It’s that time of year again which some of us dread. For those who don’t have a partner or a large extended family, the month of December can be 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 inadequate. You want to make Christmas perfect for the kids but the thought of Christmas Day without a partner or without your kids stir feelings of loneliness, anger, resentfulness and/or sadness.
And it’s not just Christmas Day. After weeks of preparation and anticipation, an anti-climax must surely follow, mustn’t it? But it doesn’t have to be like that. My best advice is to be organised. Plan the holidays to make sure you are busy whether you have the kids or not. There is so much to do out there and so many single parents in the same situation.
1. Share Christmas. When we did not travel to see my parents, my son would spend Christmas Eve with me and Christmas Day with his dad, or vice versa. Other times, he would spend Christmas morning with me and then go for a roast to his dad’s – and save me cooking a roast for hours. Such an arrangement gives both parents quality time with the kids and little time for the blues.
2. Involve the kids in the planning. Ask them what foods they would like, how to decorate the house or the tree, what they would like to do on Christmas Day, etc. 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 gives all of you a new sense of freedom and responsibility and will make the holidays special as everyone will get to do a bit of what they like.
3. Go on holiday. If you don’t need to worry about sharing the kids at Christmas and have the money, going away can be a godsend. One of our best Christmas holidays was spent skiing abroad. By then my son was well into his teens (and more difficult to please) and we had a ball on and off the piste. The food on Christmas Eve was exquisite – and, again, we did not have to cook! If you want to ensure you have some adult company and mates for your child/ren around, you could choose a single parent holiday. Equally if you alternate years and do not have the kids at Christmas, why not go on a solo holiday? You could have fun with other adults in the same or a similar situation.
4. Plan ahead and invite friends or family. As my family lives abroad this required some advance planning. And on those occasions where I wanted to spend Christmas without my parents around (not wanting to look like Bridget Jones yet again), I found that my single or single parent friends in London had already booked their train ticket to mum and dad – for no other reasons than lack of options. So get on the phone ASAP and put some firm dates in the diary. You will find that some of your friends are in the same 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. You could even go on a city cruise, or, providing you live in travel distance, a Discover London tour on Christmas Day (through the deserted streets of Mayfair and Soho – a unique experience) with stops for breakfast and pub lunch.
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. If you don’t fancy cooking that roast, get a takeaway you all enjoy. Or cook your kids’ favourite meal – even if it’s pancakes!
7. Don’t overspend. Most single parents will at some point, usually immediately after a separation, feel the pinch. Don’t feel under pressure to buy and 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.
8. Establish new Christmas traditions. Whatever takes your fancy – a silly game, a Christmas walk in the woods, a special meal. Let go of the old life and start something new. Your new traditions will strengthen the new, special bond with your kids.
9. Relax. 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.
10. Reflect. Whether you are a working parent or a full-time parent, you probably never stop. You are on duty 24/7. Many 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!