A recent issue of the journal Science included a report on the feelings that working women - meaning working-outside-the-home women - had for their daily life experiences.
To study women's feelings, the researchers developed a survey method called the Day Reconstruction Method, which had the participants record all the episodes of their day and describe how they felt during each episode.One of the findings was that the women did not particularly enjoy the time they spent with their children. This contrasts with other studies in which women reported interacting with their children to be at the top of their lists of enjoyable activities.
Of course, as any mother could have told the five male scientists, the difference reflects the fact that children are absolutely wonderful in theoretical, generic terms, but the practical, day-to-day activities do not always provide warm, fuzzy feelings. In addition, any mother also could tell the scientists that this is a time of year when there are fewer warm, fuzzy feelings than usual.
Although Christmas is supposed to be, as the song says, the most wonderful time of the year, the truth is that it is wonderful only in terms of generic feelings - and only if rated sometime between February, when we are finally able to repress memories of the holiday, and October, when the holiday still seems far away.
For my charitable act of the season, I propose to save the researchers the time and money needed to study how women experience the holidays. To do this, I am revising their survey tool and will offer use the Season Reconstruction Method.
I must do seasonal reconstruction because the sad fact is that I have not yet done any of the holiday chores. Not one. Fortunately, after many years of toiling through December, I can easily reconstruct my feelings for the various activities.
Typically, our first activity for the holiday is buying and decorating a tree. For some bizarre reason, we have a tradition of forcing the entire family to go out together to select a tree, even though there has never been a year when we all agreed upon the selection. Consensus building is not one of our strengths. We always return home with anywhere from one to four people feeling disgruntled, and I always seem to be on that list.
Using the researchers' descriptions, I would have to rate myself high in terms of feeling annoyed and pushed around. These feelings are intensified as everyone disappears and I am left to lug all the decorations down from the attic and decorate the tree, not to mention the rest of the house, all by myself.
Once the house is decorated, I turn my attention to Doing the Cards. I do not have the energy or time to write long, personal letters to all of the people I should, but never do, communicate with throughout the year, so at Christmas I write one of those universally dreaded Year in Review letters. The problem is that you are required to think about everything you have done, or not done, throughout the year. This is not such a terrible exercise if you have accomplished something during the year, but muddling through 365 days leaves me desperately searching my memory for anything that I have done that might be worth mentioning.
Of course, the omnipresent task is shopping for gifts, and anyone who has spent a December day in a shopping mall can attest that Christmas is a time of good cheer in theory only.
You must spend countless hours fighting other ill-tempered shoppers to spend money you do not have in a futile attempt to find something needed by people who do not really need anything and, if you have adolescents, people who consider your taste to be pathetic at best.
It is just the sort of activity that is bound to leave you rating yourself high on all the researchers' negative descriptions: frustrated, depressed, pushed around, angry, anxious and put down.
Indeed, every holiday chore I can think of is associated with these negative feelings. As I begin to work through my list of Christmas chores, I hope that the scientists can accept my Season Reconstruction data. Perhaps then they can focus on figuring out how we can bypass reality and celebrate a generic, merry Christmas.
Now that would be a great gift.
\ Deborah Waldner of Greensboro has a doctorate in developmental psychology and is the mother of three children.