As much as the holidays are a joyful time for many, for some, the holidays are tough for various reasons. For a single mom (or single parent) who is co-parenting, the holidays can be especially tough especially if it’s not “your year” to have the kiddos. The holidays as a single mom may mean less money to spend, kids who are emotional about change and having to split their time between parents, and lost traditions. It can be overwhelming as you may also be dealing with your own feelings of loss and adapting to change.
This is my 5th Christmas post-divorce and the first one where I don’t have the Kidlet and won’t see her until after the new year. As we celebrated the first half of our Christmas a few days early, I thought of how different the holidays will be without her and how difficult it will be to not have her come downstairs Christmas morning.
If you find yourself in the same situation, without your children on Christmas Day, here are some tips to survive the holiday season and even make it bearable.
1. Don’t Force It
I left my ex-husband three months before Christmas so for the holidays that first year, to try and lessen the loss for our then 7-year-old daughter, we decided to bite the bullet and spend the day together as a family unit, making Christmas dinner and keeping as many traditions intact as possible.
It was an awkward day. Every fiber of my being wanted to not be there with him, in my new house, making small talk and sharing Christmas dinner like we were in some sort of Bizarro universe. Ultimately, it wasn’t as bad as I was dreading, and I know it really helped my daughter feel good that we were all together, so it was worth the effort to act like an adult and put our differences aside for the day.
If you and your ex are not in that place, don’t force it. It makes things even more complicated and uncomfortable for everyone, but if it makes sense, then maybe call a truce for a few hours, for the sake of the kids.
2. Make New Traditions
You may find yourself having to give up traditions that you’ve always done as a family, and that’s okay. We used to have a tradition where we made homemade tacos, then went and looked at Christmas lights on a particular street with some hot chocolate on Christmas Eve. Afterward, we’d allow the Kidlet to open one gift – always a new pair of pajamas – and we’d watch a Christmas movie. The past few years we’ve tweaked the old tradition and combined it with some new ones. This year, we went to our favorite restaurant, looked at Christmas lights, came home to open half of her presents and watched a Christmas movie.
The key is that we are together right now, making memories and experiencing the joy of the holiday, even if the calendar doesn’t say the specific day the world says we should celebrate it on. Find ways to make new traditions with your new family unit. Incorporate some of the old traditions and remember fondly the ones that are no longer in practice. As with all things in life, it’s all about your attitude and your mindset to make a situation better (or worse).
3. Avoid Overspending
The first Christmas post-divorce was a tough one financially for me. I was living on one income and trying to pay off as much debt that we had as quickly as possible. The effort of getting a tree alone was daunting, much less decorating it and surrounding it with gifts. I ended up getting a fake tree on clearance, and the Kidlet and I decorated it with all of her special ornaments. The gifts were kept simple, and we focused on spending time together making crafts and playing games.
Don’t feel the need to spend a ton of money to overcompensate or to “make up for” the divorce. Focus on creating experiences for your children, keeping the important things like the time you do have together on the forefront.
4. Keep Things Simple
Instead of making 200 holiday cookies for your daughter’s church group or lugging all ten boxes out of storage to decorate your apartment, consider keeping things simple for the holidays. Buy some cookies from the store for your child’s group or keep decorating to a minimum. At most, I grab two boxes of our favorite ornaments and decorations for the house, and that’s it. The bulk of our old Christmas stuff stays in storage. With just a few items, and a nicely lit tree, you can still make it inviting and festive.
5. Pamper Yourself
While you’re trying to make Christmas magical for your family, don’t forget about yourself! Take some time to get pampered – get your nails done or get a massage. If that’s not in the budget, even a nice bubble bath and a half day to binge watch Netflix is good for your soul. Force yourself to slow down, rest, and refresh in this busy holiday season. Otherwise, your body might force you to stop like mine did. For the first time in years, I was sick for three weeks earlier this month. I had no choice but to lay on the couch, eat junk food, and watch Empire for hours.
6. “Adopt” a Family
If you find yourself without the kids on Christmas Day, don’t just sit around and wallow. Visit your family or gather a bunch of friends that may not have a place to go for the holidays. Better yet, crash their party. I’ve spent may a Thanksgiving with my best friend and her large family. It helped me keep my mind off the fact that I didn’t share the day with my daughter.
For those that will be facing a holiday without the kids or are trying to figure out how to single parent this time of year, keep in mind, that it is only a day, that just because you don’t celebrate Christmas on December 25th doesn’t mean that you cannot make memories on another day. Being a single parent this time of year definitely isn’t easy, but it can still be a happy, memorable occasion for you and your kids.