We’re six days out from Christmas, friends, and I wonder: how many of you believe there will be something to delight you under the tree on December 25?
From the conversations I’ve been having with moms for as long as I can remember, I know that plenty of you reading this are looking forward to that stack of gifts with both hope and dread.
Hope, because you’ve worked your butt off to deliver magic to your family, and you’re optimistic they’ll all find something to love under the tree.
Dread, because you are pretty sure nobody gave the same thought to you.
Friends, holiday gift disappointment among moms is so, so common.
The possible reasons are numerous: maybe your spouse or partner is just bad at giving gifts. Maybe your spouse or partner is not just bad at giving gifts, but kind of purposefully Grinchy about it. Maybe you’re just plain exhausted from performing all the emotional labor of shopping for your kids, your partner, your extended family and possibly in-laws, and not having anyone give you back the same amount of effort. Maybe you’re inadvertently making it harder on yourself by indulging in the Holiday Mom Syndrome blend of self-denial, running yourself ragged, and expectation.
There are so many reasons you might feel disappointed, let-down, or even angry on Christmas morning, and if you need some commiseration, I recommend you follow the conversation happening right now in our Facebook group.
This issue of mom-gift disappointment is deep, and based on a lot of different things: our love languages (and how they may conflict with our spouses’), the power and work dynamics within a marriage, our own expectations, mindset, and emotional state, and so much more. It’s all too much, really, for me to unpack in a single blog post.
But I do want to say this: you are not alone, and what you’re feeling is not wrong.
Moms work hard to create holiday magic. We often do the heavy lifting on behalf of our spouses to extend that magic to their families, sometimes going so far as to coordinate gift lists and even shop and wrap gifts on behalf of grandparents and other family members. Sometimes the letdown seems to come out of nowhere and is hard to explain. Our response to being slighted, whether that slight is intentional or not, does not have to be logical. It just is, and feeling guilty about feeling disappointed doesn’t help at all.
Talk to other moms who’ve found a way to feel good about their Christmas gift experience, and you’ll learn a variety of strategies you could potentially employ. Some moms have trained their families (particularly partners) to do a better job shopping for them; some have put their foot down about some of the external expectations that make Holiday Mom Syndrome so exhausting, some take the bull by the horns and buy their own gifts (or simply stop it with the self-denial, like I did the other day when I threw the nail polish in my shopping cart.) Sometimes, we just have to ride it out.
For nearly twenty years I was married to a man who is an enthusiastic gift-giver and truly enjoyed choosing and wrapping gifts for me. Even now, Jon (my ex) and I make a point of buying each other gifts every year, and as my children have gotten older they’ve begun to enjoy choosing, paying for, and wrapping my presents themselves. I’ve gotten some lovely things over the years and I always experience moments of delight as I dig into my stash.
Still, there have been many years I’ve felt a strange sense of letdown as I pick up the wrapping paper and wash the after-Christmas brunch dishes.
Sometimes the gifts, as well-intentioned as they were, just didn’t hit the mark.
Sometimes it was the hangover of Holiday Mom Syndrome, in which I’d hoped someone would take it upon themselves to buy me something truly extraordinary because can’t they see how hard I’m working here?… and instead, those bulging parcels turned out to just be your run-of-the-mill mom gifts.
Regardless of the reason, every single thing I have felt while opening gifts – good, bad, and in-between – has been completely valid. I’m not a holiday cheer automaton, after all.
Today I just want to acknowledge that you aren’t, either. Feel the way you feel on Christmas morning. Consider whether you could change something up next year, or whether it may not be too late this year to sincerely request that the people closest to you try their best to make your holiday special, too. Or, at the very least, maybe there’s something you can do to create your own holiday joy.
Either way, I see you, Mama – and I promise you are not alone.