Photo by Vanessa Velazquez Photography
No matter what your marital status, the holidays can be a magical, yet pressure-filled time of year with kids—from the gathering of extended family, to the mile-long wish lists for Santa, to school activities and outings and work parties, not to mention two weeks of no school. You get the picture: it’s fun and crazy-making for everyone.
For a divorced parent, adding in split time with your kids and the abandoned vision of what you thought the holidays were going to look like when you first welcomed your little bundles of joy to the world, can make the holidays feel like a one-man relay race on a treadmill.
Solo-parenting through the holidays can be especially exhausting and painful, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m not quite a veteran of celebrating the holidays as a single parent yet. I am going on my third year, though, and I’ve learned that you can either let the holidays happen to you, or you can happen the heck out of the holidays. Here are some tips to make the most of your limited holiday time with your kids:
Confirm your visitation calendar now.
If there’s any chance of ambiguity over when your kids are with you over Thanksgiving and winter break, clear that up with their other parent ASAP. You don’t want to make plans under the assumption that they’re with you when they’re not. Nothing’s worse than leaving a Santa visit to the last minute or planning a trip to visit grandma only to realize you’ve gotten your visitation schedule wrong. Meltdowns with your kids during the holidays are something most mamas hope to avoid.
Write down the events and special traditions you do want to take part in with your kids.
But don’t feel like you have to do all of them. Is going to the Christmas tree farm one of your favorite family traditions? Make a plan for when you can go. Same with that special performance of The Nutcracker or your friend’s annual holiday party. Hate the idea of decorating gingerbread houses? Cross that one off your list. As a divorced parent, you get to make all the decisions on how you want to celebrate the holidays now.
Make plans for when your kids aren’t there, too.
One of the hardest parts about single-parenting during the holidays is when your kids aren’t there and the only footsteps echoing through the house are your own. The first holiday without your kids is probably the worst. But one of the best things you can do for yourself is to just feel all the feelings. Give yourself permission to binge-watch bad romantic comedies for a time. But make certain to reach out to friends and get out of the house, too. If the holidays are still raw, I wouldn’t recommend hanging out with fellow friends with kids. Unless you’re enjoying a kid-free night out. It can be really hard to watch other people living out something you’re still mourning.
If you are splitting the holidays with your children’s other parent (or grandma has offered to take them for a weekend), it can be a great time to plan a trip for yourself. Taking time for yourself, or with friends, to skip town and experience something new can be a great new tradition to set for yourself. Or spend that time going out to local events you wouldn’t normally be able to attend with the kids.
Make yourself a holiday budget and stick to it.
Chances are, your finances look much different than when you were married. And it can be easy to feel like we need to over compensate with our kids during the holidays, buying them everything their little hearts desire. But the holidays will be less merry with a huge credit card bill to unwrap at the end of it. Use a basic spreadsheet to map out how much you want to spend on everything from decorations, to food, to teacher gifts, to holiday cards, and of course gifts for your own kiddos—and maybe even a little something for yourself. Can’t afford a tree this year? Then it’s not a priority—and not the end of the world. If you’re already actively budgeting your money, then it shouldn’t be too difficult. But the extra cost of the holidays can certainly put a strain on finances.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
There are times in everyone’s life when help is needed. Kids get sick, unexpected bills pop up, cars break down, and emergencies happen—and the holidays come whether or not life is rolling merrily along. When these situations arise, reach out to friends and family or your church or school community. This is a season of giving, and I have never been shamed for asking for help when I needed it most during the holidays. Yes, it can be humbling. But it’s a great way to teach your kids what it’s like being a part of a community—and to lay the groundwork for helping others in their times of need, too.
Lastly, make time to do nothing.
I’ve written before about hanging up the holiday hustle. It’s also extremely important to take time to breathe during the whirlwind of the holidays. Especially if you’re the only one sprinkling the magic throughout your home. The stress can be real. So be sure to vent the lid on that pressure cooker so it doesn’t blow up in your face. Besides, holidays in your jammies on the couch with your kids sipping hot cocoa and watching Elf for the millionth time is one of the most magical moments, don’t you think?