How I survived my first single parent holiday
Blog Posts,  Holiday Season

How I Survived My First Single-Parent Holiday

At the beginning of this holiday season, I published a blog entitled, Surviving The Holidays as a New Single Parent. In my humble opinion, this article is filled with helpful little tidbits. You were able to use this to remind yourself what’s important, and how to get through (and enjoy) this very family-centric holiday. Today, I’m going to be sharing with you my very raw, and very real experience this holiday. It includes projectile vomiting, meltdowns, and injuries. Oh, and unicorn Christmas trees and failed Christmas cards. This is how I survived my first single-parent holiday.

This is not an advice article. This is not here to give you any tips or tricks or pointers. I’m writing this now- albeit over a month after Christmas, but you know… #momlife- to show you how something can actually go, even if you’re the one giving the advice.

Holiday Custody Plan

This was my first piece of advice I gave. In order to survive your holiday as a new single-parent, you had to have a plan in place before the actual holidays start. This way you can then work around it. Full disclosure- when I wrote this, I did not have a plan agreed upon and it was a MAJOR source of anxiety for me.

My ex-partner has been known to be unreasonable, and he had previously made numerous comments surrounding his unrealistic intentions at the holidays. I won’t be getting into this part just now, don’t worry. I found myself fearing for the drama that might come with this conversation topic. However, in a state of rationality that was unexpected, he offered to follow the plan I had wanted. He would see Bettie for a day-date the 23rd, I would take Bettie to my parents’ for the 24-27. After that, I would return to work, and he would take her to his parents’ for a couple of days.

How I survived my first single parent holiday

This was a perfect start for my holiday season. We had a calm, rational conversation, and we had a plan set in place. I was ready to enjoy the holidays. Nevermind the flu that hit our household the night of the 22nd like an exorcism that wouldn’t stop. Fast forward to me taking a nap on the bathroom floor, and both Bettie and I practically naked because I didn’t want to clean any more vomit off of our pajamas.

Prioritize (With No Remorse!)

I spoke about trying to de-stress and survive your holidays by prioritizing what is most important to you, and by not feeling guilty about the things you can’t- or choose not to- do as a single parent.

Make Lists

Did I make a physical list? Truthfully, I can’t even remember. Edit: I looked back into my notes to find that I did not, in fact make a list for Christmas. Honestly, I think I did this so I wouldn’t feel bad about not completing most of the things I wanted. I think I missed the point of my own advice, entirely. Woops. I did, however, make a list of the ornaments I wanted to make. (Here’s a shameless plug to another one of my articles about DIY ornaments) I did not make all of them, and I’m okay with that.

Spend Less

I’m happy to say, I did this. (Sort of?) My daughter is young enough that she doesn’t even know how to ask for presents, so I kept it to a few things. I really like the idea of

“Something you want, something you need. Something to wear, and something to read.”

I didn’t fully abide by this, but I was pretty close. As for my family, we agreed ahead of time to keep it small, so we went small and thoughtful. A “Grandma” and “Grandpa” mug did the trick perfectly. And I had my daughter smash some paint onto an ornament for each of them. They were thrilled.

A (stressful) Unicorn Christmas Card

Bettie and Shannon smiling

The one thing I think I spent the most money on, was my Christmas card to send out. I had intended this card to be a “coming out” of sorts, for our new single-parent family. I had visions of a beautiful, perfect, pink and magical Christmas card to signify, “Look at us! We’re fabulous. We’re wonderful, and we have a perfect 2-person family. Merry Christmas!” I spent more money than I would like to admit preparing for this. A pink Christmas tree I turned into a unicorn, new photo backdrops, lights, hats, etc. I was so excited, and felt so ready.

In reality, it turned out to be a major cause of stress from start to finish. From Bettie refusing to cooperate (twice!), to the pictures not up to my expectation (twice!?) to Vistaprint sending them a week late, to me losing the roll of stamps I had purchased a month prior in anticipation, to half of my family receiving the cards AFTER NEW YEARS, even though I sent them a week before Christmas.

Bettie crying during a Christmas card photoshoot
I feel ya Bettie.

The behind-the-scenes of these cards were extremely stress-inducing. I don’t know how I did it, but the final product (once it was actually receieved) ended up as a lovely, light-hearted Christmas card. I’ll count it as a half-win.

Limit Social Obligations

Phew, I did this, THANK GOODNESS. My work schedule doesn’t allow a lot of time for social obligations, but for that, I’m actually quite grateful.

Bettie and I had plans to go to the tree farm with friends, but our schedules didn’t mash up. Truthfully I found myself to be really upset about this, but it was out of our control and I just wasn’t able to swing it on my own.

I didn’t just want to survive this holiday. Even though we are a smaller, single-parent family, I was determined to make it work. So instead, I walked to the No Frills to get a tree, and rather than coming home with a Christmas tree to decorate with Bettie, I hobbled home in pain because I fractured my ankle- pretty badly it turns out. Bettie was upset that mama hurt herself, so I carried her home consoling her. No tree. And a very sore ankle. I’m very thankful for a loving partner who went and bought me a cane and an ankle brace, and Bettie’s grandparents who took her for a couple days so I could rest.

How I survived my first single parent holiday

One of my partners and I took Bettie to the Christmas market, and this was so so lovely. I’d been wanting to go for years, and never have made it there. The market itself is absolutely overrated, but spending the day together on a beautiful snowy day was lovely. We were able to pick up our matching Christmas Llama-Donut-Cactus leggings, have lunch, get photos with Santa, and enjoy each other’s company by the magical giant Christmas tree. The bonus of a baby- you get to leave the market before it gets to anxiety-inducing levels of busy in the evening.

Unnecessary Anger I Didn’t Predict…

The one social obligation I knew I was going to have to do, was Christmas at my parents’ place. This one, I had a lot of unnecessary anger towards for no real reason.

I was mad that our own family Christmas traditions had to be shelved. I was mad that I had to return to my OLD child-self family traditions. I was mad that I couldn’t spend Christmas morning in my own house, with my own breakfast that I planned and prepped and cooked. I was mad that I wouldn’t be making my own traditional seafood lasagna for Christmas eve dinner.

I was mad that my free day to plan and organize got annihilated with the flu that hit both Bettie and I simultaneously 3 days before Christmas. I was mad when my dad forgot to text me when he was on his way to pick us up. I then almost had a meltdown so badly that I wanted to cancel Christmas right then and there, in front of my dad when I couldn’t find my Christmas leggings to pack for Christmas Day. In his words, “Almost??”, but the tears didn’t fall, so I don’t think it counts as a full meltdown. (Crisis averted at the last minute, as I found them stuffed into the bottom of the stroller.) I was mad when my mom forgot that lasagna wasn’t gluten-free, and I ate soup for dinner on Christmas Eve.

Of course, none of this was necessary. I had told myself these were all legitimate reasons to be angry, but truthfully, in looking back I was just hurting and this was my way to channel it. Christmas was actually quite lovely.

The Tough Stuff

It’s obvious that doing things as a single parent is tough. It’s also pretty clear that experiencing all the things you used to do together, now a part, is not going to be easy on you. Which means it’s not going to be easy on your kid, especially if this is the first year. Cue my unneccessary anger towards literally nothing, and a tears-forming, wanting-to-cancel-everything meltdown over a pair of leggings. Clearly, I did well.

Talk To Your Kid

I didn’t have to do much here, because my daughter seems to know Mama and Daddy apart, and I’m thankful for that. I did make a video of her for her Dad, and sent it along with some photos and they talked on the phone. She was perfectly happy, except for when she walked to my parents’ front door, waiting for daddy to walk through it after their phone call.

Ask For Help

How I survived my first single parent holiday
Here’s Bettie, “Helping mama” with her cane…

I don’t like asking for help. My partner jokes about how I’m a “strong independent woman” after I refuse help for certain things. This year though, I had no choice. I sprained my ankle two weeks before Christmas, and I couldn’t do it alone. When I wrote this original article, I was not expecting this portion to be so important, but there’s lots I couldn’t have done without help, even if I so badly wanted to refuse it. My ankle brace and cane were so thoughtfully bought for me so I could take care of myself. Bettie went to her grandparents for a couple days so I could rest my ankle. And my partner went on a dollarstore run to pick up the craft supplies I whined about needing the day I hurt myself.

Making The Most of The Holidays

How I survived my first single parent holiday

I tried, I really did. I got my decorations up at a decent time, and even though I couldn’t get my real tree, I had a few smaller (and one pink unicorn) trees around the apartment. My sister sent a small tree to us to console us for not making it to the tree farm, and I bought a Christmas vinyl to please Bettie’s need for listening to records (I don’t get it either… how does she know the difference?!) I made plans for the matching Christmas leggings I wanted so badly, and had plans to wear them to the Christmas market (which I did!) When I sprained my ankle, I spent hours sitting on the floor making Christmas ornaments which was a wonderful festive creative outlet for me.

Find Your Team

I have great people around me. I have friends that don’t even have kids that love to make plans with Bettie and I. For this, I know I’m quite lucky. I made plans that fell through, partly because of my injury, and partly because of schedules. Regardless of that, I have a wonderful group of people around me. We made a trip out to Montreal in November .to visit with one of my partners, and seeing her was a trip I never knew I needed so badly. We went to see a light display after Christmas, and did as many coffee dates as possible. We even got to have a mall-dinner date with a friend we haven’t seen in months. The people around me is something I am so incredibly grateful for. I couldn’t imagine my life without the suport system I have.

You Matter, Too

My final advice for surviving and enjoying the holidays as a new single parent was to stop and take a minute, and to allow yourself not to feel guilty. Don’t feel guilty for something you can’t do, but rather appreciate the things you can.

I’ll be honest, I struggled a lot with this one. Especially when a sprained ankle and the flu made everything that much harder. I wasn’t able to make 99% of the homemade gifts/meals I wanted to. I was exhausted. I felt I wasn’t giving Bettie the energy she deserved. I felt bad that I wasn’t able to afford the gifts I wanted to for the rest of my family. I felt badly that Bettie wasn’t with her father on Christmas, and I also felt bad that I couldn’t keep her family together.

The one thing I did that I wasn’t expecting to have such an effect (but am so glad it did!) was make my ornaments. It gave me a sense of purpose, and felt like I was really doing something. I was able to sit down, and create something. I was able to gift something thoughtful, and I was good at it. When Bettie was at her grandparents for a few days, it gave me something to take my mind off my hurting ankle and to feel productive.

It’s the Little Things…

Bettie was happy. She loved looking at Christmas lights when we took a walk. She loved reading Christmas stories, and learning all the names to Christmas things- Christmas tree, star, elves, reindeer, and she fell in love with Santa. She loved playing with her relatives at her grandparents’ house, and she appreciated her new toys.

How I survived my first single parent holiday

To this day, I’m still going over in my head what I wish I could have done, but what’s more important, I actually am telling myself what I DID do. I remind myself what I’ve been able to do for me, and for Bettie. I remind myself what a wonderful little happy girl she is, and that I have something to do with that. I remind myself that it doesn’t matter if they weren’t homemade, but Bettie got to leave out some milk and cookies for Santa.

I did a good job. I made it through, and even though it seemed like everything was against me at times, I came through the other end having had a wonderful holiday.

I Made It

This was not an advice article. I gave you all the pointers I had for surviving the holidays as a new single parent, before I had actually done that myself. I’m actually quite impressed with how I was able to follow my own advice, and all things considered, I really truly did enjoy my holidays.

I let myself feel the emotions as they came to me. I had my days where I would cry in the shower before wiping my eyes and moving on with my day. There were days that I was so exhausted I found myself falling asleep on Bettie’s stuffed llama on the floor of her room while she played, only to be woken up her yanking on my shoulder, “Mama, up!”

When Bettie’s dad dropped her off after four days away, I burst into tears, and I still don’t know if it was joy to see her, sadness that we weren’t a full family anymore, or just a giant combination of stress, pain, sadness and happiness.

I struggled, and yet I think still I thrived. Some days I felt like I was on top of the world! I was Supermom! And then maybe the next day we ate canned soup for dinner because it was all I could manage. But however I did it, I did it. (I think this might be the recurring theme if single-parenthood.) And however you got through your holidays, you did it too. Give yourself a pat on the back, because you did it. And for that, you should be proud.

 How I Survived My First Single-Parent Holiday
Shannon Ariel
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