I was a stay-at-home mom who didn’t bring in any income for our family for over thirteen years. I used to ask my husband if I could spend money on certain things. I felt I had to explain myself if we went over budget because I was the spender in the family. I juggled things around so we’d have enough money for big events, or if I wanted to do something to the house.
This didn’t happen because I had a controlling ex-husband who was strict about money. Before we had children, I had always made more money than he did. When I stopped working, I took on the role of doing everything else (including managing our money) because I felt guilty I didn’t make any, and I knew he was working hard to provide for our family.
The first month I spent at home with no income almost eighteen years ago, I finished paying the mortgage, the car payment, our student loans, and the heating bill. We had $17 left in our checkbook.
It was a scary feeling. Not too scary though — we knew we had each other, all the bills were paid, our baby was getting his food through me, and we were both really frugal.
That day, that feeling, has stuck with me like all big milestones do. After that, I got really good at saving and budgeting.
When my ex-husband and I decided to divorce years ago, I thought about the day I saw a balance of $17 written in our checkbook every night while I was trying to fall asleep.
I’d just started working again and wasn’t making a lot of money. Nowhere near enough money to support myself and our children on my own. I had no idea what the future would bring and I was terrified.
Would I be able to keep my house?
Would I be able to fix something if it broke?
Would I ever be able to hire anyone to help me keep it up?
Would I be able to give my kids the same kind of Christmas and birthday?
I’ve taken that worry-focused energy and worked really hard (though I still worry all the time). I’ve kept my house, I’ve paid for the repairs, and for Christmas, I go all out.
I save all year to do this because it’s important to me. As a single mother, I can spoil my kids on this day — and I know it may seem materialistic to some, but there are a few reasons why I do this.
First, I absolutely love this time of year, and showing my kids how much I love them by getting them things they’d like makes it more special.
I don’t buy them whatever they want throughout the year. They don’t get new earbuds, or the latest and greatest gadget just because they want it. I like to save grand things for grand occasions, and it makes me so happy to wrap up something I know they really, really want and put it under the tree.
And I admittedly know that I do it because I love seeing how excited they are on Christmas morning. I like knowing I could provide these memories and gifts on my own.
There were many days when I was a newly divorced mother, I didn’t know if we’d even be able to stay in their childhood home, much less have a big Christmas.
I know things can change on a dime; nothing is permanent. I also know these are material possessions and to many this seems excessive and materialistic.
But to me, it means something. It means a lot actually.
Starting to work again, becoming a single mom, and learning how to live my new life on my own has taken a lot of grit and hard work. I’m proud of myself. There have been times I’ve felt like giving up because I felt like I couldn’t juggle it all.
There have been times I’ve wished I stayed in my marriage because even if we couldn’t give our kids a nice Christmas, or stay in our home, at least I’d be going through it with someone else.
But I know I can do this by myself. I can do all the things I used to do without my ex. And even if I couldn’t — even if we had to move or cut way back on Christmas (or skip it altogether) — I know I am still capable and strong, and I know how to figure things out on my own now.
For now, I can do this for my kids. I can spoil them one day out of the year and let them know how special they are to me by going over-the-top. It’s my way of showing them that they are my heart and soul, and even though it didn’t work out with me and their father, they are my life and always will be.
I show them that in a lot of other ways too — by giving them consequences, holding them accountable, supporting them, and loving them unconditionally.
But on Christmas, it feels really freaking good to do the material things for them too. Because, dammit, I can.