One Family’s Christmas guide for one-parent families
This will be a strange Christmas for everyone. Covid hangs over our plans with family and friends. Normally Christmas can be a time when we come together to celebrate the passing of another year but this year will be a bit different as we keep social distance and remain in our bubbles. For all the happiness and good that can come from Christmas, it can also be a time of enormous stress, and for some people tremendous loneliness. Images of happy faces and perfect families in media ads may not match the sadness and pain we may be feeling inside.
For some one-parent families, Christmas can be particularly difficult. It can be a time when painful feelings are magnified. Financial strain, complicated access arrangements, and anxiety about the pandemic and the future.
Becoming aware of and acknowledging the immense pressure you may be feeling during Christmas is an important step in managing this stress. Planning ahead is critical. Above all, remembering your own values and remembering what’s most important to you and your family is probably the ultimate stress buster for the season.
Some general points to consider
- Abandon perfectionism! There is no such thing as the perfect Christmas
- Plan Christmas as early as possible. You may find yourself resisting this idea, however, planning early means you can foresee any potential problems, organise your finances more effectively and ultimately lessen the stress. It may also mean that you have more time to find enjoyment in the season itself when it finally does come
- Keep things simple
- Negotiate and finalise access arrangements as early as possible. This will help avoid last minute confusion, stress and fighting
- Remember, Christmas is often not the time to challenge a person’s behaviour. Christmas is too emotionally charged. If a behaviour is tolerable and does not endanger another person’s wellbeing then it may be better to wait until the Christmas period is over
- Parents should avoid competing with each other through giving expensive presents. Expensive presents are a poor substitute for telling your child you love them and spending time with them
- Reassure your child that it is okay to talk about sad feelings at Christmas time. Acknowledging your own feelings without laying blame can be helpful to both your child and you. However, be careful not to use your child as a confidant or peer
- Try to reach out to those you trust for support
- If you’re finding it really tough try to find a little joy in each day and write it down in a journal or diary
For some members of one-parent families Christmas may be spent alone. Children may be spending their holidays with the other parent this year, or a parent may not have access to the children etc. For some people being on their own at Christmas is enjoyable and can be a time to do things that they wouldn’t normally get done. However for others, being alone at Christmas increases feelings of depression, loneliness and isolation.
If you know that you are spending Christmas alone and know that this will be difficult for you it is really important to devise a coping strategy as soon as possible. Don’t wait on the hope that someone will ask you over and don’t put off thinking about what you will do.
- Try to encourage yourself to make contact early with distanced family or friends and explore with them the possibility of sharing Christmas with them in a socially distanced manner or via Zoom
- If you know other people spending Christmas alone, think about connecting with them in a social distanced way. “Pot Luck” dinners via Zoom, where everyone brings a dish, can be an interesting way to break from tradition
- Tell yourself you are worth it and prepare a special meal for yourself
- Plan each day well in advance – try to know exactly what you will be doing. A structure can be really helpful during the holidays when you have a lot of time alone
- Some people find that volunteering or getting involved in local activities can help them re-connect with other people and put meaning back into the season
- Attending a religious service or communal celebration on-line might also help to give a sense of re-connection with others
- Get out of the house and go for a walk. Many people go walking on Christmas day
- Try to avoid things that make you feel worse such as alcohol, recreational drugs, over eating
- Remind yourself that this is a difficult time and that it will pass
- Try to plan one outdoor activity each day
- Write down what you are feeling
- If you are feeling really lonely, depressed and cannot find a way to reach out to others think about contacting the services below
Coping with sad or painful memories
Christmas is a time when we can become painfully aware of the losses in our lives, the people who have gone from us through bereavement, family separation, past traumas etc. If you are trying to manage painful feelings at Christmas, here are some ideas that might help:
- Try not to hide your feelings. Try to find someone you can talk to over the holidays
- Reassure children and young people that it is okay to feel upset and encourage them to talk about how their feeling
- Identify one friend that you trust and know you can call on to talk over the holiday. Ask them to be your “listening ear” over the holiday
- Light a special candle for the person who is missing or for the painful secret or memory you’re trying to cope with. You don’t need to tell anyone the significance of the candle. Candles are an acceptable part of the Christmas décor
- Keep a diary over the holiday and really use it to write down how you are feeling
- Drink a toast to absent loved ones, name them
- It can be helpful for children to remember people who are no longer in their lives through making a special bauble for the Christmas Tree that represents them
Dealing with Conflict
Many of the worst arguments happen at Christmas. Bored children, being cooped up with relatives, the availability of alcohol, and a sense of claustrophobia, particularly following lockdown, can create an environment where tensions are high.
- Try to pre-empt possible arguments by planning access arrangements in advance
- Try to communicate in a direct, open and honest manner
- Don’t meet another person’s anger with your anger
- Respect yourself even if the other parent shows you none
- Get out for a walk with the children – tire them out
- Have a bath or take a nap to get away from everyone
- Be prepared to let some behaviours go over the Christmas period
- Be willing to compromise if necessary
- If your child complains about the other parent, try encouraging them to talk directly with that parent
- Keep adult communication directly between adults. Refuse to use your child as a go-between.