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How to survive Christmas as a single parent

20 December 2019

Family Affairs and other matters blogger Lucy Campbell shares her thoughts and advice on surviving Christmas as a single parent.

Christmas can be a difficult time of year no matter what your family dynamic consists of and it is often hard to get away from the happy family stereotype of what Christmas should be like. Tolstoy’s famous quote about families springs to mind “all happy holidays are alike; but every unhappy holiday is unhappy in its own way.”

Our own and our children’s expectations of happiness at Christmas time can be overwhelming at the best of times, but even more so when you are a single parent. Having managed ten years of single parent holidays still doesn’t make me an expert, because each year comes with a different set of complications and issues, but it does mean I can share some practical advice that has helped us all get through Christmas with our sanity and our sense of humour still intact.

The most painful element by a million miles is obviously working out how you share the children over the holiday period and in particular on the big day itself. Some couples manage to ensure they are all together on Christmas Day for the sake of the children, whilst others have taken it even further and included new partners, but this is of course rare. I would recommend that unless it is totally harmonious, throwing all the blended families together is not going to be the best solution for the children, so make sure they take priority. Ultimately, whatever compromise you make, try not to battle too much over the children – I know that is easier said than done, but if you can both agree to share them then everyone will have a better Christmas. This also applies to the presents you give your children. Try to liaise with your ex-partner about what they want and what you plan to buy them. Ideally, you should avoid competitive present giving (much as the kids love that) and either continue to share the big present or agree which ones you’re going to buy them. If you can still do a shared present then maybe you can do the present opening together with the children?

“Mix it up a bit. Be creative. Invite friends to join you so that you can share the load.”

The arrangement that has worked best for us and our children so that everyone gets to spend time together on Christmas day is that each year we alternate between having the children for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning so that you can do stockings and presents or having them from lunchtime onwards for the remainder of Christmas Day and Boxing Day. It makes it far less painful all around, knowing that every year we are all going to be able to spend time together on Christmas day come what may.

The next trick is to start looking at Christmas from a different perspective. Mix it up a bit. Be creative. Invite friends to join you so that you can share the load. Or go and visit others. Start new traditions. If you don’t have your children on Christmas Day then think about a European Christmas and do a big family meal on Christmas Eve instead. If you are cooking then I would recommend that you involve the children and cheat wherever possible – mine now enjoy taking over the Christmas meal which is ideal for me (ignore the mess).

If you don’t have the children for Christmas then do try and plan something special with them that is a little bit different – go to the theatre, or ice skating, a Christmas market or to friends for a party in the lead up to make it fun family time, so that the wrench is not so great when they do leave.

It’s important to remain as positive as possible for the sake of the children. Once they leave, make sure you have plans for the day – spend it either with friends or family or even plan to go away somewhere so that you are not alone and moping. If you do find yourself with some spare time then think about going to help out somewhere like Crisis with serving Christmas lunch for the homeless.

Try and look on the bright side – this will be a different Christmas with different rules, but at least you won’t have to hang out with your in-laws or eat Christmas pudding if none of you like it!

Let go of all your expectations about life and look for the fun. The kitchen dancing, the different games, the surprising moments.

Ultimately it’s just another day.

You can do this.

If you’re worried about family tensions this Christmas call our FamilyLine service. You can get in touch via telephone, text message or email for emotional support and guidance as well as practical advice and information.