Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
I know how hard it is to be a single parent at Christmas and other holidays. There are so many issues to deal with! Of course, every family deal with most of these issues, but as a single parent you deal with them alone AND you have additional issues, too. Not only do you have to concern yourself with:
• Providing for the holidays
• Establishing and maintaining traditions
• Coordinating with family members
• Answering questions about beliefs/differences in traditions
• Budget issues
But you also must deal with:
• Estranged family member(s)
• Visitation issues
• Attempts at “competition” between parents and other family members
• Personal loneliness
For a season that is supposed to be “full of cheer”, it can get really tough! There are only 24 hours in a day and that isn’t changing anytime soon. Also, as you well know, your resources are what they are. People are human by nature; nothing we can do there. So what can you do?
1. Accept your limitations. You know what you can reasonably afford – in both time and money. Don’t over commit yourself. If children do not ever receive extravagant gifts and celebrations, they won’t expect them. Also, if your limitations dictate that you cannot spend anything, don’t beat yourself up. Allow yourself to accept assistance instead. There are so many programs available – Families Helping Families, The Salvation Army, Toys for Tots, etc. – that there is no reason for any child to be disappointed. For their sake, give yourself permission to not have to “do it on your own.”
2. Select traditions that are meaningful. You do not have to maintain every tradition that you had as a child, plus your ex-spouses’, plus whatever new ones you want to create for your own family. In fact, it just isn’t possible. Select a few that are particularly meaningful to you or that your child(ren) particularly enjoys. Maintain those and emphasize them strongly. These are the Christmas (holiday) memories that your child will remember forever. Make them special. Too many traditions make for tired and cranky children – and parents.
3. Family member do not rule. Oh, yes, they are important, but they are not the purpose of the holidays. State your expectations and do not compromise on issues that are crucial to you or your child. I remember one Easter when my oldest daughter was very young. She was on a feeding and nap schedule that happened to fall right into the middle of Easter dinner. My family wanted her awake when it came time to sit down to dinner and the little darling was asleep! They expected me to wake her up. I had to weigh the consequences: If I let her sleep, my family would be upset and would get over it. If I woke her up, she would be cranky the rest of the afternoon and I would mess up her schedule, possibly causing me trouble later. My family wasn’t going to be there later to help deal with the cranky baby who wouldn’t go to sleep. So, my daughter continued to nap. My aggravated family members were over it before dinner was finished.
4. Accommodate different traditions. Unless the tradition is something that strikes at the core of your belief system in a negative way, teach your child(ren) tolerance and acceptance by allowing them to experience the varying traditions of your family members and friends. Children need to experience the fact that everyone is different, in many ways. This also helps them to explore a variety of beliefs/traditions in a safe and comfortable environment. You will be there to answer questions and to assist them in understanding the differences.
5. Visitation and estranged family members do not have to be nerve-wreckers. Visitation is stressful during normal circumstances. The holidays only serve to make it more nerve-wracking than ever. If ever there were a time for amicable relations and a time that your nerves will be tested, it is now. Make the attempt to talk before the holidays in order to devise a plan that is acceptable to both of you. Both of you need to remember that just because the custodial parent has the child(ren) more days during the year, it does not mean that they should give up all of the holiday time. This is a special time in your child’s life in which both of you should be a part. Try to have patience with each other and be sure that you are putting your child first in your plans. As long as you are both putting the child first (not the parents, grandparents, ect.) then everything will work out okay. [There are always special circumstances that will not fall into this category – parents who have abandoned their children and appear at holidays, grandparents that want to take over, etc. These deserve case-by-case consideration. The most important thing to remember is the safety and well-being of the child. You will always make the right decision if this is your main consideration.]
6. YOU are important, too. When you are a single parent, the joy and the excitement of the holidays can quickly dissipate once the little ones are gone to bed. The house is quiet and you are all alone. Loneliness can be a wicked enemy. For this reason, be certain to look out for yourself, too, this holiday. Yes, your child(ren) are your first priority; but how can you be happy around them and joyful in the celebrations if you are lonely deep insider. Children are smart; they will know if you are faking it. So, when your friends ask you to a party or want to go out for drinks after work – go. You may not stay as long as they do, but you can take the time to socialize a bit and enjoy their company. You deserve to be happy, too. When you take the children to see Santa at the mall, there is no rule that says you can’t whisper your Christmas wishes in his ear, too. Your children will get a kick out of it and giving yourself permission to “be a kid” and have some fun will hold you over for at least a day or two. Play music that you love – old favorites and new tunes, too. Watch the Christmas specials. Bake YOUR favorite cookies. In short, don’t forget that you have a purpose beyond making your children happy. One day they are going to grow up and leave home – you are stuck with you forever! So, be good to yourself!
If you follow these tips, will your holiday be perfect? It is doubtful. After all, what is? But you might take some of the stress off of yourself and find that you can survive the holidays just a little bit better. Remember, single parents are strong because they have to be – but they are good parents because they choose to be.
Have a very Happy Holiday!!!