“So, what are your plans this Christmas?” How many times have you been asked this in the run up to ‘the most wonderful time of the year’? For single parents, as well as many other singles, the month of December can seem daunting. You feel like everyone else is looking forward to days of family festivities with partners, parents and children. As a single parent, this can make you feel sad, lonely – even inadequate. As a parent, you want to make Christmas perfect for the kids but you cannot give them what they crave the most – Christmas with both mom and dad. And so the thought of Christmas Day stirs feelings of loneliness, anger, resentfulness and/or sadness in many single moms and dads.
So, how can you avoid the blues in the run up to Christmas, on Christmas Day and the holidays that follow? Here are our top tips on how to survive Christmas as a single parent:
1. Involve the kids in the planning
Ask your children how they would like to celebrate Christmas this year, for example, which foods they would like to eat on Christmas Day and how they would like to spend the day. Involve them in the planning, starting with how to decorate your home and the tree in the run up to Christmas. Decide together how to spend the time over the holidays, from which film to watch to which activities to fit in and which friends to invite. One of the perks of being a single parent is that you become closer to your kids as you start treating them more like equals. Involving them in the decision-making, will give you all a new sense of freedom and responsibility and will make Christmas special as everyone will get to do a bit of what they like. Thus doing things differently from last year becomes a positive for your kids. There is no need, and it’s not advisable, to try and re-enact previous years. Things won’t ever be the same, and the kids know that.
2. Plan ahead and invite friends or family
Whatever you do, it’s important to be organised. Plan the holidays to make sure you are busy whether the kids spend all or only part of the holidays with you. There is so much to do out there and so many single mums and dads in the same situation at Christmas.
If you have parents or siblings, you might want to spend Christmas at theirs this year, or, if you love hosting, invite someone over to yours for Christmas Day. If you have no family nearby, why not invite friends over? Many of us have friends who are closer to them than family, so why not spend some of the festive period together? Just don’t leave it to the last minute, as everyone will already have made plans if you do. Few people want to be alone at Christmas. You might even have friends who are single themselves, possibly another single mum or single dad with kids, who will appreciate the invite. If you are a new single parent, then make it your New Year’s resolution to meet other single parents for friendship and support.
3. Take the kids on vacation
If you have the budget, going on a vacation or on a mini break can be a godsend. It will take your mind off the fact that there is someone special missing in your life, and a break from the past and your daily routine will do you and the children a world of good. Aside from that, going away means no shopping, cooking, cleaning and stressing over visiting relatives and friends. The excitement of travelling at Christmas and going somewhere new, will be the best medicine for all of you, and, naturally, a holiday will strengthen the bond with your kids further as you find a new dynamic as a single parent family.
To ensure you have adult company and playmates for your child/ren on holiday, you could book a group holiday. You could even book a ski trip over New Year. If you are first time skiers, this will be an amazing experience for you and the kids, and might turn into a joint new hobby for years to come. It also means you get to meet lots of single mums and dads, and can start building a support network. And your children, aside from having instant friends in the group, will be able to see that there are many other families in the same situation as them. This will help build your children’s confidence after divorce or the loss of a parent.
4. Sharing Christmas with an ex
If you have an ex and one that is involved in his/her kids’ lives, you will probably share Christmas. This can be painful, especially if your kids go off to their dad’s (or mom’s) on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. Whatever your arrangements over the kids are, you need to think about your kids’ happiness at seeing their other parent. And look at the bright side: You might get out of cooking a roast for hours, have time to clean up the mess left by your own celebrations with the kids, get some well-deserved sleep and best of all: You get some me-time.
In any case, make arrangements with your ex early and communicate: Who will have the kids when, who takes them where and will it be mum or dad who gets them the new bike or scooter. You don’t have to go into detail about how you spend your time with them, but you can save your kids from getting the same presents twice and the awkwardness of having to try and to keep a happy face to please mom or dad.
Sharing the kids at Christmas can work really well as it gives both parents quality time with the kids and little time for the blues. You just need to approach it with a positive mindset. And if you alternate years and do not have the kids at Christmas one year, why not go on a solo holiday? You could have fun with other adults in the same or similar situation.
5. Check out local events
Whether you are by yourself or with the kids, you will be surprised how much there is on offer on and around Christmas! Book tickets for your local pantomime, choir, ice-skating rink or Christmas market or help out at your local soup kitchen. Check out the flyers that come through your door, your Facebook community pages, or google things to do at Christmas near you.
6. Let go of expectations
Christmas is supposed to be a special family celebration and undoubtedly puts us all under pressure for that reason. Relax. Christmas is what you make of it. Enjoy quality time with your kids and don’t feel like you have to do things a certain way. So, why not treat yourself to a cleaning service? Maid Service NYC advise that you hire a professional home cleaner if you need it. You are a hard working single parent, and you deserve a break just like anyone else. If you don’t fancy cooking that roast at Christmas, get a takeaway you all enjoy. Or cook your kids’ favourite meal – even if it’s pancakes!
7. Don’t overspend
Most single mums and dads will at some point, usually immediately after a separation, feel the pinch. Don’t feel under pressure to buy. But whatever you do, don’t touch that credit card if you have no immediate means of paying it off! Young children will be happy with inexpensive Christmas gifts, and older children will understand that you are not in a position to buy the latest craze. If you need help on how to save money throughout the year, check out our top ten money saving tips for single parents.
8. Establish new Christmas traditions
Try some new and magical activities with the kids this Christmas to shake things up: Take the kids to Christmas tree woods near you to choose their own tree with the help of elves, go on the Polar Express, go ice skating together, make a Gingerbread house, get an elf on the shelf, see a special film, go for a Christmas walk in the woods, establish a new cooking routine. Let go of the old life and start something new. Don’t let your childhood memories dictate how you and your kids should spend Christmas. Re-invent your own family Christmas. Your new traditions will strengthen the new, special bond with your kids that only single mums and dads have.
Don’t let the insanity of Christmas get the better of you. If things don’t go the way you planned, make the best of it. The best part of being a single parent is that you are in control and don’t have to agree every move you make with another adult. Just change the plan or go with the flow.
Whether you are a working parent or a full-time parent, you probably never stop. You are on duty 24/7. Many single parents don’t know what to do with themselves when they suddenly have ‘downtime’. You might even feel anxious and depressed. Try to use this time to reflect on all the things you have achieved in the past year and think about what you want to achieve in the coming year. Ask your kids for their input – it will help you see where you can improve and they will appreciate being asked. This might even turn into another new Christmas tradition. If you really feel at a low, don’t hesitate to ask for professional help. From helplines and counselling, to life coaching for single parents – there are people who will listen and understand!
Christmas is about family, putting a smile on a kid’s face and sharing magical moments. It does not require romance. Whatever you do for Christmas, remember that your kids will value the time you spend together and the effort you make – even if they are too little to show it or too hormonal to admit it. Toddler or teen, your kids will remember Christmas with mom or dad and this is why it will be worth the effort.