parent opinion

'Mums, it's time we talk about the mental load of Christmas.'

It's beginning to look a lot like... a disaster movie?

The mental load of planning a magical family Christmas is always a challenge, and this year we can add the omicron variant to our festive stress cocktails. Joy!

When I am trying not to worry about rising COVID numbers, I look around my home at the usual mess and notice some unsent Christmas cards and stashed bags of unwrapped gifts that need my attention. 

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There's a lot to do and think about and I want to enjoy the lead up to the most wonderful time of the year, but it's hard.

I love that my kids love Christmas and I desperately want it to be fun for them, but I also remember a time when Christmas was less work, more... fun? 

Back when I used to sit down to enjoy a Christmas movie with a glass of wine and a cheese plate, not as a backdrop to working through an enormous pile of presents to wrap.

The additional Christmas jobs and things to add to our mental load include, but are not limited to:

  • An increase in admin relating to family and kids' social events and a reminder to buy the party day Christmas t-shirt/hat/outfit/socks. 
  • Adding all the extra events to your diary and sharing it with your partner so you can discuss who is going to do what and if additional childcare needs to be booked in. 
  • Discussing and organising within various extended family WhatsApp groups who is buying for who and where the big day will take place. Then you need to tell all the people in your life what to buy for you and your kids when you don't know what to get them either.
  • Buying, writing and sending cards for family, teachers and long distanced friends. 
  • Researching and buying all the gifts for all the people. Worrying about shipping times and whether things will arrive on time.
  • Getting the tree and decorations out of storage and putting them together reasonably well.
  • Messaging everyone to say 'Merry Christmas' and let's catch up when you know you likely won't.
  • Ensuring the kids get to experience some 'Christmas magic' such as making sure your cupboard is full of exciting Christmas treats, you have taken the kids to see Santa, or done a night time drive-by of the local lights in your town.
  • The planning and shopping for your contribution to the Christmas Day food. Not forgetting the table decoration plan and sourcing of extra sets of cutlery if you're hosting.
  • The organisation of fun activities and child care for six weeks worth of school holidays.

All this planning, excessive shopping and diary juggling is before you actually sit down and assemble the toys and wrap the gifts that Santa will take all the credit for.

Don't even get me started on the food preparation and cooking that has to happen so everyone can eat way too much and then spend all afternoon feeling bloated while washing dishes.

While I actually love the festive fairy lights in our neighbourhood, the kids' excitement about all the things, and a touch of wrapping while watching Love Actually on Christmas Eve, it is A LOT.


And I have my husband to share it all with as he is a wonderful human and fine family cook. 

My genuine thoughts and prayers go out to the women (and men) who have to do all the Christmas preparation alone. 

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Come Christmas morning, after most of the items on my lists are crossed off, I am excited but I am also knackered and a teensy bit anxious.

I go from worrying about the effects of excessive consumption on the environment (so much plastic) to thinking my boys will be disappointed and possibly upset when they realise I forgot to buy the special batteries for the random toy I bought as a last-minute stocking filler.

After all the Santa presents are ripped open (which if you have little kids like me, is probably by 7am) I look around at the wasteland of clearing up then have to get kids breakfasted on something other than Cadbury Favourites, before we leave to go for Christmas brunch. 

Then there is more frenzied present opening, feasting, washing and playing before we all crash in an exhausted heap. 

We always have a great day, but the buildup and preparation for one giant day of excess leaves me emotionally drained. 

I remember being mystified when my mum, likely fresh from about three hours of sleep, would take a moment to have a quiet cry behind a tissue as we unwrapped a mountain of her lovingly sourced 'Santa' presents.

I would register her emotion but then selfishly go back to my 80s childlike joy of examining my new Peaches n Cream Barbie doll and eating fistfuls of chocolate.

My magical memories of opening presents while enjoying the colourful twinkling lights of our tree and a house full of happy well-fed relatives? Well, that magic mostly came down to the hard work and planning of one person – my mum.

Yes, my dad would have helped with the turkey and the collection of the tree, but really it was mum who did the planning, the shopping, the wrapping and created the undefinable magic of Christmas.

I never understood why, until many years later after having kids of my own, I hid in the bathroom on Christmas Day and took a few moments to cry.


It was simply the release of all that emotion after weeks of work and poor sleep that the kids don't understand - which is as it should be.

Christmas can be a wonderful time of the year, but it is also an emotional and highly stressful time that for many adults warrants a therapeutic cry or two.

If this is you, know you are not alone – I see you. And it's okay to let that emotion out after the weeks, months and years we have had. 

If this is your mum or sister or dad or nanna, and you do get to see them for Christmas this year, then give them a big hug, won’t you? 

They undoubtedly really deserve some credit – not the big man in red and white.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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