Driving to work today I was thinking about the "funk" that has descended upon me over the last few weeks. Shorter days and less light? Dry skin and a stuffy nose? Old and cranky? Maybe all of those are true, but as I reflect, I realize it happens every year in November when I start the conversation with my ex-spouse (actually with his wife because she and I get along so well) about where our daughter will spend the holidays. During the rest of the year I wear the Super Single Mom cape (someone cue the music), able to leap through dozens of hoops to provide financially and emotionally for my daughter without the support of a partner. So why do I turn into Sad Sullen Single Mom in November and how can I snap out of it? These tips are for all the single parents out there, like me, who are trying to make it work. But also these tips are for their friends and family members, who might not have taken the time to imagine what it is like to be in that position during the holidays.
1- Nail down the schedule
I hesitate to make other plans because I am waiting to see when my daughter will be with me. Get the schedule nailed down early and then let your friends and family know when you are "available." If you have a friend who is a single parent, invite them to come over with or without their child. It is a relief to have plans that aren't dependent on whether or not your child is with you.
2- Plan for unstructured time
Two years ago I was alone for most of the day on Christmas (a holiday I celebrate). Around 9 a.m., after my daughter left to go to her dad's house, I cried for a long time. Then I made breakfast and ate on Christmas china with my dog. Then I went to see a movie by myself. I wasn't prepared to be alone on Christmas Day, so I didn't have a plan. But now I am prepared and I have a whole list of things I plan on doing this year if it happens again.
3- Don't blow your budget
As a single income family, it is difficult to manage holiday activities and gifts for your child(ren), much less the holiday dinners and gift exchanges with friends and coworkers. I have a couple strategies to deal with this issue. Suggest potlucks instead of expensive meals out. Suggest donating to a charity rather than exchanging gifts, or drawing names (with a price limit) instead of buying gifts for everyone. I have some creative ideas for fun gift exchanges like "buy something that can stay on your co-workers desk for the entire year for under $8." Hello Chia Pet! A few years ago I just stopped buying gifts for anyone other than my child. Everyone in my family knows and my friends know too.
I also give my daughter an "experience" gift instead of buying a bunch of "stuff." Some of her experience gifts have been: tickets to a show at DPAC (she loves musicals), a flight to visit her cousins, a behind-the-scenes tour at a local animal preservation center, etc. The advantages of experience gifts are so prolific that I will have to talk about that in another blog!
If you have a friend or co-worker who is a single parent, be mindful that they are probably NOT in the same financial position as you are and take this into consideration as you plan your holiday celebration.
4- Give yourself a break
Sometimes I berate myself ("nothing is really wrong, no one is sick or injured, you have a warm place to sleep and enough food to eat"... you get the picture because you probably do it too) for getting moody this time of year. There are so many expectations that we put on ourselves (fueled by media and society) to have a Hallmark holiday. It is ok not to be thrilled with having to share time with your child. I usually give myself an hour or two to wallow, then I get bored. You might need longer, and that is ok! Embrace the pity party until you are done attending, then get up, wash your face, brush your teeth and pull out that cape.
I would love to hear any of your single parent tips for the holidays!