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Dan, The Breaking Dad’s story: making Christmas magic as a single parent

04 December 2020

We hear from Dan Betts, creator of the Instagram page @The_Breaking_Dad, as well as thebreakingdad.co.uk, about his experience of Christmas as a single parent and how the biggest lesson he learned was that the most valuable gift you can give any child is the gift of your time.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. At least, it should be. For many, Christmas is a time to bring together family and friends to spread love, joy and happiness. 2020 has certainly been an unusual year for most of us. Coronavirus swept the world, causing us to go through not one, but two national lockdowns in a bid to slow the spread and protect lives.

It’s fair to say that there’s a general sense of uncertainty around what the future holds for most of us and, with Christmas just around the corner, families all over the country are worried about what it’ll look like this year. I mean, with the current ban on indoor socialising, I’m worried Father Christmas may just ring the doorbell and leave all our presents on the doorstep and do a runner.

Let’s be honest, in the build-up to Christmas, COVID-19 is probably just one of many worries you have if you’ve got a family to provide or care for. There’s a greater pressure than ever before to provide for your children. The social media age that we’re a part of means that it’s almost impossible to avoid drawing comparisons between what you’ve done for your children and what other people have done for theirs. Up until last year, I used to constantly ask myself the question, “Have I done enough?”. Then, my life changed.

Separation

I’m a very proud Daddy. The day my daughter came along absolutely changed my life. I’d always thought of myself as fairly ambitious, but holding Evie in my arms for the first time four years ago ignited a sense of purpose and ambition in me that I’d never known before. Raising a young family is tough on any relationship and it became fairly clear quite early on that my relationship with Evie’s mum just wasn’t going to work. I’d always promised myself that I’d do whatever it took to make it work and would never walk out on my child, so I stuck it out. Then, one day in March of 2019, Evie’s mum walked out.

The breakup hit me like a ton of bricks. I’d known our relationship was on the rocks for some time, but I just couldn’t come to terms with living a life away from my little girl. It broke me. I sunk into a deep depression following the separation. I’d wake up, put on a brave face, go to work, come home, drink, cry and sleep. The only thing that ever brought me back to normality was having Evie; she’s my little ray of sunshine. One little look at that face grinning back at me and everything would feel OK again…until I took her home.

The Christmas Countdown

I was in a bad place for the majority of 2019. As Christmas approached, I found myself slipping further and further downhill – I just couldn’t accept the fact that I wouldn’t be able to spend Christmas with my daughter. December came along and I became more and more anxious. Simple Christmas-related things like putting up Christmas decorations filled me with dread because every bauble or ornament served a reminder of a life that no longer was.

I would have loved to just throw it all away and start again, but I was in one of the worst positions I’d ever been in financially after I’d been left to cover the cost of the mortgage, bills, maintenance money, childcare costs and credit cards, on top of mounting fees from solicitors and mediation. I had significantly more money going out than coming in at that stage and it just added to that constant heavy feeling I had weighing down over me.

With all that pressure, I didn’t even know where to begin when it came to affording Christmas presents. I felt like whatever I did, I was going to let my daughter down. The build-up to Christmas was horrendous. Every day I felt more and more anxious about what it’d be like, how I was going to cope and whether or not Evie would be disappointed. I just couldn’t bear the thought of letting her down – it’s funny how one day of the year seems to hold so much power over us and how we plan out our years, isn’t it?

A Christmas Lesson

Evie stayed with her mum until 14:00 Christmas Day, at which point I picked her up and drove to my mum’s house. After months of anticipation and anxiety, Christmas Day was fantastic. I had the best Christmas I’d had in so many years because I was surrounded by people I loved, unchained from a miserable relationship and free to spend Christmas Day with my daughter in a way I wanted to.

Do you know what I realised? Evie wasn’t disappointed. …Or stressed. …Or unhappy. Evie was in her element.

As much pressure as we place on ourselves as parents, it’s usually completely unfounded. I learned two simple lessons last year.

  • Lesson One: Never measure happiness by how much you can afford to spend on your children
  • Lesson Two: Your children love you for you. So long as you try your best, they will always be proud of you

The most valuable gift you can give any child is the gift of your time, uninterrupted by the burdens of your day-to-day routine. Focus on being present, not just giving presents. Last year was a turning point for me because, despite all of the heartache I’d suffered through 2019, I realised that the separation was the best decision for the well-being of my daughter because I could now give her my undivided attention every second she was with me. So that’s what I do.

COVID Christmas

Fast-forward 12 months and my gosh, what a year it’s been – Face masks, handwash, social distancing, lockdowns, tracksuits, decisions, indecisions, recession and depression…You can fill in the gaps. A lot of families have been worrying about whether or not Christmas will be ruined by the pandemic and the combative measures the Government has taken to try to stop the spread. Couple the emotional worry about whether you’ll even be able to see your loved ones this Christmas with the nationwide financial stress caused by redundancies, furlough measures, tightened wages and lost earnings… And this year looks to be one of the hardest in recent memory for most.

Let me tell you something: I’m doing everything I can to make it the most memorable. No present is more valuable than a treasured memory, so I’ve done everything I can to make Christmas as magical as possible this year. It started, by surprising my daughter with Christmas lights on the front of the house…

 

There is no gift on this earth that could make me feel happier than looking at Evie’s little face after she said, “Alexa, we’re ready for Christmas” and the lights burst into action. That’s what parenting is all about. And then we spent a lovely Sunday afternoon putting the Christmas tree up, WAY before December.

Sure, the lights and the decorations cost money, but it’s about flexing to suit your budget and only doing what you can afford. If you don’t have any money, make your own decorations! It doesn’t even matter if they look awful, I currently have a cardboard cutout on my living room door that Evie made and it’s my favourite decoration!

Some top tips…

So, with Christmas creeping ever-closer, here are some tips for coping with a COVID Christmas this year:

  1. Stop comparing yourself to those around you
  2. Remember, your time is the most valuable gift you can give
  3. Only spend what you can afford to spend
  4. Be grateful for the people you have around you
  5. Be proud of yourself, you’re doing great

Get more stories, ideas, and inspiration to make your Christmas magic or contact our FamilyLine for information, guidance, and support on an issue affecting your family.