Holidays can present unique troubles and joys for single parents. They can cause some sadness, but also have the potential to create new beginnings. As a single parent, I can relate to these ups and downs. I now have five years of holiday celebrations with my three children under my belt. The first set of fall/winter holidays were the most difficult. For me, these were Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve/Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve.
Challenges for single parents may include financial troubles. It may be difficult to give your kids the presents that you gave them in the past with only one income and mounting debt. It may be twice as hard to get things done like shopping, holiday baking, wrapping, and decorating with no partner to watch the children. If you were used to celebrating with your ex’s family and friends, then you might find yourself feeling lost and alone.
If you’re one of the many single parents feeling overwhelmed during the holidays, then here is some advice to help you get through it.
- Money worries. No one wants to tell their children that Santa got divorced this year and had to make cut-backs. But, if finances are a concern, then take it as an opportunity to discover a new meaning in the holidays. Holidays aren’t just about material possessions, and love can be expressed through more than just expensive presents. Give the gift of your time and attention to your children this year. Let your kids help you with the holiday baking. Make homemade gifts for family and friends with your kids and do some inexpensive holiday crafts. The internet can give you many ideas and most of the products used to make these items can be found at your local discount retailer, such as Dollar Tree (this can also be a fun alternative to buying expensive gifts and decorations from the store). If you’re like me, you may have to down-size the Christmas tree, which can seem disappointing. However, you can spruce up your Charlie Brown tree by stringing popcorn and cranberries with your kids and making decorations out of construction paper. Your children will surely enjoy the time that you spend with them and it is also economical. Picking out some good holiday films and curling up on the couch with your kids and some popcorn can be a cheap way of spending time with your children, as well. In addition, volunteering in the community with your family can be a way of finding the true meaning of the holidays. So make sure to sign you and your kids up for the local soup kitchen or holiday toy drive this season. Doing something for others who are less fortunate can also help alleviate some depression that you might be feeling.
- Childcare Concerns. If you are lucky enough to have family, friends, or neighbors who you can trust, then don’t be afraid to ask them to watch your kids while you take care of some holiday chores. Planning tasks to coincide with your custody schedule is also helpful. If you don’t have any social ties nearby or the other parent is absent, then look into babysitting, daycare services, or before and after school programs that can do some childcare for you. If you are in counseling, then your therapist will most likely have some good resources for you.
- Reconnect and form new connections with people. Relationships, especially an abusive relationship, can cause you to become alienated from your family and friends. It can also inhibit your ability to formulate new relationships. Take the opportunity as a single person to reconnect with family and old friends. Try to make new friends. Go to lunch with a co-worker, have coffee with another parent and set up play dates for your kids. Contact long lost friends and explain to them your circumstances and how you want to reestablish a relationship. Visit your mom and dad, spend time with your grandma, and contact those cousins that you never talk to. You will need all the support you can get now, so don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Having this social support will open the door to holiday invitations and give you the opportunity to have guests at your own celebratory gatherings. Before you know it, you and your children will have your own circle of friends and family to make festive memories with.
- Make new memories. It may bring on depression and anxiety when thoughts of old family rituals with your ex-partner enter your mind. However, you can also realize that you have the chance to make new memories and create unique family traditions with your children. As a single parent, I began my own holiday traditions. I decorated a gingerbread house with my kids every year. I found a cute, local tree farm in town to get our Christmas tree from. We buy fudge and decorations from their gift shop also. I go shopping with my kids every year and let them pick out a tree decoration of their choice (we’ve built up quite a collection over the past few years). It is also part of our holiday repertoire to go around town and look at the beautiful Christmas lights. I make coco with candy canes and extra marshmallows. My kids also look forward to getting their annual snowman cookie at Starbucks. We play in the fall leaves on Thanksgiving break. We eat Chinese food and read our fortunes on New Year’s Eve. These are traditions that I made after my divorce and will enjoy with my children for many years to come.
- Change the scenery. Perhaps a holiday trip is just what you need to break out of a “funk.” A change of scenery can provide a much needed diversion (just make sure that you aren’t running away from your problems). It can be a camping trip, a long trip across the country to visit relatives, a trip to tropical Hawaii, a trip to Disneyland, or just simply renting a vacation house nearby. In any case, a holiday getaway can give you a new lease on life. I began going to Incline Village, Nevada during the holiday season every year after my divorce. My kids and I enjoyed going on sleigh rides, sliding down snowy hills on saucers, and throwing snowballs at each other.
This time of year can be a roller coaster for single parents, especially if you are a new single parent. However, you and your kids can have a happy holiday if you learn to find your own joy in the season!
When Charles Dickens wrote “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” he must have been having a glass of champagne and ringing in the New Year.
Indeed, the New Year can be the best of times and the worst of times for many of us. We may transition into the new year feeling shattered. However, the blessing is that it will force us to examine the pieces of ourselves. There are some pieces that we may like, and there are some pieces that we may decide to change. Some of these pieces may be relationships and people who shouldn’t be in our lives anymore. Some relationships and people may be so true and special that they deserve to be part of our futures. In the end, you can always put yourself back together again, and be stronger and more full of faith because of it.
We, the staff and counselors at New Mourning, are here to take a journey with you that will hearken 2015 and the goodness of your tomorrows.
We look forward to serving you and your loved ones this year!
Peace and love.
The holidays can be a great time for family to come together and share memorable moments. Unfortunately, for many people, these moments can turn into memorable nightmares. However, I have some helpful tips to help you get through the rest of this stressful season.
- Limit the holiday libations. Perhaps you grew up in a family that never touched alcohol or perhaps you grew up in a household where cocktail hour began at 5 pm and ended with last-man standing. In any case, you should be well-aware of the effects that liquor may have on family members. If Uncle Joe has a tendency to get confrontational and mom likes to bring up all of your past failures after a few drinks, then a cup of holiday cheer may not be so cheerful anymore. Make sure to let relatives know ahead of time that you are adopting a “No drinking” policy at your home this year and search the internet for some festive recipes that don’t include alcohol. Enjoy some cocktails responsibly in private, minus the family, if you would personally like to partake.
- Have an “Exit Plan.” If you find yourself traveling to the home of a problematic relative then try to make other accommodations. Staying in a hotel, vacation rental, or with a peaceful family member might be good alternatives. However, if these aren’t viable options for you then have an “exit plan” ready. If relatives begin an argument with you or another relative then plan to have a place to escape to. Go to the guest room and put on a good movie. Find a good place to take a walk. Head to a nice restaurant, diner, or coffee shop and spend some time on your laptop or reading a good book.
- Designate a personal “Support Person.” During stressful times it is important to have adequate social support. This could be a friend, partner, counselor, sponsor, or relative that you get along with. Make sure to let him or her know that you will be facing a difficult time and will temporarily need additional support. If they live nearby then make their home a refuge or have a meeting somewhere. If they are far away, then arrange a phone call or web-cam chat session. Talking about your problems with a trusted person can do wonders for relieving holiday-related stress.
- Choose your battles: If family fights come down to who gets to baste the turkey or light the first Hanukah candle, then consider backing down a little. Make sure to ask yourself, “Is this really worth arguing about?”
- Learn when to walk away: Set boundaries. If a relative becomes emotionally abusive then promptly remove yourself from the situation. If he or she becomes violent, then contact local authorities for assistance. Protecting yourself and other family members is the most important priority in these types of scenarios.
- Turn drama into healing: I am sure that you have heard this before, but communication is the key to resolving relational problems. Family gatherings can gather a lot of bad memories and past hurts. Perceive this as a much needed “wake-up call.” Facing holiday issues can be stressful, but ignoring them can perpetuate year-round distress. Consider sitting down with family members and trying to resolve problems. If you can’t solve these problems yourself, then think about the possible benefits of getting family counseling. Make sure to always give 110% to your family, but if they refuse to give 110% back, then don’t try to compensate for their lack of effort. Not doing everything for another person can give them a chance to develop autonomy and do things for themselves and others.
The holidays can be stressful. We all know this, but we can take guided steps to give ourselves some breathing room at least. They say you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. This is an inevitable truth. But, we can still choose how we react to family drama. Most importantly, find a way to be thankful in between the stress, and enjoy this wonderful season!
Recently, I visited with a girlfriend of mine. We hadn’t seen each other in months because of our busy schedules. I was so pleased to see her and it was great to finally catch up over coffee at our local Starbucks.
After she and I had exhausted all of the popular topics to converse about (work, family, school, men, etc.), she told me about her good friend Nancy from high school. Then she told me about Nancy’s scandalous Facebook picture. I have to admit that my eyes did widen a little bit when I saw the photo on my friend’s cell phone. However, it wasn’t the picture that actually shocked me. In fact, the image was quite sweet. It showed an infant, who was about 1 month old, wearing a blue onesie covered in Blue’s Clues characters. His tiny hand clutched Nancy’s delicate finger, as she looked down at him with an adoring smile. Then I saw the caption beneath the picture: “I HATE BEING A MOM.” These were the words that most new moms are afraid to think, let alone type in all caps on a social media website. I immediately understood why it was so scandalous. In addition to the shocking caption, there were multiple comments left by Facebook friends. The comments ranged from, “I can’t believe that you would say something like that! How can you hate being the mother of such a beautiful baby boy?!” to “Your just having a bad day. You’ll feel better tomorrow.” However, my favorite comment was the one that read, “Don’t worry. It will come naturally to you.”
Motherhood just “coming naturally” to a female is a fanciful story that is rarely true. Unfortunately, I am sure that numerous women have suffered from this type of careless discourse. However, I couldn’t help but wonder about the myth. Is being a mother intrinsic or is our culture’s unrealistic expectations the only thing that is coming naturally?
The idea that women are “baby machines,” who can robotically care for an infant is an antiquated idea that should be put in a museum. A majority of women suffer from some form of depression or feel overwhelmed at times. New mothers fear that they will be judged as being “abnormal” or even be considered a danger to their infants. Sadly, many of these women are not seeking help because of a culture that tells them being a mother should just “come naturally.” Being a mother does not always come naturally. Parenthood, like life, is a learning process, which is full of trial and error. It is also full of potential and possibilities. So take back your motherhood, and don’t be ashamed to reach out for help. Being a mom should be defined by the woman going through it and not by our society’s “tall tales” of maternity.