Survival Guide to Christmas

One Family’s Survival Guide to Christmas

Christmas can be a wonderful time when we come together to celebrate the passing of another year and to look forward to beginning a new year full of potential and possibility.

But it can also be a time of enormous stress and tremendous loneliness. Images of happy faces and perfect families may not match the sadness and pain we are 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 spending lots of time with relatives can further add to feelings of anxiety and distress.

Becoming aware of and acknowledging the immense pressure you may be feeling during the run up to Christmas is an important step in managing. Planning ahead is critical.

Some general points to consider

Plan Christmas as early as possible.

Keep things simple Abandon perfectionism!

Negotiate and finalise access arrangements as early possible.

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 ok to talk about sad feelings at Christmas time. Acknowledging your own feelings without laying blame. However, be careful not to use your child as a confidant or peer

Try to reach out to those you trust for support.

Christmas Alone

S0me members of one-parent families will be spending Christmas alone as the children may be spending their holidays with the other parent. 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, hoping that someone will ask you over and don’t put off thinking about what you will do.

Make contact with family or friends see if you can share Christmas with them.

Or, 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.

Volunteering or getting involved in local activities can help you re-connect with other people and put meaning back into the season.

Attending a religious service or communal celebration might also help to give a sense of re-connection with others

Get out of the house and go for a walk.

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.

Coping with sad or painful memories

Christmas is a time when we can become painfully aware of the losses in our lives. If you are trying to manage painful feelings at Christmas here are some ideas that might help:

Try not to hide your feelings, find someone you can talk to.

Reassure children and young people that it is ok to feel upset and encourage them to talk about how their feeling

Light a special candle for the person who is missing or for the painful secret or memory you’re trying to cope with.

Keep a diary over the holiday and really use it to write down how you are feeling

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 family arguments happen at Christmas. The availability of alcohol, bored children and being cooped up with relatives can create tension.

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 willing to compromise if necessary

Keep adult communication directly between adults. Refuse to use your child as a go-between

Financial Management at Christmas

It’s a really good idea to make a commitment to yourself that you will not over spend this Christmas. Here are some sample categories which might help:

Be very realistic – remember the presents are only the start.

Be honest – can you really afford to fund such a sum? If the answer is no, you must cut back

Be wary of credit – If you find that you need short-term credit to bridge the gap between normal income and abnormal expenditure at Christmas, decide how you will fund this. Your main options are credit cards, bank-loans or authorised overdrafts. All have advantages as well as disadvantages.

Paula Lonergan is the Training Manager at One Family, Ireland’s Leading Organisation for One-parent Families. For more information see or contact the locall askonefamily helpline on 1890 662212