(And Maybe Even Enjoying Them?!)
Written by: Shannon Sebert
Being a single parent is tough. The holidays can be tough. Navigating through them and surviving the holidays as a new single parent can feel like an impossible feat, especially if this is the first year for you.
It doesn’t have to be though. With a few tweaks here and there, you can avoid feeling like a hot-stressed-mess and maybe even have a minute to enjoy these holidays with your new-albeit smaller- family.
First Things First: A Holiday Custody Plan
When my husband left me this summer, I was devastated. Surprisingly though, it didn’t take me long to settle into the day to day on my own (there have been studies that single mothers actually do less housework because they’re not looking after the husband… but I digress), but one thing that kept nagging at the back of my head, was “Oh my God, I’m not going to see her for every holiday.” And it’s absolutely heartwrenching. I don’t know if it will get better as time goes on, but what I do know, is that you can’t avoid it.
- Make That Plan. Before anything else, set up a custody plan for the holidays. If you’ve been a single parent for a while, you probably already have this, but if you’re new at this, don’t stress about a plan for every holiday for every year just yet. That’s exhausting, and there will be time for that later. Just determine your plans for Christmas and New Years, and find something you can both agree upon.
- Stick To It, and Be Grateful. Nobody wants to be apart from their kids through the holidays, but this is what we have to work with and you have to make the best of it. Mark it on the calendar, and do what you can for your kids (and you on the days you’re without them.)
Once you have this, you can go ahead and make your plans for how you want to spend it.
Prioritize (And Have No Remorse!)
One surefire way to get stressed this holiday season is to plan too much, and one key to surviving these holidays as your single parent-self, is to prioritize what you actually want to get done. Once you have your designated days together, it’s time to figure out what exactly you want to do this Holiday.
- Make Lists. Santa had the right idea here. Make a list, check it twice. Write down everything you want to do. And then put a great big line through all the things you really don’t care if you actually do, and a star next to the things that are really important to you. And then, don’t give it a second thought.
- Spend Less. A big portion of Christmas lists is often presents. Cut it down. Too many people go into too much debt at Christmas trying to please everyone in their lives. It’s too much, it’s completely unnecessary, and you’re down to one income now. Talk to your family. Maybe suggest a Secret Santa for family functions, or if that doesn’t work, keep it to small gifts for the kids alone. Last year with my family we chose to gift only a pair of novelty socks, and it was great. It was affordable, thoughtful, and pretty stress-free. And besides, if someone is really upset that you didn’t give them a gift, then they probably don’t deserve it anyway. 10/10 recommend. This year, I’m “shopping” in my old childhood toys for things I think my daughter would love. My Dad gets my old toys out of his house, and it costs literally nothing.
- Limit Social Obligations. Christmas seems to be a time of an abundance of parties and gatherings. These can be exhausting at the best of times, but with a kid it’s 10000000 times as tiring, and so much more work. You’re not just dealing with your own tired self, but also an overtired, overstimulated child you can’t take your eye off for one second without them potentially pulling down an entire christmas tree, or sticking their tiny toddler hands into the punch bowl. You also don’t have the extra help, at the party or at home. Don’t feel guilty about not going. Decide which ones are important to you, and do your best. If you can’t make it, send your best wishes and ask for a few selfies from the party to feel like you’re involved.
The Tough Stuff
Being a single parent is hard enough as it is, but a list for surviving life as a single parent is too much for right now, so I’ll settle on surviving the holidays. There’s a few things that I don’t think anyone particularly enjoys, but it sets you up for a successful holiday (and future) with yourself, your kids, and your support system
- Talk to Your Kid. Now, my daughter isn’t 2 yet, so in a way, I’m kind of lucky- if only for the fact that she doesn’t really know much else, and I now have a chance to start fresh. But so can you, even if your kid is older. Talk to your kid. Let them know they can talk to you. Avoiding difficult topics doesn’t help anyone, and your child needs to know they can talk to you about how they’re feeling. If they miss their other parent, it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. Remember that. You know that group of friends you have that supported you through the breakup? The ones that let you vent and cry and vent some more? Your kid doesn’t have that. They have you, so you need to let them know that that’s ok. And then? Get some treats. Bake some cookies. Or just buy some and eat those.
- Ask for Help. I don’t know about you, but I have a hell of a time asking for help. I like to do things on my own, and I hate to inconvenience people. But guess what. The people that love you, they want to help. The Christmas list for parents can be overwhelming at the best of times, and if you’re going to get through with your sanity in tact enough to actually enjoy it, call in the troops. Invite people over to decorate together. Delegate as much as you can, and reward everyone with hugs and love and Christmas music while you do it. Trust me, it’s enough.
Making The Most Of The Holidays
Once you’ve got all the obligations figured out, it’s time to find ways to actually make the most of these holidays as a single parent, rather than just surviving it.
Find Your Team
- Find Your People . When I found myself unexpectedly as a single parent, one of the things I thought about was surviving all of the holidays and activities we loved to do together- alone. Trick or Treating, getting a Christmas tree, going out for lunches, etc. But then, on Canada Day- 2 weeks after my separation- I knew that we would usually spend that day together. Instead, I booked an Ice cream-themed photoshoot for my daughter and I, and invited my friend to come hang out and eat ice cream while we did it, and it was great. For Halloween, we paired up with my daughter’s baby-friend and his Papa, and we spent the rainy night having dinner together, and enjoying the babies in their costumes going from house to house together. Not once did I feel alone. My point here again is- Find your people. It doesn’t have to be the same people for everything, and they don’t have to be static fixtures in your life. If they are showing love and respoect for you and your little one(s), then they’re good to have around.
- Make The Plans (even if they’re last minute). It can be hard to make plans ahead of time with little ones, especially when you need to coordinate with someone else. But if you have some time, and think you might enjoy someone’s company, send them a message. Invite a friend to brave the malls with you and your little one(s) for nothing other than a little company. Liked picking out a Christmas tree as a family, but don’t want to do it alone? Ask someone to join you. My ex-partner monopolized a lot of my time, and I didn’t realize how much I was missing out on with friends, whether they’re long-time friends, or someone you just want to get a coffee with. Don’t wait, just ask. There are people out there who love you, and they love your kid(s). They’ll be happy to help.
You Matter, Too.
I know, I know. This seems wild. But hear me out.
Don’t worry, I won’t mention the words “self care” here, because I think we all know that trying to find time for “self care” is just another thing we have to worry about these days. But what I do mean, is that things are best enjoyed together. What’s best for you, is best for your kid(s).
- Don’t You Dare Feel Guilty. I can only speak from my exact experience, but goddammit why do we feel guilty if we can’t provide our kids with things others seem to have? Whether it’s the latest toy, or a bigger house, or a “full” family, we’re too hard on ourselves. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with being a single parent. I’d like you to repeat that for me. There is NOTHING WRONG with being a single parent. If your kid is loved, you’re doing a great job. It’s no different on the holidays, even if it feels like it. Try your best to see the holidays through your child’s eyes- Bright lights, sparkly snow, and joy. Spend the time you have with your kid, and enjoy it together. That’s all you can do, and that’s more than enough.
- Take a Minute. What?! I know, I know. You haven’t had “a minute” since your kid was born. I get it, I do. Christmas (or whatever holiday you’re celebrating) comes once a year. It’s filled with lights and decorations and songs and love if you look for it. But it can be filled with over-shopping, stress, work and debt if you’re not careful. Take a second, whenever you can, to take a deep breath and soak in the good stuff. Take a sip of coffee and look at your kid sleeping in their Holiday pjs. Stop scrolling social media for a moment. Buy some Christmas cookies and have fun biting the heads off gingerbread men. Stop to look at Christmas lights on your walk together. Dance terribly and sing loudly to Mariah Carey Christmas. You do you. The rest will follow.
You can do it. You ARE doing it, and you’re doing amazing. Never forget to remind yourself that.