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How To Thrive During the Holidays As A Single Parent

Organization, communication, self care, planning, grace

I love the holidays; for me, it starts with Halloween.  Then the transition into the last two months of the year full of family, celebrations, food, and cheer.  Unfortunately, the last two months of the year can also cause stress, anxiety, and depression.  I experience an entire range of good and bad emotions. But as single parents, they seem to be amplified with the addition of scheduling, tension with my former spouse, money, and not seeing my little man for all the special occasions.

My little man was 2.5 years old when his dad and I got divorced. He doesn’t remember spending the holidays as a family.  I want to say that it gets easier, but it hasn’t yet.  The biggest challenge for me is that sometimes I forget to consider my little guy’s perspective.  Instead, I find myself getting caught up in trying to keep him so busy with experiences. Why do I try to stay so busy? Great question; I will let you know when I figure it out.  But in the meantime, I have some tips that can help you survive the holidays and hopefully reduce the negative emotions.

My older brother has been divorced for almost 18 years, and both of his girls are grown with families of their own.  He shared with me that the holidays are still complicated, trying to squeeze time in with everyone. The complexity of scheduling isn’t going away anytime soon.

What I realized is that I needed to change the way I looked at the holidays.  I need to focus on what I can change and accept what I cannot (there is this serenity prayer that comes to mind).

I have spent my entire life with a family member involved in the fire service.  As a kid, there was never a guarantee that dad wouldn’t be called to help someone.  In fact, more often than not, that is exactly what happened. And when I got hired in the department, working holidays became part of the norm.  Fortunately, I knew a year in advance what holidays I would be working.  And to be honest, some of my best holiday memories are with the fire station crews.

To make this time of year a little more complicated, my older brother works for a major airline in another state.  So travel around the holidays is slightly insane.  And remember he has to share his girls with their mom and their families?  The reality is that the calendar’s actual day isn’t nearly as important as getting all of us together.  My family adjusts, and we find time around Christmas and Thanksgiving to get together and celebrate.

I understand life can get a little more complicated than just moving the family time around.  And I appreciate that the holiday season isn’t all about the kids.  I told a friend last night that I would like to do some adult things, like cocktails and lights.  So instead of getting overwhelmed and being a Scrooge, let’s go over a few tips that can help reduce overwhelm and stress while increasing fun and great memories.

Organization, communication, self care, planning, grace, moneyFirst, get organized well in advance.

One of my favorite sayings is that the time to prepare for an emergency is NOT during the emergency!  The holiday season is that the same time every year, so why not plan what you can far in advance?  This one step will reduce stress significantly. Knowing when you will have the littles can help you plan activities.  For them and you, yay!

If you are divorced and have the holiday schedule in your parenting plan, this is already laid out for you.  If you are separated or don’t have a finalized parenting plan, then reach out have a difficult conversation with your child’s other parent.  I will tell you that compromise is important and trying to be fair regardless of how hurt, angry, etc… you are.  Remember this is about your kids and ensuring they have the opportunity to spend time with both sets of parents and families.

Because little man’s dad and I are both on shift work, we have a flexible parenting plan with only two holidays set each year.  Every month we set the schedule based mostly on my 24-hour shifts.  Yes, it sucks as bad as you can imagine. But, we make it work because we put little man first.

Second, what about the money?

Financing for the holidays can be tough.  It is easy to get caught up in the “stuff” and buy things for the kids, friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, mail carrier, etc.  I grew up in a family that treated Christmas like we won the lottery!  We had more presents than we knew what to do with.  And it wasn’t because my parents were loaded; it’s just what they did.

Holiday experiences can add up also, like zoo lights, the polar express, holiday concerts, and shows.  The list goes on and on! I would love to say that I have always been a great money manager, but for a long time, I wasn’t. The lack of funds added more stress and hello plastic.

I love to make gifts for all the special people in my life. Over the years, the handmade gifts from the heart are more special and have a deeper meaning.  It does take time, but I find the time I take to make gifts can be a pause in the craziness, and it’s fun!  And grandparents LOVE the special homemade gifts from my little man.

Just look at Pinterest and save ideas, but remember that with all Pinterest projects, keep your expectations low and accept that you may have some fail projects in the mix.  I suggest having a girl’s craft night with some wine and good music.  Create gifts, have some holiday cheer, and make memories.

As far as gifts for the kids? In the last couple of years, I have been forced to scale back.  Basically, he receives a toy he wants, an item he needs, and a surprise.  So far, it has worked.  We play holiday music and watch Christmas movies every night.  The traditions we have started far outweigh the amount of stuff I could ever buy him!

Organization, communication, self care, planning, grace

Finally, Make time for yourself.

That’s right! Self-care is essential. I want you to enjoy the holidays.  I don’t want you to be a hot mess that turns into a Scrooge!  Taking time for yourself is the best gift you can give yourself.  A hot Epsom salt bath with a glass of wine is my personal favorite.  I love to watch The Holiday, Love Actually, and It’s a Wonderful Life.

I personally get a little sad because I tend to romanticize the holidays. These movies feed my imagination and desire to have a man in my life, big sigh, but at least I feel it, and I own my feelings. Feeling emotions isn’t a bad thing. And don’t forget to treat yourself to a little something special from Santa; you deserve it.

Taking a few moments to myself keeps my fuse long enough not to snap and helps me roll with the tension created by his dad.  It sucks to have to share; I want to keep all the memories for myself.  But that isn’t what is best for anyone.  I am still trying to come up with my own tradition when I am alone on holiday. If you have any that work for you, please share!!

And remember to give yourself GRACE.  There is no playbook for single-parent life.  If this time of year is difficult, you are NOT ALONE. Don’t be afraid to reach out to talk, cry, vent, write, sing, dance, etc… Whatever you need to do to be a whole mama for your littles.

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