Having a young family presents challenges of its own - but as a lone parent at Christmas, the 'Most Wonderful Time of the Year' can feel especially daunting.
Christmas can be a lot of fun for families. It’s a great chance to spend time together, enjoy some little luxuries and show each other how much you care. However, if you are not part of a couple, there may be moments when you feel the extra weight upon your shoulders – both financially and emotionally.
As parents, we can sometimes spread ourselves too thinly during the month of December - and even more so if we are acting as both Mum and Dad. This is especially true if this is your first Christmas without your partner.
Budgeting, spending quality time, or making arrangements with your child’s other parent; even coping with having to be apart from your children over the holiday period are all key contributors to heightened anxiety and feelings of overwhelm.
We asked some of the parents from our REDDI community to share their advice on how to enjoy the season to its fullest when you're single. Here are their top five tips.
1. Be open with family and friends
At Christmas, many people make assumptions based on their own traditions or how they personally feel that 'The perfect Christmas' should look. Whatever you do, make sure that you don't feel pressurised to meet the demands of others, if that's likely to have a negative impact on your mental health and wellbeing.
If you don't want to be part of a large family gathering this year, or spend the holidays with an ex - or indeed, just around those people who make you feel uncomfortable - then that's absolutely fine. But do try to be honest about what you and your family need in advance, so that the expectations of others can be managed with kindness.
It's understandable if you would prefer to spend Christmas alone with your child or children, and equally, many people would rather be in the company of others. But try not to leave confirming your plans until the last minute.
Many of us have friends who are closer to us than family, so why not spend some of the festive period together? You might even have friends who are single themselves - possibly another single mum or dad with children who would appreciate the invite; even if it's just for a few hours of the day. This is the time of year for connecting with those who need it the most.
Reach out to others if you need to, be honest about what you truly want to do and plan ahead if you can.
2. Keep expectations realistic
Christmas is supposed to be a special family celebration, but the idealistic (and unrealistic) views of nuclear families around the dinner table undoubtedly puts us all under unnecessary pressure, thinking that we have to match these ideals in order for the season to be enjoyable. We simply don't.
Relax, and remember that Christmas is what you make of it. Enjoy quality time with your children and don’t feel like you have to do things a certain way.
Maybe it's even time to break some of the old traditions that you never truly enjoyed? As a hard working single parent, you deserve a break just like anyone else. So if you don’t fancy cooking that roast turkey at Christmas, and it's not even something you enjoy eating, then why not get a takeaway for you all to enjoy? Or cook your kids’ favourite meal – even if it’s pancakes? Don't put pressure on yourself; there are some boxes that simply don't need to be ticked! This is your Christmas.
This includes gifts. Whether your are a single parent by choice or recently separated, many single Mums and Dads will feel the financial pinch at some point. Don’t feel under pressure to buy material things that simply aren't necessary. You have no need to overcompensate.
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.
Equally, don't feel obliged to return gifts to those who you did not expect or budget to receive gifts from - such as neighbours, or ever-growing lists of extended relatives.
3. Establish new Christmas traditions
It is traditions that link the past with the present and give us certainty for the future - so December might just be the perfect time to start some new traditions of your own that make the season truly 'yours' as a family.
You could try some new family activities that will add a little memorable magic to Christmas - and these don't have to be elaborate or expensive. Giving a Christmas Eve gift, making a Gingerbread house, going to the cinema on Boxing Day, taking a walk in the woods, or trying out a new festive recipe; this is the perfect time to introduce something new!
Why not let your child or children lead the way, and suggest some ideas as to what your yearly activities and rituals could be? Your new traditions will strengthen the special bond that only single Mums and Dads have.
4. Take time to reflect
Whether you are a working parent or not, you probably never stop: you are on duty 24/7, and during the month of December, this feeling is often amplified.
But it's important to have some downtime. Don't feel guilty about putting your child or children to bed a little early, or asking them to give you some space.
Many unattached parents don’t actually know what to do with themselves when they suddenly have ‘downtime’, but you should try to use this 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.
Being a parent is hard - and being a single parent is even harder, so take a moment to celebrate you, and the great job that you're doing!
5. Don't forget about you
Don’t let the insanity of holiday obligations get the better of you. If you are everything to your child, then avoiding festive burnout is all the more important. Ask for help from a friend or relative if you need a breather, or even just an hour to yourself to stop and relax.
And if things don’t go the way you planned at Christmas, don't blame yourself - you're only human! Just make the best of it. The great thing about being a single parent is that you are in control and don’t have to agree every move you make with another adult.
Try not to compare your life to that of others; everyone loves to share the family happy snaps on social media - but just remember that life is not always what it seems, and Christmas is also a time of loneliness, conflict and trauma which do not get shared on social media.
If you are happy and having a great time with your kids then they will be happy too.
Christmas without your children
The first Christmas after a bereavement, separation or divorce can be difficult, especially when there are children involved. In the case of separation, it can be a struggle to work out the practicalities while also ensuring that each of the parents (and possibly grandparents) get to spend quality time with the children over Christmas.
Inevitably, one or both parents could find themselves without their children for some of the holidays.
One of the most important things to remember if you're in this situation is that the children will just want to celebrate Christmas with their family. They're unlikely to mind exactly what this looks like, and if they can celebrate Christmas twice, on two different days, then even better! Be flexible and make the most of the time that you spend with your children, regardless of which actual day this might fall on.
Christmas is about family, making others smile and sharing magical moments. It does not always require romance. Whatever you do for Christmas, remember that your children will value the time you spend together and the effort you make – even if they are too little to show it or too hormonal to admit it.
Toddler or teen, your children will always remember Christmas with Mum or Dad - and this is why it is worth not just putting on a brave face and getting through - but actually trying to enjoy it together as a family unit, whatever that may look like for you.
Our team here at REDDI hope that you have a happy and productive December, and wish all parents and their children a very Merry Christmas.
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