Last year, a week before Christmas the brakes on my 15-year-old sedan started making a strange noise. My Christmas shopping list was immediately slashed. This year, in the lead up to the holiday season my husband and I were both in car accidents (automobile issues are now a Christmas tradition, it seems). We both walked away (a pre-Christmas miracle, surely) but it is shaping up to be an expensive end to a year that’s basically been a series of small disasters thanks to the pandemic and its economic impact.
But every day I look at my family and I think about how grateful I am. My child is healthy and that is priceless. We have a modest home filled with everything we need and wiggle room for some little luxuries (hello Disney+ and good coffee).
And importantly, in an area where unemployment is steadily climbing (and with a spouse who hustles as a contractor) I still have a job.
But even if I wasn’t still employed, I would have a job. Because it’s Christmas and I’m somebody’s mama. And mamas can make Christmas magic out of nothing. I know my own mother did.
I still remember one Christmas when my mom didn’t have a job and we didn’t have a house. My mom and us kids were staying in my mom’s sister’s boyfriend’s basement. Still, my mom made that basement festive. We had a borrowed artificial tree but no decorations, so we made our own out of plastic grocery bags. They were the right colors, white with a red logo. The tree looked great. We felt proud of our little plastic bag tree decorations.
Decades later, I don’t resent that Christmas. I resent that society squeezes mothers like mine for every dollar as the costs of childcare, housing and education keep rising. I resent how, the next Christmas, we were still in somebody else’s basement because even though she had multiple jobs by then, a broken society kept my mom from moving up.
I just resent how society is squeezing parents for every dollar while simultaneously shaming us for not having enough of them.
So to the mama who wishes she had a bigger budget for her kids’ Christmas presents, I see you. I know that you’re trying so hard and your kids know it, too. Please know that the magic of Christmas is not in the cost, it’s in the memories. Please give yourself the gift of a guilt-free Christmas.
To the mama who is working overtime and picking up side gigs, I see you. I see your hustle, your ambition and your love for your family, and this Christmas I want you to try to give yourself a break. Even just a small one, because even mamas are human and you need to rest, too. I want you to stay as safe as you can during a pandemic.
To the mama who is running a household on only her partner’s income, I see you. I know it can feel impossible (that’s because it nearly is). I also know you are supporting your spouse in their career because that’s what is best for your family right now. I know that you are working so hard at home and that sometimes it feels like one income isn’t enough. Please give yourself credit for all the unpaid labor you are doing.
To the mama who can rely only on her own income, I see you. You’re solo parenting, you’re the sole provider, and you are amazing. You are strong. You are bearing so much responsibility and I want you to know that you are more than enough for your children.
To the mama who can’t afford to live where she wants to, I see you. Maybe you always dreamed of raising your kids in the big city, but economic realities have relocated you to a far-flung suburb. I see you out there, doing what is best for your family on a budget smaller than you’d like, in a city smaller than you’d like. Mama, know that you are a gift to your community.
To the mama struggling to pay for IVF: I see you. And I see how bad you want this. I want it for you, too. I wish you didn’t have to turn to loans and credit cards and crowdfunding for this. Please know that motherhood takes many forms and be gentle with yourself this season.
To the mama struggling to pay off a birth: I see you. And I’m angry for you. I am so angry and perplexed by a system that would bill new parents astronomical sums at a time in their lives when they can least afford it. Giving birth should not put people into debt.
To the mama who has reached her limit, I see you. When you’re waiting for payday, every minute seems like forever. When your card is declined at the checkout, that moment lasts a lifetime. Please, accept help if you need it. There is kindness in the world for you.
To the mama using SNAP or visiting the food bank this season, I see you. And I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you for navigating this challenging time in your life because figuring out how to do this isn’t easy. I’m proud of you for being such a good mother and making sure that your kids have nutritious food.
To the mama getting help from her family, I see you. It can be hard to accept help from your parents when you are a parent yourself, but please do try to see it as a gift. They love you so much that they want to support you, and you can honor that by seeing yourself as worthy of support.
To the mama who is not getting help from her family, I see you. It can be painful to watch your friends and acquaintances get financial help from their families when yours is not in a position to do the same. It’s human to be envious when someone’s dad gives them a down payment, but the best gift you can give yourself is to focus on your own kids and non-financial gifts you are giving them every day.
To the mama who feels like her life doesn’t live up to Instagram, I see you. I understand the pain of scrolling through social media, wondering why it seems like everyone else has a nice home and can take their kids on vacation when you can’t. Give yourself the gift of unfollowing or turning off social media.
To the mama who feels like she’ll never get out of student loan debt, I see you. Most of the student debt in America is held by women. This is an issue impacting a generation of mothers. You are not alone.
Listen world: This year has, to put it frankly, sucked. And it’s not fair. And mothers are burned out, tired and sick of being the support system for a society that doesn’t have one. And yet…mothers are making magic with precious little. Somewhere, a mom is coming up with a way to turn literal garbage into a beautiful Christmas for her kids. I see you, Mom. But depending on the COVID-19 case numbers, I may not see you at Christmas. I love you.