(CNN)The internal ticker tape starts around two weeks before Thanksgiving. That's when moms and other caregivers, though mostly moms, turn over a portion of their brains to the long and constantly evolving holiday to-do list. Groceries; invitations; Google best potatoes for mashing; Great Aunt Shirley's lactose intolerance; presents list; holiday decorations; Google best potatoes for latke frying; more invitations; more groceries; find tablecloth; purchase larger dress clothes for kids; and so on and so on.
Holidays are most exhausting for moms. Here's how to address that
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The earthly miracles of this season, those indulgent, candlelit meals, neatly dressed families, and piles of glossy-wrapped presents, are done by mortals. Very tired mortals, many of whom would prefer to do a lot less miracle making, and a lot more miracle receiving.
The Better Life Lab, a program of the think tank New America that aims to elevate the value of care and advance gender equity, wants to help. The Better Life Lab team has created a series of accessible and easily implementable experiments to help distribute the emotional and domestic labor of the holiday seasons more fairly between partners and families.
One experiment encourages families to think about which traditions really matter to them, and which create more stress than meaning. Another encourages families to make gift purchasing and gathering, as they refer to it, a group project.
CNN spoke with Better Life Lab Director Brigid Schulte and Co-director Haley Swenson about why lessening Mom's load needs to be a family-wide endeavor, and how the whole family can benefit from a more equitable distribution of holiday-related work.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
CNN: Let's start by stating the problem. How much more domestic and invisible labor, (i.e. the planning, organizing and internal ticker-taping), do women do?
Haley Swenson: The unfair division of labor between women and men when it comes to unpaid labor remains, despite women's advances in the workforce. In non-holiday periods, mothers do two to three times as much as fathers, and the holiday season is a moment that really exacerbates that imbalance. Polling on it, as well as ethnographic research, shows that it's mostly Mom who manages holidays.
Brigid Schulte: There is a longstanding tradition that women not only come home to the second shift of housework and childcare, but they are also expected to do what we call "the third shift" of creating the holiday magic. Let me tell you, as a parent, the "magic" is the hardest. When my son was 13, I asked him what he wanted for Christmas and he said, "Mom, I love it when you surprise me, just create the magic." And I thought, "Noooo, just tell me what you want! So I can get it!"
This pressure can make the day really awful for the person who is planning it all. Look at stress that happens over the holidays, and depression. It's really untenable for women. The holidays are magic for everyone except Mom.
CNN: Many of your experiments encourage moms to bring their family together and talk about what they value in holiday festivities. Why is this such an important first step?
Swenson: So many of our experiments involve taking something that is in one person's head and getting it out in the open where it becomes something you can engage with as a group. That's the biggest step to sharing this work evenly.