Whether you are freshly separated, a long-time single mom or an always-single mom, Christmas can be particularly stressful.
You may have the entire weight of the holiday on your shoulders or you may struggle with sharing time with your child on Christmas Day.
The reality of single parenting at Christmastime is that it can majorly suck.
But it’s doable, and it’s survivable, and I want to help you make it through the holidays with as little stress as possible.
Whether you’re worried about money, custody or making Christmas perfect for your little one, here are some tips to survive Christmas as a single mom:
Single Mom Christmas Survival Tips:
I’ll never forget my first Christmas as a single mom. I had left my ex during my pregnancy, so I was a single mother as soon as my little one arrived in this world. She was born at the end of the November, so she was but a wee babe for her first Christmas.
I figured the first Christmas would be super simple: She wasn’t even a month old, so what did she really need for gifts? I just wanted to make it special and take lots of pictures to commemorate the occasion.
Two days before Christmas I was finishing up some last minute decorating. While hanging the garland from my mantel, the power went out. No big deal, I figured. It would come on shortly.
Shortly turned into five days and we spent Christmas in the dark and cold. There was a freak storm and the entire area was without power. Christmas morning happened under heavy blankets and Christmas breakfast was Kraft Dinner cooked on a camp stove.
For a while I lamented how crappy my daughter’s first Christmas was but then I realized that, hey, she won’t remember it. And guess what? It certainly was memorable!
This just goes to show that Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect – it doesn’t have to break the bank or cause you huge amounts of stress. That Christmas reminded me that Christmas is about togetherness, not gifts or lights or physical warmth. We had plenty of emotional warmth.
So as we head into the Most Wonderful Time of the Year as a single mom, you may not be feeling the wonderfulness – but I promise you that by following these tips you can make this Christmas an amazing time!
1. Keep Your Budget In Check
You may want to shower your little one with all the coolest toys and gadgets for Christmas, but you have to be realistic about what you can afford. I’m not going to assume that all single mothers struggle financially, but most do, and you don’t want to make your situation worse by going all out for Christmas.
Before you begin planning your Christmas purchases, work out a budget. This doesn’t have to be a complicated affair – simply look at your income versus your expenses and see where you can make cuts or find extra cash.
Try to avoid using credit cards during the holiday season. If you do, be very strict about how much you spend on your credit card and have a plan for paying it off as quickly as you can in the new year.
If you co-parent with your ex, try to establish a spending limit on gifts. This will help to create a balance for your child between the two homes and help ease them into the differences between living with you and your ex.
I parallel parent with my narcissistic ex, so there’s no communicating about anything, really. I let him go all out with gifts (most them toys she never uses) and I keep our Christmas modest with a couple of items she specifically asks for. She’s never expressed any sort of comparison between the gifts I give her and the gifts her father gives her.
You may be tempted to out-spend your ex on gifts in order to give your child a “better” Christmas, but this will only blow up in your face. I know you wouldn’t do this to spite your ex, but you may feel a natural inclination to be the “better parent”.
Guess what? You’re only going to raise your child’s expectations of Christmas and shift the focus to presents and material goods instead of the spirit of the season.
2. Don’t Overcompensate
Which leads me to this point: don’t overcompensate at Christmas time. If you’re not tempted to over-spend in comparison to you ex, you may do so out of guilt for the changes in your family dynamic.
Or you may become paranoid about not being to provide enough and overdo it to prove to yourself that you can.
Guess what? Your child’s expectations of Christmas are likely less lower than yours. The only reason children develop high expectations of gifts and toys is because we, as parents, set the bar for what to expect at Christmas time.
Avoid going overboard with presents. Focus instead on the spirit of Christmas – the importance of togetherness and love.
My daughter’s father’s mother (who is a total sweetheart) typically visits for holidays and special occasions such as Easter, Christmas and birthdays. So, every time she comes, she brings gifts.
Eventually my daughter started equating her Nanny’s visits with gifts. When she knew her Nanny was coming over for her birthday, she said, “Yay! I’m getting gifts!”
This led to a very real talk about how it’s not about the presents a person brings but spending time with that person. We discussed how love and gifts are not the same thing and how her Nanny shows her love in different ways.
We approach Christmas in the same way. I make sure that gift-getting is paired with meaningful time together.
3. Make a Christmas Game Plan
Back to dealing with your ex – if you are lucky, you guys get along and can easily figure out Christmas arrangements. However, you may have a difficult time communicating with your child’s father and making a plan can be a challenge or an all-out battle.
My advice to you is to make as concrete a plan as possible. The more detailed the plan, the less likely anyone can argue them. If you feel it would help, put the plan in writing or if you are in a situation like me where there’s no figuring out anything with your ex, get a court order.
(If you have a court order for access, visitation or custody, arrangements for special occasions and holidays can be included. That way they have to be adhered to.)
Making a plan with your ex depends on your living arrangements. If your ex only has access and visitation, you are likely going to share the day. If your child lives with you, it would make sense for them to wake up Christmas morning and do their thing with you. They can then go with their father at lunchtime for Christmas #2.
In situations where your child lives between two homes, or your ex has overnight access, you’ll have to take into consideration where in that schedule Christmas lands. You may have to rearrange the schedule to allow both of you time with your child on Christmas day – and you may have to alternate where your child spends Christmas Eve.
Just remember that the entire arrangement is in the best interest of your child. Your ex may be a total douche-bag but, ultimately, your little one deserves to spend time with both parents for Christmas.
I approach this particular subject from a position of potential conflict, since that is what I am used to. If you and your ex get along amicably, don’t stress yourself out about arguments or disagreements. Just have a direct conversation about Christmas plans – listen to their ideas and offer your own. Together, you can come up with an arrangement.
4. Embrace New Traditions
A fresh separation from your child’s father means that many things at home will have to change. You may have established some great traditions that may have to go by the wayside because your child will be spending time during the holidays with your ex.
You may have to forego traditions because of new arrangements.
Give yourself a moment to grieve these changes but realize that establishing new traditions will help your child adjust to those changes. It will give them something to look forward to both at your home and their father’s.
And doing so means you can make new traditions unique to you and your child. Instead of over-buying gifts to create a special Christmas, try new activities that only you and your little one do together.
For example, you may have had a Christmas tradition of driving around and looking at lights on Christmas Eve. For the years that your little one spends Christmas Eve with their father, you may have to give up that tradition. Instead, you can wait until Christmas day, grab all the treats and chocolates from your stockings, and go out that night.
Or you can start something entirely new such as wearing matching pajamas Christmas day or make some super cute Christmas ornaments together.
Overall, Christmas traditions should be about making memories.
5. Holiday Self Care as a Single Mom
While you’re focusing all of your attention and energy on making Christmas special for your child, you are probably going to forget about yourself.
But you need some care too.
In all the chaos of preparing for Christmas, take some time to treat yourself. Buy yourself a little gift or take some time off for some winter self care. Be sure to relax and enjoy the warmth and beauty of the season.
Part of self care means asking for help too. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family or accept any help they offer. Let your bestie watch your little one while you Christmas shop or allow your mom to cook you a Christmas dinner.
I’ve learned as a single mom that no one offers help if they don’t sincerely want to help. I know accepting things like money can be difficult but take up offers for other forms of help. Trust me, even the smallest gesture from someone else can alleviate a lot of stress for you during the holidays.
Enjoy Your Christmas as a Single Mom
Sometimes you need to stop and smell the roses – or the Douglas Fir. Take a moment to enjoy the atmosphere of the holidays and the time you get to spend with your precious little one.
As I’ve learned over the years, Christmas comes and goes so quickly. I remember spending so much time and energy trying to make it perfect only to have to tear it all down and put it all away almost immediately.
Now I spend my time and energy enjoying the season with my daughter.
How do you survive Christmas as a single mom? Let me know in the comments below!