I wrote this a couple of years ago, and revisit each holiday season for both myself and readers. I admit that the holidays are hard for me personally — so much pressure to make them memorable, spend more than I'm inclined to, and be cheerful when I often feel lonely and overwhelmed. Last year was first time my kids will not be with me on the actual holiday (we celebrate Christmas), something I advocated for as part of my effort to create a more equal parenting relationship with my children's dad. I am mostly OK with it, thanks to the fact I am not very sentimental, but did fret about what I would do on Christmas Eve. I made a couple calls, and was warmly invited to an old friend's dinner party in a pretty part of Brooklyn in her beautiful brownstone apartment. She is an excellent cook, hilarious with a filthy mouth, and her friends are fabulous. I had an amazing time!
Related posts about being a single mom during Christmas and other holidays:
Here's my rulebook for muscling through the tough parts and making the most of this time of year. (Each item used to start with “Thou shall not” but that was annoying, so I changed it). What would you add? What is the hardest part of the holidays for you? The best? Share in the comments!
Single mom holiday manifesto
- I will not try to recreate holidays of years past. Those are from another time in my life, and I will celebrate this holiday, this year, in a way that makes sense for this moment.
- I will create at least one new holiday tradition for my family that is allll ours.
- I will not resent that I either actually am or feel like the only single parent at the school holiday events.
- I will not spear or fantasize about spearing with a sharpened candy cane the stay-at-home Pinterest mommies in the neighborhood.
- I will shop within my budget.
- I will not over-spend on my kids out of guilt because their family does not look like said mommies' Pinterest boards.
- I will not argue with the ex this holiday. I will remind myself that my children will not remember that they did not wake up on actual Christmas morning at mommy or daddy's house, but they will remember that mommy and daddy screamed at each other on the snowy front porch on Christmas morning.
- I will give others the benefit of the doubt. The Fox News republican cousin, the manipulative ex, the passive-aggressive mother — if some iteration of these characters are in your life, you will remember that poor behavior stems from human suffering, and thou shall be gracious, kind and patient.
- If I am apart from my kids on the holiday, I will not be depressed. I will grieve what I previously hoped the holidays would be, what my family would look like, and I will accept that it is different now. I will visit a friend, go to a movie, soak in the bath, call a male escort, spend time with people in a nursing home, work on my dream career, or attend two yoga classes back-to-back. Love Actually, come to Mama.
- I will remember that the holidays are at least a little crappy for most people.
- I will give thanks, and give back. Especially if I am feeling poor — financially, emotionally, socially or spiritually — thou shall find a way to give time, money or energy to others who need it. Because we all need it at some time or another.
- I will prioritize experiences over things — for myself and my children.
- I will recognize community. Whether attending a religious service, an office, neighborhood, friend or family party, giving a shout-out in a Facebook community that is valuable to me, delivering holiday cards to service people (crossing guard, barber, grocery store clerk, mail carrier) who are part of the fabric of my life, I will recognize how vast and rich my circle.
- I will ensure my kids give me a gift. It's not all about them.
- I will not use the holiday or my current situation as an excuse to eat and drink like a sow.
- I will enjoy good food and good, good drink.
- I will remember: It really is just another day.
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 Christmas or other holiday 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 the holidays 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.
What are you most excited about this holiday? What are you most stressed or sad about? Share your single mom holiday tips in the comments!
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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, Oprah.com, 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.