Four different women on how they manage the ultimate seasonal juggling act 

Christmas cards, buying and wrapping presents, preparing and cooking Christmas dinner – survey after survey shows that it’s women who end up carrying most of the festive responsibility. Nearly half of women report greater stress at Christmas, compared to just a third of men. For working mothers, the stress is doubled.

Earlier this month the BBC caused controversy with a Christmas advert that featured a working mum pulled apart by guilt at Christmas. In the ad, time stands still allowing her to reconnect with her teenage son. Many complained that it just heaped further guilt on mums while others said it was an accurate portrayal.

So what is it really like for a working mum at Christmas? Here, four full-time working mothers reveal how they have coped this year …

THE RETAIL WORKER

‘I SUFFERED A PANIC ATTACK WHILE CHRISTMAS SHOPPING’

Tracy McAllister, 39, works full-time in gift shop Home Made Beautiful. She lives with husband Donal, 39, a civil servant and their sons Daniel, nine and Tomas, six in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim.

Retail worker Tracy McAllister, 39, (pictured with her husband and their two sons) from Ballycastle recalls suffering a panic attack last December from the stress of Christmas 

Retail worker Tracy McAllister, 39, (pictured with her husband and their two sons) from Ballycastle recalls suffering a panic attack last December from the stress of Christmas 

Retail worker Tracy McAllister, 39, (pictured with her husband and their two sons) from Ballycastle recalls suffering a panic attack last December from the stress of Christmas 

This is my ninth Christmas working in retail and during December I work six days a week. It’s exhausting and as owner and manager of a small team, I work up to 16 hours a day. Last year I found Christmas particularly stressful. My head was constantly buzzing and I found it hard to sleep. Things came crashing down on me when I suffered a panic attack in early December while Christmas shopping. I was in my car and my heart started racing and I couldn’t breathe. It was at if all the stress of everything was literally attacking my body.

There is enormous pressure on mums not to admit that they are overwhelmed and this year I’m determined not to let things get to me. It’s taken military precision to get to as many school nativity plays, fetes, and carol services as I can. But on the evening Santa comes to town to switch on the Christmas lights I have to work late. My friends take the boys along with their children to see Santa. I feel a tinge of mummy guilt (I’d love to be doing this with them) but I know they are happy and I vow to make it up to them.

By 10th December my days are getting even busier. My mother-in-law is an absolute angel, helping with school pick-ups and quite often making us a hearty home-cooked dinner. But even after I have tucked the boys in for the night I spend a few hours updating our online store and processing orders for delivery the next day.

It’s now the 21st December and the final week before Christmas I work every day. This year I will work 8 days in a row before Christmas – including Christmas Eve. My Mum and Dad will take care of the boys and my housework, I would be lost without them.

I’m very lucky because I’m taking two weeks off in total. I think there should be a campaign to keep all shops shut on Boxing Day as well as Christmas Day for all hard-working retail staff to enjoy Christmas. Christmas Day will just be the four of us but on Boxing Day I will be cooking for 16.

This year I have leant on everyone, my husband, my staff, my childminder, my parents, my mum-in-law, my siblings, my friends and I am truly grateful to every one of them. Women often find it hard not being in control over the festive season but we can’t do everything and I’ve found it much easier this time. I’ll definitely be delegating again next year.

Tracy (pictured) says the help of family and her childminder has made preparing for festivities this year easier 

Tracy (pictured) says the help of family and her childminder has made preparing for festivities this year easier 

Tracy (pictured) says the help of family and her childminder has made preparing for festivities this year easier 

THE COMPANY DIRECTOR

‘MY SON CALLED ME A BAD MOTHER’

Michelle Horne, 43, owns her own communications business. She lives with husband Dave, 49, a chartered surveyor and their sons Dominic, 12, Alex, ten and Matthew, nine in Baildon, West Yorkshire. She says:

On a scale of one to ten – with ten being a nervous breakdown – I’ve found the lead-up to this Christmas about a nine. Every year, I pile so much pressure on myself to ‘deliver a great Christmas’ and at times I’ve been close to tears because of that anxious, churning feeling worrying my children will be disappointed.

By December 1st, I’d done absolutely zero preparation. As well as my own company, I’m also covering the maternity leave for the director of another business. It has meant leaving the house at 7.30am and I am often not back until 7pm. It’s made everything very stressful.

Partly, it’s my own fault. My husband works full-time too and I know I should delegate, but we’ll just get into an argument over who’s the busiest. Besides, I know that if I send him out to the shops, invariably he won’t do it right, so to save another row, it’s easier to do it myself. I shouldn’t worry so much and he’s right. But we only have a couple of childhood Christmases left before we enter the teenage years and then it will be totally different. I want it to be memorable and more importantly, special.

Company director Michelle Horne, 43, (pictured with her three children) from West Yorkshire revealed a fear of disappointing her family has at times bought her close to tears

Company director Michelle Horne, 43, (pictured with her three children) from West Yorkshire revealed a fear of disappointing her family has at times bought her close to tears

Company director Michelle Horne, 43, (pictured with her three children) from West Yorkshire revealed a fear of disappointing her family has at times bought her close to tears

By 7th December all I’d managed to do some panicked lunchtime shopping. One night I was up until 1am ordering things online.

Like the mother in the BBC advert, I’ve been consumed with Mum guilt. On 8th December, my 12-year-old son accused me of being a bad mum. He said I’m ‘more interested in going out and working’ than being at home with him and his brothers. My nine-year-old was also tears. I felt awful.

On 12th December I felt horribly overwhelmed as I had a swirl of ‘to do’ lists fogging my thoughts. Every opportunity was taken up with buying stocking fillers for the kids, or nipping into Aldi on the way home from work and I even bought some sweets from the garage when I filled my car up with petrol.

I am hosting Christmas for seven this year, then I have a flurry of guests on Boxing Day and the 29th and 30th December but I haven’t even thought about the food shopping yet. I blitzed through most of the kids presents and I realised I’ve probably overspent – around £750 on gifts they will never look at after Boxing Day. I know there’s an element of guilt.

By 18th December I still hadn’t bought my own family’s gifts. They’re all visiting this year from countries such as Germany and Australia so rather than give them ‘stuff’ to take back, I’m going to buy them ‘experiences’ such as restaurant and theatre vouchers. I reckon I’m going to spend around £2,000 just on presents over the coming few days which is shocking when I think about it. If I wasn’t working full-time I’d be able to buy presents more carefully, but I simply don’t have the time to shop around.

It’s now the 21st December and finally I’ve finished work for the Christmas period. I still haven’t thought about what we’re having for Christmas dinner though. I’ll worry about it at the weekend. I’m actually looking forward to Christmas now and I know it will be worth it. But I do wonder if I can put myself through this stress again next year.

Michelle (pictured with her sons) who is hosting seven people for Christmas this year says if she wasn't working full time she'd be able to buy presents more carefully

Michelle (pictured with her sons) who is hosting seven people for Christmas this year says if she wasn't working full time she'd be able to buy presents more carefully

Michelle (pictured with her sons) who is hosting seven people for Christmas this year says if she wasn’t working full time she’d be able to buy presents more carefully

THE NURSE

‘IF IT WASN’T FOR MY CHILDREN, I WOULDN’T CELEBRATE AT ALL’

Victoria Sangster, 35, works full-time as a community mental health nurse. She lives with husband, Andrew, 39, also a community mental health nurse and their daughters Matilda, five, and Claudia, three in Reading, Berks.

I often feel overwhelmed at Christmas and if I didn’t have children, I’m not sure I would even celebrate it. Every year, when December arrives, my head feels like it’s going to explode and it’s not helped by my husband who – although he’s lovely – thinks Christmas fairies have bought all the presents. I don’t know why, but it’s always my sole responsibility to get all this stuff done – and it’s completely exhausting. I work from 8.30am until 4.30pm Monday to Friday, visiting people in their homes to help them with their mental health needs. It’s very rewarding but with cutbacks, there’s a lot of pressure and it leaves very little time for a private life, let alone Christmas.

By 10th December I’d made a serious dent in Amazon. My eldest, Matilda, gave me some grief about not attending a ‘parenting creative Christmas workshop’ at school but I explain I need to work to afford presents. Who knows if a five-year-old understands this but it’s not helping me feel less guilty. I’m so relieved that I’m not actually hosting Christmas this year because we’re decorating our flat. That might tip me over the edge. All I have to do is provide the starters – prawn cocktails – but I’ll worry about that nearer the time. My husband irritates me one night by asking what he can buy for his Secret Santa present for one of the members of our family. I want to scream: ‘Can’t you organise one simple present!?’. I’ve noticed that we’re arguing a lot more at the moment. It’s the stress of having to do up the flat on top of everything else.

Nurse Victoria Sangster, 35, (pictured with her daughters) from Reading says she's unsure if feeling frazzled in the run-up to Christmas is worth it 

Nurse Victoria Sangster, 35, (pictured with her daughters) from Reading says she's unsure if feeling frazzled in the run-up to Christmas is worth it 

Nurse Victoria Sangster, 35, (pictured with her daughters) from Reading says she’s unsure if feeling frazzled in the run-up to Christmas is worth it 

By 12th December, my husband wonders aloud if his Amazon account has been hacked as there has been so much activity. How does he think all these presents are bought while we’re both working full time? I still need to buy wrapping paper. I make a point of not going on social media much at this time of year. Massive mum-guilt always kicks in when I see pictures from friends who have made homemade mince pies and decorated their tree with handpainted ornaments. Having said that, seeing all my patients puts my worries into perspective. I really am very lucky. But I still need to buy wrapping paper.

It’s my work Christmas party on 14th and I have a blast, reminding myself that I need to enjoy myself and not get too stressed. But by 18th I still haven’t got all my jobs done. I haven’t written any Christmas cards and won’t be writing any now. It’s one job too far. When my husband informs me that he has two days off at the end of the week, I know exactly what he’ll be doing – wrapping all the presents. I won’t finish work until this weekend.

My girls are at that age where Christmas is still magical and they believe in Santa so I want to make it special for them and I know that when the time comes, I will be able to enjoy at least some of it. But is it worth all the stress and being so frazzled? I’m not sure it is.

THE OFFICE WORKER

‘STAY-AT-HOME MUMS HAVE CHRISTMAS SEWN UP BY EARLY DECEMBER’

Natalie Barber, 33, is a business development manager for a telecomms company. She lives with husband Nick, 42, an operations manager for a university and their children William, four and Teddy, 18 months near Aylesbury, Bucks. She says;

Office worker Natalie Barber, 33, (pictured with her husband and their children) from Aylesbury revealed she envies stay-at-home mums who can sort everything for Christmas out by early Decemeber

Office worker Natalie Barber, 33, (pictured with her husband and their children) from Aylesbury revealed she envies stay-at-home mums who can sort everything for Christmas out by early Decemeber

Office worker Natalie Barber, 33, (pictured with her husband and their children) from Aylesbury revealed she envies stay-at-home mums who can sort everything for Christmas out by early Decemeber

I wish I could say all my Christmas shopping was done by mid-December but it’s the financial year end at work, I’ve got lots of deadlines and we’re half way through an extension at home. I can’t help envying stay-at-home mums who all seem to have Christmas sorted by about the 5th December, whereas working mothers like me are always playing catch up.

I’m lucky that William’s pre-school have their nativity at the weekends to make it easier for working parents, so at least I get to see him be a King.

When I receive my first Christmas card on 10th December it reminds me I haven’t done mine yet. Argh! I’m organised enough to order our turkey from the local butcher but then realise, waking at 3am, that I haven’t booked a Tesco delivery slot.

The next day I’m doing some Christmas shopping at airport duty free as I return from a presentation with work. On the way home, I stop at the supermarket and pick up a Christmas tree.

The following day I manage to do some more online shopping and one of my work meetings finishes early so I dash to a retail park to pick up a few bits and bobs. Christmas music is playing in the shops and for the first time I actually feel a bit festive. Once the boys are in bed, my husband I run through our ‘to do’ list while cooking dinner. I haven’t written our cards yet.

By 18th December I still haven’t written ANY cardsm and I only have a couple of days left before I miss the final post. I’ve ordered most of my presents and I’ve sent Nick out to collect them from store. My husband is very good when he’s directed but, like most men, he tends to think Christmas just ‘happens’. I’m sure that if I said to him that I’d forgotten to buy a turkey this year and it was beans on toast for dinner he’d say: ‘Oh well, the important thing is we have each other’. Men don’t invest nearly as much time or emotion into this time of year. One of the men at work recently told me that he simply gives his wife his credit card and lets her get on with Christmas. He honestly couldn’t see anything wrong with it!

It’s now the 21st and I still haven’t wrapped the presents. I’m hoping to get all the food sorted by the end of today. I’m cooking Christmas dinner for four of us on Christmas day and then assorted family and friends over the following week. I wouldn’t say I hate it, but it’s a lot of work for just a few days, a never ending ‘to do’ list, and although I love seeing my children’s faces on Christmas morning, I’ll be glad when it’s all over. 

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