How To Get Through The Holidays As A Single Parent––From A Mom Who Has Been There

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This will be my fifth holiday season as a single parent. It is my absolute favorite time of year and I look forward to it like, well, a kid looks forward to Christmas. I decorate early, Christmas movies are in full-swing right after Halloween, and I plan my cookie list all year long.

However, I can’t lie: The holidays also have a way of taking me down and reliving my married life and divorce all over again.

My ex-husband and I had a very amicable divorce. The first year after my husband moved out, I really thought I was on the downhill slide, and I was going to enjoy the holidays as a single mother. He had been gone almost a year, we were settled into a routine, and I felt in my soul that my kids and I were fine.

Then, one day I drove in our driveway watching the first snowfall and the memories of our life as a married couple beat me up so badly that I couldn’t get out of the funk no matter how hard I tried. That year, the only thing I could do was go through the motions and try not to cry too much in front of my kids.

Moms carry a huge load during the holidays. We are the one who make everything all magical and special for our families as it is. Then, to have to smile through that alone feels foreign — even if you want to be alone.

You are doing the shopping by yourself, possibly trying to coordinate who buys what for the kids with your ex. You have more alone time, which hurts your heart so much you just want to skip this time of year. You have to decide how to be fair to the kids, and be fair to each other. Then, you have to continue on with everyday life and all the extra glitz that the holidays bring.

Each year has gotten a bit easier for me and I’ve found some things that I stick to like glue in order to make the holiday season great for everyone, including me. Just because you aren’t married any longer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the holidays too.

Take advantage of your time alone (if you have it).

If you are divorced and your ex has part-time custody of your kids, I know how hard this can be. Splitting custody of your kids is hard enough during non-holiday times. I had to realize I had no control over this. I want my kids to have a relationship with their father because he is an amazing dad, and he loves them very much. I cannot get in the way of that. The last thing I wanted was for my kids to feel guilty about leaving me alone when they were with their dad over the holidays.

During those first few years I kept busy. When they were gone I got my shopping and wrapping done. I hosted parties with my friends. I made cookies to give away. I started painting. I caught up on rest.

Now that more time has passed I don’t feel the need to have plans every second they are gone in order to block my emotions. My advice is to do whatever it takes for you to be okay.

Do less.

You don’t have to go cut down a tree if you don’t want to. Get a fake one, buy a pre-cut one, or decorate a plant. You don’t have to say “yes’” to every obligation. There is no reason to spend money you don’t have to show your kids you love them. That will make you feel worse. Only do what you can handle and that will help keep your spirits up.

Prepare yourself for the hard moments.

Having some warning helps a lot. That first year, I was taken down so hard because it was so unexpected. Know that you might have tough moments, or even days. They might come out of nowhere, and you don’t have to ignore them or try and work past them. You are allowed to feel all that you are feeling. In fact, I recommend it — because if you don’t, those feelings will keep coming back stronger and harder. Talking it out with someone you trust, or journaling, will help tremendously.

Start new traditions.

Maybe there’s something you always wanted to do this time of year that your ex didn’t. It can be as little as trying a new recipe, getting takeout on Christmas Eve, or watching a certain movie this time of year. Whatever it is, starting a new tradition (that you love) will help you move forward and create new memories.

Let your kids know you are struggling.

You don’t have to hide it all. It’s okay if your kids know you are sad. It’s important for them to see you as a human being and it teaches them empathy. It will also keep you from snapping at them when you are struggling. They are resilient, they are strong, and they will help you get through it.

Even a few words like, “Mommy is feeling sad,” is enough to let them know you may need some grace.

Remember, you can celebrate on any day you want.

If your ex has them on Christmas Day, make the next time you have them your Christmas. Remember, it’s just a day on the calendar, and you can celebrate whenever you want.

Reach out to family and friends.

Please tell people you are struggling. Pick up the phone, send a text, schedule a Zoom chat, ask to meet for coffee. People assume you are okay unless you tell them otherwise. It’s a busy time of year and people get wrapped up in their own lives. Don’t take it personally if you don’t hear from them, but remember, they can’t read your mind. Ask for time with them when you need it.

Don’t forget about yourself.

Buy yourself those earrings, get a pedicure, take a day to have a nice bath and watch your favorite show all day. Whatever it is, don’t think you need to spend the holidays without any gifts. I love getting takeout sushi, or walking around my favorite home goods store by myself.

It doesn’t have to be a trip to Aruba, it just has to feel special to you.

The holidays can be hard for a lot of us for various reasons. And I’ve seen single moms struggle the hardest. But remember, each year it gets a bit easier — and yes, you can do this.

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