Top 10 Tips on How to Survive Christmas as a Single Parent

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 at Christmas.

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 at Christmas 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 Christmas special as everyone will get to do a bit of what they like.

Picture of single parent and kid at Christmas market

Picture of single parent and kid at Christmas market

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 at Christmas.

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 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 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!

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Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Blair says:

    Hi Andrea
    thanks for the 10 points, yes I am a single dad for 3 yrs now, have 4 children youngest being 15. I was always the Christmas person in the relationship. My 2 older don’t talk to me 2nd youngest who’s 19 part talks and the 15 yr old spends time with me on the weekends. When the kids were young I would decorate the townhouse right through.
    Every year I get down the closer it gets. This year I decided to listen to Christmas songs from beginning of November just so I can be over it by Christmas day, it’s 18th and not even close to getting over it. Every year I watch the old videos of better simpler times, that doesn’t help. I have been to a medium whom says things will get better, but you can’t get rid of your memories. One thing I will be doing next yr is going on a cruise with my sister her family and my youngest. Reading tips like these helps, I’m not sure about dating sites they just seem to be about sex only, I like everything about a person to share with.
    I find it hard that the kids of today have lost family values and the world is too close to hand. Just wish this was a bad dream.
    thanks for your time

    • Alex says:

      Yes I think a Christmas holiday would be a good idea to take the pressure off.
      As a single mum, it’s going to be the first time with just me and my 10 year old on Christmas Day this year. My 2 grown up children have flown the nest and are busy leading their own lives. I had a long chat with my youngest and he said how he would love to have a big family Christmas with lots of people and other kids to play with. I felt so sad for him.
      We’ve got several outings planned for Christmas week, which will be fun. I’m going to really try and make Christmas Day special too, but it will feel strangely quiet, just the two of us. I agree with you about getting the music on and decorations up to try and lift the mood.
      Good idea about letting the child help with the planning and starting new traditions.
      Definitely looking at holidays for next year!
      Good luck with yours!

  • Olly says:

    I stumbled across this webpage by accident but after reading the above comment from Blair, I felt compelled to leave my own comment. Sorry to read about your situation. I hope you have a good Christmas and I’m sure things will get better in time – 3 years is still fairly recent. Maybe you could try and do something charitable/volunteering to be around others? It sounds very tough for you but try not over-hype Christmas too much, take it easy and eat plenty of chocolate. Wishing you all the best!

  • Julia says:

    It’s something that’s hardly spoken about & unless you’re in the situation wouldn’t understand, ..but we all battle through with pride & put a brave face on in what can ultimately be a very lonely time of year. The tv is full of adverts, movies and shows about huge family groups and lots of kids all enjoying the perfect time. But in reality, ..and I’m certain of this, there’s lots of us trying our best on a much smaller scale ..& often spending this time of year, at some point, alone. Very hard indeed. It’s nice to know we’re not the only ones, ..but more groups could be formed to help each other through it I’m sure.

  • Bestsy says:

    I have been a single parent for just over 8 years. I never really knew what it was like to raise a child in a normal family. Over the last 8 years I never dreaded Christmas as it’s just another normal day. Yes it would be great to wake up on Christmas morning with a partner and together watch your child/children open their presents, but you’ve just got to get on with it in life. It may seem harsh but it’s the truth at the end of the day.

  • Anna Gill says:

    Yes i agree we have to get on with it. But it hurts to watch your child not have both parents sharing the joy. My husband died when I was pregnant. 5 years later and it seems to only get tougher on these occasions.
    My siblings seem to do their things out of the country or hours apart. Dad’s remarried so I’m a third wheel wherever I am.
    So this year I’m going to try and have our tradition begin. A sleep in and a Xmas movie and brekkie just my daughter, pets and me. Then we will join wherever else. Getting on with it but to those who feel sad – you are allowed to let yourself feel ripped apart, too.

  • Samantha says:

    I’m not sure if anyone will read this comment, but after reading some of these sad comments I felt obligated to say something. My parents recently split up, so I’ve been trying to think of something I could do to make Christmas this year better for both of them. So far all I’ve been able to do is read a lot of posts like this. Speaking from the kid side of things, don’t feel like any of you have to work harder than normal to make any Christmas special for your kids. We worry about you guys just as much as you worry about us, and I know that nothing would make for a better Christmas than to see my parents happier than they have been for the past few months. I know Christmas is a challenging time for some of you, and it probably is for your kids too. As long as you can spend time together and support each other, the holiday season will still be great.

    • Hi Samantha, thank you for your comment! It’s nice to hear from a child who is worried about their parents and not vice versa. You must be a lovely kid and sound quite mature. Even when kids are older, the guilt of splitting up the family is still painful for parents. They often feel like failures and focus more on their kids than ever before. This can make things even harder for the children involved, I am sure. No one wants to see their parents unhappy! I hope you can all find a way to have an enjoyable Christmas !

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