The holiday season is meant to be a joyous time of year. But, for mothers (or those in this role) it is often full of stress. Moms are usually responsible for creating great experiences around special occasions, and expectations seem to grow every year. Before I was a mother I didn’t realize how much mental and emotional labour goes into making the holiday season a success for children, spouses and extended family. It’s huge and often goes unnoticed. Sorry mom! 

Finding the best gift for mom this year can be as simple as providing more help. Moms, however, are not always good at asking for help and sometimes feel it’s easier to just do it themselves. I’d like to see this change. With greater awareness of the mental and emotional labour that goes into creating the magic of the season, let’s make the holidays a more restful and joyous time of year for everyone.

Here are some ideas about how you can help the mom in your life.

  1. Help her set reasonable expectations. Mothers can’t do it all, nor should they try. It’s easy to get caught up with all the marketing imagery of the perfect holiday décor, canapés and cocktails, not to mention table-setting and holiday dinner. But, this is created by a team of professionals, not a single person already stretched between work and personal commitments. Maybe she worries her friends and family expect a holiday experience that mirrors these images. Help her enjoy the happiness that comes with simplicity. Discuss ways to scale things down. Or, find out where she really needs additional support and hire some professionals to help (don’t just suggest it, take on sourcing and engaging them).
  2. Offer to help without being asked. The best way to lighten their load is to offer help. Think about upcoming events and suggest ways that you can help. Or, if you don’t know what to do, ask for a task list with deadlines. Then, do the tasks cheerfully and without need for reminders. Also keep an eye out for opportunities to help out spontaneously, like entertaining the children during meal preparation or clearing the table after a meal or snack. Tasks like these pop-up throughout the holiday season and they don’t take care of themselves.
  3. Suggest an alternate to holiday cards. Holiday cards are lovely, but they can be very time-consuming and ultimately create clutter or waste. Why not spearhead a new tradition: an electronic family update. Email and social media offer time-efficient options to share holiday greetings, and can still be creative or festive. A group email with the latest and greatest family news and photos can be sent in a single click. Alternatively, a family photo and holiday message can be posted quickly and easily on Facebook.
  4. Reassess and pare-down gift giving. Between family, office gift exchanges and feelings of social obligation (like mailmen and crossing guards), gift giving quickly gets unmanageable. It often creates stress for the giver and clutter for the recipient, especially when they receive unwanted gifts. Find other ways to show love and appreciation. Take the lead in discussing how to reduce gift giving with mom, including plans to discuss the new approach with friends and family to ease guilt. You can still give gifts, but shift the focus to fewer and more meaningful gifts. Also, help with the purchases however would be most helpful to her.
  5. Suggest a potluck holiday dinner. Some homes may be better suited to hosting holiday dinners, but there is no reason why guests can’t bring appetizers, salads, side dishes and desserts. Setting up for the dinner, getting the turkey and everything else on the table and managing the post dinner clean-up is busy and stressful– especially when the host has kids to manage. The dishes will be great conversation starters and everyone will feel more at home by contributing to the feast. Side benefit: maybe insist guests treat their dishes as consumable gifts, to reduce the stress and clutter of unwanted gifts.

It can be tough to help a mother with something she feels responsible for and invested in. The best way you can approach it this holiday season is to initiate the discussion– acknowledge all she does, express gratitude and appreciation, then help formulate a plan. To deliver the best gift for mom, ask what she could really use help with and provide it in the way she wants.

Do you have other ideas? I’d love to hear them.