When my friend broke up with her partner a little while ago, we soon realised that everyone in our WhatsApp group chat was now a single mum. It’s a pretty inclusive club with shitloads of members which anyone can join (whether they like it or not) that has its fair share of emotional ups and downs, especially when it comes to the festive season. So who better to come up with the definitive single mum’s Christmas survival guide than us firm of reprobates?
We chatted about how to survive your first Christmas as a single mum, navigating sharing the kids, and self care. These are real life tips based on lived experience and let’s face it – if we can make it through the most wonderful time of the year, then you can too.
Make your own traditions
A lot of the emotion of Christmas is nostalgia; memories of past christmases resurface and images of how you thought things would have been in future haunt you. You need to scrap them. The past is gone and the future is different. Celebrate your change of direction in life with wonderful new traditions.
- Visit or FaceTime family friends and relatives who your ex never encouraged you to spend time with
- Swap your artificial Christmas tree for a real one so you can choose it together as a family, or vice versa so you can put the the fake tree up even earlier!
- Choose a charity that means something to you as a family and make an annual tradition of giving, if not financially then with food or clothing donations
- Have an annual Christmas decoration craft day
- Go out for a meal on Christmas Eve or have round
- Bake a Christmas cake or mince pies, or decorate one of those ginger bread houses that come ready made in handy kits
- Break with tradition and go away for Christmas!
Make plans for when the kids aren’t with you
If your kids spend time with their other parent over the Christmas period, make plans that will give you a comfort buffer while they’re gone. What would be a welcome break from mum duties ordinarily will tug unexpectedly at your heartstrings around Christmas time.
For me, I’d find it hard to be around my sister’s family without my son there, so I look forward to some adult only company on Boxing Day. Even if you can’t get dolled up and go out for the night, why not plan a festive brunch with friends or crack open the bubbly for another one of 2020’s favourite new activities – the zoom quiz!
Watch the booze
Our first instinct for the single mum’s Christmas survival guide was naturally to have a drink (because “fuck it, it’s Christmas” right?) but I’m actually going to put my sensible pants on for a second and suggest that you go easy on the booze. It’s easy to overdo it when you’re trying to overcompensate and while it does feel like it helps you unwind and it might help you to bypass some emotions, it also has some downsides.
Apart from it having the potential to set some longer term bad habits, over the Christmas period it can disturb your sleep, leave you feeling grotty the next morning on too many occasions, and don’t even get me started on how gin makes you cry.
Treat yo’ self
That said, treating yourself to a little bit of what you fancy does you good. With all the focus on trying to make Christmas nice for the kids and holding it together (especially if it’s your first Christmas as a single parent), it’s easy to overlook ourselves.
I’ve got a mini bottle of Prosecco in the fridge ready for my Christmas morning Bucks Fizz – stick the glass in the freezer for 10 minutes before you pop the cork to make it lovely and chilled.
If you can afford to, treat yourself to some posh chocolates that are for you and only you, or some fancy bubble bath that is out of bounds for kids.
Don’t feel bad if your kids don’t go to their other parent’s
Families come in all shapes and sizes, and while we might be sick of hearing ourselves trying to reassure our kids of this it’s equally important that we acknowledge it ourselves. Whether you’re now outnumbered by a gang of teenagers or it’s just you and a baby, if you’ve been left to do all the hard work this Christmas then remind yourself what an important role you play.
Resist the urge to say things to, or in front of, the kids that you might really want to say deep down about why they aren’t sharing Christmas time with their other parent. Yes maybe you are fuming that he’s a deadbeat dad, or the courts won’t let the other parent have contact. If they’ve got themselves sent down, are MIA on a permanent bender, or that old classic of starting a new family and somehow making an effort for them but not for you and yours, you can harbour an awful lot of resentment. But the slight is against the children, so let’s not make things worse.
Instead, focus on all the positives. Get them involved, let them choose which films to watch (even if, in my case, it’s Nativity 2: Dude Where’s My Donkey for the twentieth time since mid November), if they’re older then encourage them to stay in touch with their own friends, FaceTime family, and give them a chance to enjoy Christmas with a special parent: you.
Stick to a budget
It’s easy to break the bank any year at Christmas but especially for your first Christmas as a single parent, you run the risk of overspending because it’s new financial ground that you’re not used to yet, or because you feel tempted to overcompensate for the kids’ sake.
Even if you can afford to go OTT in the short term, it’ll be temporary reward, which could leave you with Buyer’s Remorse. and Being more cash strapped than usual in the new year will make things feel very gloomy on top of everything else.
Don’t worry about what Christmas is ‘meant’ to look like
A really important reminder in any single mum’s Christmas survival guide has got to be not to put too much pressure on yourself. Don’t worry about what Christmas is meant to look like because of Instagram, John Lewis ads, cute films, or even your previous Christmases.
A lot of emphasis is put on ‘family’ at Christmas (which is nice but also a bit too heavy on the emotions) and we put enormous pressure on ourselves to conform to some idealistic vision of happy smiley faces all in matching PJs getting along well all day in a confined space. Keep reminding yourself that it’s it real life and that none of this is a competition.
Make time for self care
You can’t have a Christmas survival guide without self care. And as lovely as it would be to be able to factor in self care with a spa break or head to toe glow up, let’s just concentrate on the basics: drink water before you get dehydrated, try to get enough sleep, and remember your breathing.
Looking after your physical will hopefully help you to function better and cope with your emotions better.
Don’t feel bad about stepping out of the room for five minutes if you feel tears welling up – even if it’s in the middle of the kids opening their presents, just go and have an emergency cry by the back door and then return with a smile on your face and a tub of Celebrations in your hand. We all need to use our release valve sometimes.
Similarly, don’t feel guilty about taking a break from social media, just not feeling Christmassy, or for doing whatever you have to do to protect your own feelings or head space.
Snap some new Christmas memories
Probably my favourite tip in our single mums’ Christmas survival guide was from my friend Scarlet who came up with this gem: “Get a tripod so you can take your own pics that that piece of shit never took”.
Gather your new look family around the Christmas tree, hope for the best with the angles, and be able to look back in years to come and say that not only did you survive Christmas as a single parent, that you celebrated it.
If you could do with some support from professionals, check out Gingerbread the organisation for single parents at www.gingerbread.org.uk