Christmas can be a time of excitement, love, generosity and wonder. But it can also be a time of stress, overload and resentment. Everyone is tired from a busy autumn, a long school term and the short, cold, wet days. Add in all the work, preparation and forethought needed to make celebrations go off smoothly and it is no surprise that this can be a time of tension for families.
Many Christmas arguments are fundamentally about workload. You might think you’re shouting at him about inept napkin folding, but you’re actually angry that by the time he hobbled sleepy-headed out of bed at 10.15 you had defused WWIII in the living room, hung up a wash, re-attached the advent calendar to the wobbly nail four times and peeled approximately 2,000 potatoes.
The march of equality has got us a long way, and most women are not the martyrs to domestic drudge that their mothers or grandmothers were. But it is a sad fact that even when both partners work, domestic work still falls squarely on female shoulders.
UK women do twice as much housework as men, even after a full day’s work, according to a survey by Mumsnet. Most depressingly, the majority of women surveyed wouldn’t change the division of labour, in part because they don’t think men will do a good enough job.
There is just so much to do at home at Christmas, magnifying any existing unfairness. This is where much of the seasonal relationship resentment comes from. If you can find a way to share the jobs more easily it will prevent that resentment building up, and make for the best Christmas gift of all: harmony.
The only way to make sure that work is fairly divided is to make a big list and apportion jobs.
Divide your list into big jobs and little jobs and try to make sure that each person has, broadly, the same number of each. Remember to put every job on the list - anything not on there will probably end up being done by whoever usually picks up the slack.
Sit down with the list, stick names by jobs according to who is good at what. You’ll then be left with a load of skill-free drudge jobs nobody wants to do. Apportion them equally, and make sure it is equal and fair, otherwise you’re just storing up trouble for later.
Then, and this bit is vital, agree a date by which the jobs will be done and get cracking on yours.
Let go of control
This is probably the most testing part of the whole process: let go. If a job is on your partner’s list then it’s your partner who decides whether it’s been done well enough. It’s your partner who decides when it gets done. It’s your partner who decides what the job actually involves.
If it’s a bad job, let it be a bad job. The consequences will come soon enough: inedible food; a bathroom your mother in law complains about, or the house runs out of ice cubes. Your partner has to then take ownership of the consequences and fix it then, which will cause them more trouble than if they’d done it correctly in the first place.
If you monitor, correct and pick up the slack for badly done jobs you are just reinforcing that this is all, ultimately, your work. You’re also rewarding shoddy work by your partner by picking up after them.
This means that some jobs will be poorly done, and you just have to accept that. Once your partner realises the consequences of poorly done work (shortages/embarrassment/more work in the long run), they’ll take more responsibility next time.
This lesson is hard to implement, but believe us it’s worth it.
Gamify the chores
Is your partner the competitive type? Are you? Use it to your advantage.
Maybe you have a print-off of the list somewhere that you ostentatiously mark your jobs as completed as you go along.
Or maybe it’s more formal: first person to complete six jobs gets to choose cocktails that the other person has to make for a date night in. Or the first person to complete the whole list can choose a cuisine and the other person has to make a meal in that style.
Let visitors help
Having family and friends to stay is one of the loveliest parts of Christmas, but it can add to the workload and the stress.
Don’t be proud - if people offer to help, say yes. Your mother in law might not be the best cook in the world but if she offers to make dinner, say yes and welcome the lightening of the load.
If a family has been with you for a couple of days already, let them clear the table or make breakfast.
Don’t be a martyr, don’t be proud: accept help and give yourself the gift of a little time off. You'll relax a bit more, and when you take it easier, the entire house enjoys themselves a bit more. It's your Christmas too, after all!