Gents, here are some good tips to make sure your whole family has a happy -- and holy! -- holiday.
“Well, I’m a woman,” said the radio host, “and Christmas is a totally different holiday for us.”
I was on Archangel Radio in Alabama talking about my Aleteia article “Wake up from dream Christmas into the real thing,” waxing eloquent about how Christmas isn’t merely a fun “tension management” holiday like Halloween and Valentine’s Day but a “recommitment holiday” like Good Friday and Easter, with a radical meaning.
That was when host Michelle McAloon told me that wives and mothers are in no danger of thinking Christmas is just about fun. They are way too busy for that.
My wife, April, agreed.
“At Christmas, we have all our regular work, and more of it, but we also have entirely new tasks,” she said: “decorating, wrapping, extra cleaning and shopping, baking, hosting, and traveling.” And that’s not to mention all the recitals, concerts, and special events December brings.
I sat down to write a list of things I should be doing for April at Christmas — and realized I was clueless. So I took to Facebook and asked “Wives, what can husbands do to lessen your Christmas stress?” I got some great advice.
First, yes, ask how you can help …
Moms agreed that asking what needs to be done is a good first step. Delran, New Jersey, mom Barb Grady Szyszkiewicz added an important corollary, however. She said to also ask when and how she wants it done, and then “keep to that timeline. Even if the timeline makes no sense to you.”
Good point. This is one of the rookie errors I see in new husbands: If you say you’ll get her X, then the sooner she gets X, the better for her and the better for you.
… But you can also help without asking.
Here’s another thing veteran husbands learn: Busy wives don’t always respond well to clueless men who need to be told obvious things like “Do the dishes.” You get far more points if you just do stuff that needs to be done. This will take some trial and error, because some things that you can do perfectly well are things that your wife will be convinced you don’t do correctly. Speaking of which …
When entertaining, take charge of guests.
A husband should be sure to be an extra host, not an extra guest, when people come over, said our longtime friend Grace Targonski in Charlotte, North Carolina.
That means: “Husbands should take coats, serve drinks, and guide conversations to avoid sensitive topics,” she said. He should also be the one to neutralize problem guests — particularly those in his family, creating the boundaries she needs from in-laws.
In fact, let your wife be the guest sometimes.
Grace also pointed out that the husband should feel responsible for ensuring that his wife has her drink of preference in the house — and even pour it for her. That’s good advice if guests are over, or not.
Also, help manage the kids’ Christmases.
Not only are moms’ Christmas schedules multiplied by tasks, they are multiplied by children. You can help a lot by taking over the kid-to-kid gift exchange ideas and plans. Grace adds that husbands can also help set children’s expectations for the holiday, bringing wild visions down to earth.
Wives want significant breaks at the holidays.
Laura Allen Gies, a Philadelphia mom, suggests, “take all the children away for 24 hours plus so she can sleep, pray, and rest in her own house alone. One mini-retreat and respite per Advent or Lent would be so helpful for any busy mother.” After all, stay-at-home moms have no days off — and deserve them.
If you can’t give her a free day, at least give her a free hour, said mom and speaker Maureen Ferguson. “Take over with the kids and send wife to Adoration for an hour here and there.”
I would add an important corollary: If the kids trash the house while she’s gone, this plan will do more harm than good. Don’t let them!
Last, and most importantly: Lead the prayers.
There was a lot more good advice:
- Avoid working late when life is busy at home.
- Be appreciative — perhaps by taking everyone out for an inexpensive meal at a busy time.
- Do Christmas Eve “elf” activities together. “It’s great couple time,” people swore.
But Liz Muller of Ann Arbor, Michigan, praised her husband for “really driving our Jesse Tree prayer times at dinner, which I love.” It can easily fall through the cracks, “and his remembering that is huge.”
That’s a good point — one I personally need to learn. Extra prayers at Advent are a great thing — but shouldn’t become another mom responsibility. She has enough to do already.