Single mom holiday survival guide

single mom christmas


For single moms and divorced families, the holidays can come with some unique challenges: visitation schedules must be negotiated, you may find yourself focused on how the season falls short of your dreams and expectations. Lots of times the financial crunch of these months is especially tough.

But all is not lost.

Here are 6 things single moms can do to not just get through Christmas— but to make it awesome.

1. Buy your ex a gift. If your kids are little you will sign it from them. Or maybe it will be directly from you. It will be heartfelt — nothing passive aggressive like, say, socks if his holey footwear was a point of marital contention. Just a sincere present, expecting nothing in return, and putting behind you any child support he owes, or apologies not granted or the share of his IRA you’re entitled to.

2. Be flexible about the visitation schedule. Remember: years from now the kids won’t remember whether they missed your cousin’s annual sing-along. But they will remember you screaming at their dad on Christmas.

3. Start a new tradition. If you are a single mom, your holiday celebration likely does not exactly match what you had in mind when you were a kid dreaming of life as an adult. You’re working with Plan B. While you might find meaning in introducing your children to your own childhood family traditions, or those that their dad helped initiate — introduce a ritual that will be yours alone. At my house we I launched some new traditions: a chili-and-tree-trimming party in December, and monkey bread on Christmas morning. Give gag gifts (fake poop, squirting lapel flowers) on New Year’s Eve, or new pajamas for everyone on the night before Christmas. How about a Pictionary death match? This is your new life. You need new habits and celebrations.

4. Make life simple. Maybe you have fond memories of elaborate childhood Christmases you aim to replicate. Or maybe holidays were especially stressful growing up — and you vowed to do better by your kids. In any case, keep it real. Just because William Sonoma catalogs and your annoying cousin with her perfectly holiday-coiffed center-hall Colonial suggest that you should be cooking and decorating and shopping like a freak doesn’t mean you actually have to. So keep it within your budget. Do what is meaningful and fun, and hire a cleaning person and snow removal person and babysitter. Order in the Christmas dinner, or bring store-bought cookies to the party. Just because you’re not married doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself.

5. Make a plan for when the kids are with their dad. You may find yourself lonely or depressed if you have nowhere to go on one of the special days, when you’d prefer to be with your children. Instead, make plans. Ask around and get invited to a party. Make a date with yourself to see a movie, hit yoga or masturbate in the tub. Go for sushi on Christmas day with your Jewish friends. Or, volunteer at a nursing home, hospital or shelter. In fact, I think I may do that on Christmas Day myself.

6. Take stock. Cliche but useful: The end of the year is a fantastic time to look back at what you have accomplished this year. Sure, assess your bank account, and review your professional resume. But also look at your family. The kid’s grades and trophies are important. But examine the other stuff. Acknowledge the stresses you managed. The tricky situations you maneuvered without committing homicide. The new friends you made, relationships mended or strengthened. Recognize the fact that you are all thriving despite all odds. Ask yourself: Do my kids feel loved? If you can answer yes, you did good, woman. You did good.

Related single mom Christmas posts:

Single mom holiday manifesto

Open letter to myself about holiday nonsense 

Facing Christmas for the first time without a family homestead

Building a Christmas tradition alone for the first time. But not really.

Dammit, I’m going to have a fun holiday (and how a live lobster delivery 30 years ago ruined Christmases to come)



Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

11 thoughts on “Single mom holiday survival guide

  1. Tip 3 is spot on. Having those traditions that are exclusive to you and your kids is a great idea as a single mom. My friend is a single mom and two years ago she started the tradition of baking gingerbread cookies on Christmas Eve. So simple, but still incredibly meaningful to their family.

  2. We started making lasagna in the crockpot while we attend Christmas Eve services. Get home, throw (frozen) french bread in the oven while we open presents, and then have a great meal together. Kids head to their dad’s on Christmas Day and I eat pints of whatever flavor(s) of ice cream I want! :)

  3. Ha, I tried the gift giving and guess what happened? My son returned from his weekend visit bringing the same Panettone bread I sent him off with. My ex used to love the stuff. Now he (his wife) even sent a message with my son that I’m no longer welcome to give any type of gift to them. Never in my life have I had someone tell me that I can’t give them gifts. Whatever. Add that to the list of weird characteristics of my ex’s new life.

    Great article and thanks for the ideas. Hope your holidays are filled with fun times.

  4. Hi Emma great post xxx Agree Baby steps – each year gets easier and you able to enjoy the holidays more. I loved the post on new pyjamas and a games evening on Christmas eve. The big sit down lunches, no more but then I’ve also realised its TIME and PRESENCE with your children that’s the most dearest gift of all. Make the time count when you have them. Merry Merry Christmas to you and everyone.

What do you think? Please comment!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *