are overwhelmed and sad and they are depressed … they don't know why they can't keep up with all of this," Lark said as she described how her company began.

Why are women doing it all?

Many women have resonated with Lark's Ted Talk on emotional labor and the myth of "women's work" published in July. Even more are watching now that the holiday season is here.

Lark's company, , has been successful because she started looking through the lens of women's history and thought "well, why are women doing all of this? It's not like you need a vagina."

Dr. Regina Lark

"Who decided work has a gender?" Lark said in her Ted Talk. "Say the phrase 'men's work,' did you think vacuuming? But all we have to do is say 'women's work' and, bam, instant global understanding."

And what permeates "women's work" is the mental load of emotional labor, she continued in her talk. "Emotional labor is mostly invisible," Lark said. "It's the remembering, reminding, planning, noticing, anticipating. It's the juggling multiple calendars trying to do it all."

But there is actually no reason this emotional labor should fall to cisgender women. Everyone, despite their gender, is mentally capable of doing this work, Lark explained, and the labor burden is meant to be shared.

The only reason women are doing it all, is quite simply, because we always have.

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Getting to 'this is good enough'

Melissa Fulenwider, , knows what it feels like to carry the emotional burden of Christmas planning. But her 2020 Facebook post pushing back on the notion resurfaces every holiday season as frantic moms hustle to make everything perfect.

"Driving down the road this morning thinking about what else I can get my kids for Christmas this year," she wrote in the post.

"We have some presents under the tree but NOT ENOUGH! It was that thought - 'NOT ENOUGH'- that stopped me in my tracks," her post continued.

She reflected back on the expectations and financial pressures she felt that year. She just had to remind herself of what she cherished most when she was young.

"The laughter. The food. The Mariah Carey Christmas Album blasting from every speaker in the house," she wrote.

Melissa Fulenwider

We will only remember the way we felt, Fulenwider emphasized. So, we can choose to feel anxious over the things our kids will likely forget in the name of the "perfect Christmas," or we can choose to be present.

Her post has garnered nearly 7,000 comments and more than 250,000 shares.

"It's so crazy that it resonated with so many people," Fulenwider told ӣƵ.

"It's just kind of the way it is... I think a lot of time as women, we do just put that pressure on ourselves. It's not that our kids are pressuring us even," Fulenwider said.

However, the perfect Christmas really is when we can look at all of the things on our to-do list and say, "this is good enough," she said, because we know what matters most doesn't require much "doing."

Ways to share the labor burden during the holiday season

Lark would agree with Fulenwider. "We want to help women get to 'good enough, not perfect,'" Lark shared: the good enough house, the good enough food, the good enough gifts.

Here are some tips from Lark and Fulenwider for managing the emotional and physical load of the season.

  • Practice "radical delegation": Give someone the task of wrapping presents. Give another the task of picking up gifts. Give your partner the task of decorating. But remember, "they're not helping you," Lark said. "Instead of asking for help, we want our family members to partner. If we ask for help it means it's our job, and it really doesn't have to be."
  • Be consistent: Consistency creates culture. If there is delegation in the home, new roles will be assumed. Families can work together to create holiday experiences. Take turns choosing what to do. And don't hold on too tight to "the perfect night."
  • Say "no" and set boundaries: Practice saying "no" without putting "your own layer of guilt on it," Lark shared. Quite simply, think of it as an ask and an answer, Lark added. Do you want to go to that company party? Bake for your son's kindergarten class? Participate in that fifth gift exchange? If the answer is "no," then it's no. "We've got to hold our boundaries because no one else is going to hold them," Lark said.
  • Plan moments of self-care into the day. Plan sneak-away moments this holiday, moments to be present with yourself, especially if it's a day that's busy and spread out with things to do. "You've got to take a breather, take a moment, even if it's on your phone," Lark shared. Whatever is needed to remain in a state of calm, there's space for. Everything else has to become "good enough for now" when it comes to prioritizing our health, Lark added.
  • Rely on your village: This one is especially true if you are a divorced parent or single parent and are unsure who to delegate tasks to. "Now is the time to start building your village," Lark said. Ask yourself "who is around me that I can delegate to? If you have family around, put together an email with bullets. This is what's on my plate. Who can take some things off my plate? And remember, you're not asking, you're saying 'let me know what you can do.'"
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