If This Is Your First Christmas As a Single Parent, Here’s Some Advice

Festive cheer can be hard to muster if you’re struggling mentally with parental responsibilities in the lead up to Christmas. It’s no surprise that a survey conducted by the America Psychological Association discovered that stress, fatigue and irritability are the most commonly experienced negative emotions over the holidays.

Dealing with the break up of a relationship or the death of a partner only serves to make festive matters more complicated, and with approximately 13.7 million single parents in the United States today there are plenty of people struggling alone this Christmas.

Dealing with your very first holiday season as a single parent comes with plenty of hurdles whether they are financial, logistical or purely emotional. Here are our tips from single parents and professionals who all have expert advice on how to cope during this transitional period.

First time single parent on Christmas.
The first Christmas as a single parent can be challenging. (Stock-Asso/Shutterstock)

Six Ways to Handle the Holidays as a Single Parent

Accept negative emotions

Your knee-jerk reaction might be to paint on a smile and pretend to be happy during this complicated time, but it isn’t necessarily the most helpful approach. Dr. Amanda Ferris experienced her son’s first two Christmas celebrations as a single parent and specializes in helping people cope with grief and stress.

Her number one tip is to recognize and ‘be with’ any feelings that come up as you plan for the holidays.

“Just write it down, say it out loud to the mirror – anything where you don’t have to push it away, feel shame and then start reacting in ways that further the pain and lock it in your mind and body as stress. You will be amazed at how simply ‘recognizing and sitting with’ has an ability to soothe yourself and come up with more insightful, intuitive and clear answers,” says Ferris.

Be patient, especially if you are dealing with grief as part of your new circumstances.

“Don’t expect your feelings to change all at once,” says Dr. Ferris, “but if you can take it on bit by bit you will start to feel it change.”

Let go of expectations

Try not to feel responsible for creating the best possible Christmas for your kids. If you’re feeling worried, enlist the help of friends and family members who will be more than willing to give you a hand.

You could even go one step further and take single mom Katy’s advice and invite yourself to celebrate at someone else’s house.

“If you’ve got a big extended family try to spend it with them. It will keep your mind off things. Plus if you go somewhere else, the pressure is off you to have a ‘perfect’ Christmas. No one needs that pressure!” she says.

Be as fair as possible

Your first Christmas celebration as a single parent is likely to be somewhat different from ones you may have had in previous years, and it might mean splitting up the important moments between you and the other parent.

Try your best to do this as fairly as possible and be aware that most families ‘swap’ routines the following year, so you don’t want to feel the impact twelve months down the line.

Solicitors Goodman Ray suggest taking legal advice if you are unable to come to an agreement.

“Please bear in mind that in late November and December the courts are flooded with applications regarding child arrangements, so it may take a while for your case to be seen. Whatever agreement you come to, and however you do so, the happiness of the child is most important. If necessary, enlisting legal assistance as early as possible.”

Write a ‘what got done’ list

I spoke to author, wellbeing psychologist and mother of two Suzy Reading who explains the importance of reflection on all you’ve achieved over the busy festive period.

Everyone is so focused on writing to-do lists that there is often little time to congratulate yourself on the things you have already done. Try to take a moment to recognise those accomplishments every day by making a list of what you’ve done and what went well.

Suzy advises digging deeper by asking yourself questions such as, “What events have unfolded recently and how did you navigate them? What have you learnt about yourself and other family members or about the world in general? How have you grown? What skills or strengths have you drawn on?”

This form of list-making is said to help with our inner sense of mastery and nip negative thoughts in the bud before they start to ruminate.

Prioritize self-care

If you’re worried about spending time alone this year, try to see that time as an opportunity to recharge your batteries. Chances are you’ll feel tired and stressed nearer the time so be strategic and plot out those activities that really leave you feeling revitalised and loved, whether it’s a meal with your best mate or an early morning yoga session.

Business-owner and single mom Amy says, “Make sure you talk to close friends and family about how you are feeling and join a local single parents group if you can. If you co-parent make sure you do lots of self-care when your children aren’t there. I like to have a big clean and mega clear out!”

Think about your child’s wellbeing

Many single parents fall into the trap of trying to overcompensate by spending more money than usual on gifts and experiences. Even though this might feel like the right thing to do, it’s no substitute for talking through emotions with your child.

Dr Amanda Ferris states that children will learn how to react to stress from their observations of parental behavior.

‘Think of your children as motivation to work through those tough moments, knowing you want to show them and make them believe that no matter what happens in life they are capable enough, smart enough, strong enough, stable enough and resourceful enough to figure their way through anything life brings.”

“If you always try to shield them or do it for them they will come to believe that they don’t have the ability to do it themselves.Children are remarkably resilient when you give them the space to show you.”


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About Fiona Thomas

Fiona Thomas is a freelance writer with an interest in mental health. Her memoir ‘Depression in a Digital Age’ explores her experience with depression and anxiety with the help of online communities and blogging. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Read more posts by Fiona

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