Stuck at Work for the Holidays

Have to work on a holiday


“Oh there’s noooooo place like wooooorrrrrrrk for the holidays…”

Wait.  That’s not how the song goes…

It can be difficult enough as a working mom to occasionally (or always!) deal with feelings of guilt and disappointment when dropping a child off at daycare or missing out on a poetry recitation at school, but these heart-wrenching emotions only intensify when that mom finds she is scheduled to work on a holiday or Holy Day.

Over the course of my working adult life, I’ve spent time in the retail and healthcare industries. Both are notorious for scheduling staff ’round the holiday clock. Granted, I think we all want there to be docs and nurses available if we have to rush a sick child to the ER on Christmas Day, but I’d be willing to bet a few of those folks are somewhat preoccupied by their waiting families at home – and with good reason. As for retail, REI made headlines this year when they announced they’d be closed on Black Friday. I’m not going to lie, this is a trend I hope will gather some major steam in the coming years. In the meantime, here are a few techniques I’ve picked up through working through the most special times of year – like that Good Friday four years ago where I spent the day at work fuming about missing the 3pm Veneration of the Cross. (I really identified that day with Christ’s lament, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do [by making me work today.]” I mayormaynot be paraphrasing.)

  1. Emphasize to the kids – and yourself – that the celebration of the feast day or holiday is of utmost importance, not necessarily the calendar date on which you actually get to celebrate.  If you are scheduled to work on Christmas Day, remember that December 25th is only the FIRST day of Christmas, and that the Christmas season actually extends through the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (in 2016, this is on January 10th.) So, you really do have plenty of time to celebrate! Even when I don’t have to work on Christmas Day, our family keeps the celebration going for several days afterwards by inviting friends over for coffee, having a family day of board games, cooking and baking, and more.
  2. Remember that holidays are for us; Holy Days are for Jesus.  We naturally look forward to the traditions and togetherness that holidays often promise. No doubt, we likewise desire to celebrate our Holy Days well. What better way to observe a Holy Day than by fulfilling God’s perfect Will for us – in this case, performing our scheduled work well, and with a servant’s heart? Though it’s painful to be “stuck” at work when your heart and soul would rather be elsewhere, God knows our hearts – He sees our longing and our frustration. We, in turn, can turn that sorrow into a beautiful gift to Him by offering up our sadness for our favorite intention or for the souls in Purgatory. We can make a Spiritual Communion to be with Him, and do what we can at our place of work to keep the spirit of the Holy Day. The year I worked on Good Friday, I changed my computer desktop background to Ciseri’s Ecce Homo, and changed my Pandora station to Gregorian Chant. Believe it or not, it really helped me.
  3. Think outside the box – live as liturgically as possible throughout the year, not just on the “big” feast days.  One of the best ways to drive home the beauty of feasts is to really take advantage of celebrating the ones you can. I know, I know – you’re a working mom. How the heck are you going to find time to plan for feast days on top of everything else you have to do? Start small. You gotta eat, right? Make supper your celebration! My favorite go-to for great liturgical recipes is the Catholic Cuisine blog. On more than one occasion, I’ve hopped on the site 10 minutes before I leave work in a desperate attempt to find something easy I can cook that will double as a “celebratory” dish. Another great resource is the series of cookbooks by Haley and Daniel Stewart – Feast! and More Feasts! As Catholics, we have SO MANY wonderful feasts to celebrate. Have a Friday off? Look up the saint of the day and celebrate 🙂
  4. Be festive at work! During a homily on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, I once heard a priest say that no matter our circumstances, we should do what we can to party on a feast day – specifically, he suggested, “Do something crazy! Put sprinkles in your yogurt!” What can you do to liven up your work day? On Marian feasts, wear blue. On martyr’s feasts, wear red. On the feast of St. Juan Diego, bring taco salad for lunch. On St. Joseph’s Day, suggest an Italian potluck (for fun, don’t tell anyone why – unless you have Sicilian or Catholic co-workers. Then let them in on your secret!) Working on Easter? Bring coworkers a dyed egg with their name on it. Get creative 🙂 Share the light and love of the feasts – and the Christian basis for the holidays – with those who may not know about the beautiful customs and traditions we share.
  5. Take 15 minutes at some point during your shift to pray, reflect, call home and talk to your kiddos, or silently journal.  The point here is to connect with your Lord and your loved ones, even in the midst of your workday. This might look like a Skype call, writing in a gratitude journal, or anything that makes you stop, reflect, and focus on what is most important. Sometimes checking in with those you’re missing most can help close the gap between you. (Of course, if you’re like me, sometimes checking in makes you feel worse. In that case, read a devotional or your Bible, but DON’T spend time feeling sorry for yourself!)
  6. Keep it in perspective. It’s ok to miss your kids. It’s ok to miss your spouse. It stinks – I know it does. It can be heartbreaking, even. The one thing that doesn’t help, though, is wallowing in the reasons you’re at work and they’re at home. The schedule is what it is, and even though time feels like it’s c-r-a-w-l-i-n-g, this shift will end. You will be going home, safe and sound, to people who love you and for whom you are lovingly providing. There are many people who won’t be able to do these things.  You, my sweet sister, are blessed. You are not alone – you will have many of us praying in solidarity.

If you’re not on the holiday schedule this year, please keep in mind the moms who are working while you celebrate. Will you join me in whispering a prayer of peace and comfort for them and their families?

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