Can You Be Thankful and a Grinch During the Holidays?
Let's talk about opposing forces. Does any of this sound familiar to you…
Need to remember to get to that meeting right after work on Tuesday. Thank goodness my husband can take the kids and do their activities and dinner that night.
Need to figure out how to prioritize which of the two competing meetings to attend after work on Wednesday…
What’s going on with my eye? Why has it been twitching for days?
Both kids need new winter clothes – how did they grow out of yet another set of clothes?
Both kids want to spend some quality time (so do I) and are sick of just staying at home watching us work most of the weekend (so am I). Gotta make that happen - I'm so thankful for them.
Oh shoot, need to plan for our family vacation in December. Oh, and get a head start on holiday gifts.
The little one says she wants to write a book with me – I don't know where I'll find the time but I gotta make that special time happen - so thankful for her love of reading and writing.
Arg! The mechanic said they fixed the car, but nothing got fixed. Gotta find another time in our schedule to drop it off again.
The schools are closed on Wednesday? Gotta find a babysitter. Wish I could stay with them.
Need to leave early from work tomorrow to get the older kid to the dentist. Man, I have taken so much time off from work – I hope they aren’t starting to wonder about my level of commitment - I am really thankful for this job.
Gotta find time for a date night with the husband – when are we both available and can get babysitting?
Why am I so tired? What’s going on with this darn eye? Why am I eating so much chocolate? Why have I slowed down the intensity on my exercising?
This was a small snapshot of my week (let’s be honest: any given week looks like this). And many women face even more challenges depending on how much additional support they have in their lives. The holiday season brings an interesting dialectic swinging us back and forth on a pendulum of excitement and thankfulness to exhaustion and stress.
A dialectic is a situation of opposing forces. As we move into Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, we are faced with many symbols of the season that are sometimes in opposition to the stress we must navigate.
Our gratitude for what we have is at odds with the one thing we rarely have: time to really enjoy and appreciate all that we have.
Autumnal changes remind us to adapt to the change in time, season, and weather… yet no matter how many times we face it year after year, and how much we plan for it, the shift in pace can be difficult.
The Holiday Gender Tax
Additionally, this time of the year takes a special toll on women who work in leadership positions.
As described by multiple women’s leadership researchers and thought leaders, yes times have absolutely changed, but women continue to experience higher pressures and demands than men to be the primary household managers (here, here, and here are but a few examples).
Women continue to be relied on to make family gatherings happen, nurture social and intimate relationships, and be the primary manager of their children’s needs (if they have children). In fact, the McKinsey/Lean-In Women in the Workplace 2017 report found that:
“More than half of the women surveyed do all or most of the household work. And women with children and partners are 5.5 times more likely to do all or most of the household work than are men in the same family situation.”
These expectations increase over the holidays when the holiday get-togethers and gift giving increases – which is also right when the most disruptions to your work week and productivity increase.
These demands are also exacerbated by the ever-nebulous concept we strive to achieve: The almighty “Work-Life Balance.” The goal of research on work-life balance was to highlight the importance of self-care in a world where the boundary between work and personal time became grey and strained. Unfortunately, for many of us, it has backfired. We’ve just added it to our long “to-do” list as if it’s a realistic and achievable goal. (Work-life integration, on the other hand, can be quite achievable, but that’s a topic for another post…)
For the amazing women out there who are feeling a bit more run-down than usual trying to juggle it all, here are a few tips to try in the next few weeks:
Let go of perfection. My favorite mantra is “Good enough is good enough.” Family members will still get together even if the best china isn’t used and even if you don’t have a whole turkey. (In fact, I make it clear that if we’re hosting at my house, we either buy pre-made meals and do it all on paper plates and a disposable tablecloth so I have no dishes or linens to wash, or we go out. I’ve done the calculations – trust me when I say it comes out the same in financial cost – at least for my small family - and I come out much happier in the cooking-to-family-time cost ratio).
Stick to the basic self-care routines. Sanity comes from maintaining some semblance of a normal routine. Sleep is by far the most critical. You know why my eye was twitching? Uh-huh – the most common reasons are lack of sleep and too much stress. Schedule both exercise AND rest into your calendar to ensure those remain priorities. Consider scheduling your “unhealthy eating” as well, and try to leave the rest of your schedule for healthy eating. You can prioritize additional self-care strategies based on your own values but these 2-3 are at the top because they have such a direct impact on your mental and physical health as well as your ability to cope successfully.
Apply your skills in self-advocacy and team delegation to ALL parts of your life. We don’t need to be martyrs and frankly, no one appreciates a passive-aggressive coping style. A good leader can advocate for what they need at work AND at home in their personal lives. If you feel there is a lack of balance in the level of contributions among family members, set up a meeting to discuss a short-term (maybe even long term?) redistribution in labor and what tasks need to be delegated to whom.
Boundaries! Limits! Did you get the sense as you were reading my story that I had overcommitted? Yep. I put half that stress on myself unnecessarily by agreeing to take on projects that actually did not have to get done in the next two months. What projects can you decline or put off until January? Force (or enforce) some limits on yourself.
Work-life “balance” must be re-balanced routinely. Whatever worked in the spring or the summer may not apply to the winter months. Whatever worked when you had Job X might not apply to your new Job Y. Reassess what is working, identify what is not working and decide what you need to change or let go of (even if short-term) to make things feel balanced for this month. Repeat next month.
BONUS ADVANCED TIP: I referenced dialectical forces before. An interesting mindfulness-based component was added to traditional cognitive-behavioral therapies when the newest “third wave” of psychotherapies was developed, such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). The idea is to find a way to hold on to constantly opposing forces. For example, we can feel both exhausted by it all and invigorated by opportunities and prospects. The goal is to let go of the idea that life is an either-or proposition and learn to balance both the acceptance of the current hardship while allowing for change to happen.
For those of you who are employers or family members of these amazing women, remember to share your appreciation during this Thanksgiving season and offer your support.
Now I’m going to go and actually practice what I preach. (Oh, and if you’re wondering? My eye stopped twitching the moment I let myself get some decent sleep and rest for a couple of days.)
I am thankful for my husband who has the same crazy workload and takes on half the chores at home.
Morrison, A. M., White, R. P., White, R. P., & Van Velsor, E. and the Center for Creative Leadership (1992). Breaking The Glass Ceiling: Can Women Reach The Top Of America's Largest Corporations? [Updated Edition]. Perseus Publishing.
This post was originally published on Psychology Today on November 19, 2018. All rights reserved, Copyright 2018 Mira Brancu/Brancu & Associates, PLLC.