We’ve officially hit that time of year where we all gasp in shock (and horror?) at how fast the year has gone.
The flip flops are tucked away in the closet, the back to school newness has worn off, and the leftover Halloween candy has found its way to the deepest, darkest corner of the pantry (where you will throw it away…in April). The holiday season is fast approaching, and if you’re a single parent like myself, you’re likely breaking into a panic attack induced sweat (hey, you might be even if you’re not one!).
This year, I decided to compile a list of dos and don’ts for my fellow single/widow(er)ed parents (and myself)!
Don’t: Procrastinate on plans
The “multi-home” holiday plan is a common tale among married couples; you know, the one where you do breakfast with my parents, lunch with the grandparents, dinner with his parents, and dessert at Aunt Agatha’s house. Attempting this as a single parent of three kids (where they accumulate twenty more gifts to load into the car at each stop) is Herculean at least, total chaos at most. It’s lovely and wonderful to have such a family, but not super enjoyable for a mom (or dad) winging it on their own.
I have this bad habit of procrastinating on making plans, wanting to make everyone happy, and inevitably agreeing to see everyone last minute, and spending the day in a tizzy. This past year, my first on my own, it was too damn much. My kids must have felt it, also, since as early as July, they asked if they could wake up in their own house on Christmas this year. Considering we live twelve hours from our closest family, I explained this meant we wouldn’t have any big family parties, or jump from house to house. They didn’t budge. So instead we’ll go up for Thanksgiving this year. They’ll see the sights, spend time with family, and have a mini Christmas celebration with the people they won’t see in December. Bonus, when I told my mom we would be staying home this year, she readily offered to come to us, instead! Score!
Do: Start early and cut corners, if you can!
People always lament how Christmas starts “too early,” these days. I won’t lie, I used to be one of those people, when I had the immense help of a husband around to divide and conquer all there is to be done around the holidays. Now that it’s only me to plan and execute everything, I am a big fan of the ability to get started months in advance (although I’m still not sure how I’ll be getting the Christmas tree up, or the outside decorations done…eek)!.
It’s the first week of November, and I’ve started unpacking the red and green with gusto. I’ve begun ordering gifts, so I can wrap as I go, rather than wait until the last minute. I remember staying up until the wee hours, finishing the wrapping on Christmas Eve with my husband, Kenny. I loved it! Spending that time with him was a little tradition of it’s own (and he was a much better wrapper than I am, so he always got the million bizarrely shaped toys). Now that it’s just me, if the wrapping doesn’t get done, it just..doesn’t. I have no one to pick up slack, help me finish, or have that 2 a.m. celebratory glass of wine with, so early is key.
The other way to help alleviate some of this is cut corners wherever you can. Order presents pre-wrapped (expensive, but worth if if you can swing it), or outsource other things to give you more time (order groceries, hire a cleaning crew, or cater your holiday). Solo parenting isn’t for the faint of heart, and solo parenting during the holidays is something out of the Hunger Games. If you can, delegate, delegate, delegate!
Don’t: Fall into the “because it’s the holidays…” trap
While it should go without saying, guilt is not a great emotion to go by. You don’t need to spend more of anything (time/money/sanity) anywhere you don’t want to. I’ve made that mistake, so you don’t have to! We’ve all been there, where you hear “It’s the holidays! You have to see every relative you’ve ever had, and some you never knew existed, probably aren’t actually relatives, and you should bring a present for them.” Of course, I’m exaggerating some, but really, there are twelve months in a year, and seeing everyone another time is absolutely acceptable if you’re stretching yourself too far.
All jokes aside, just because it’s the holidays does not mean you need to be in a room with anyone who makes you uncomfortable, is unkind to you, says disparaging things to or about you, or the like. Not even for the sake of the children. Think of it this way; being a widow(er)ed parent is difficult enough, there is only one of you to be a role model, steer the ship, run the asylum (you get the gist). If you put yourself in uncomfortable positions to please others, and let people speak to you in a way that makes you feel “less than,” remember that your kids see and hear that, and will learn that is acceptable. You are always setting the example for them, even during the holidays.
Do: Learn to say NO
One of the first (and best) pieces of advice I ever received from another widow was to allow myself to say “no.” I didn’t come close to mastering that skill the first year after my husband died. Seriously, not close. However, this past year, I’ve learned that I, too, am worthy of consideration when it comes to the holiday hustle (or life in general). While there are certain obligations and commitments required of parents, extending yourself beyond your scope of mental and physical ability is not one of them. If doing something is going to cause you undue stress, don’t do it. If traveling and coordinating a holiday schedule of epic proportions is going to push you beyond the brink, don’t do it. If going to seven holiday parties in a two-week span is going to exhaust you physically and financially, don’t do it.
Don’t: Forget what it’s all about
While I can’t say my childhood was always harmonious, there is a lot I loved about our Christmas traditions. We didn’t rush from event to event; in fact, we didn’t go anywhere. On occasion we’d go into New York City on Christmas Eve, into Little Italy, but I remember a Christmas Eve where we decorated our tree and I stayed up late watching the nutcracker. It was blissful. Our morning was tearing open presents, trying on clothes, playing with toys and watching “Ralphie.” My parents got into the SAME squabble every year about how much money my dad spent, and dinner included quoting Christmas movies over my mother’s lasagna (we even made my little old grandmother say “Grace? She died thirty years ago,” literally every.single.year). It wasn’t grand, it wasn’t fancy, but it was ours.
Do: Make your own traditions
I live in a little, semi-country town in North Carolina, not far outside of Charlotte. One of the first people who ever stopped over to say “hello,” also said to me “Welcome to our town! No one here is from here!” There was never a more true statement. I’ve hardly met a soul that is actually from this town. We all blew in from somewhere else, all hoping for a less hectic, more affordable life. Around here, friends become family. When my crew and I all discovered that we’d all be in town this year, and none of us with a plan, we readily decided to make a Friendsmas Eve celebration. We’ll have dinner, we’ll have wine, our kids will all celebrate together like little cousins. The next morning, per their request, my kids will wake up in their own home. They’ll sit in their own living room, making their own Christmas memories of life at home with Mom. There may not be a million people around, there may not be a minivan filled with presents, and I can’t say what exactly what that Christmas morning will look like, but it will be ours.
Don’t: Be too hard on yourself
You are one person. I know that many of us (even those who have partners), want to create magic; we all fall short somewhere. I put a lot of pressure on myself, even when I’m not feeling my best, to be boisterous and jovial. The holidays are a time of excess, and it can be overwhelming (or underwhelming depending on which way you look at it). It’s easy to get carried away, and to beat yourself up if you can’t quite pull it all off. My mother likes to use the acronym with me often called KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Every time I bite off more than I can chew (a common theme in my life), she says this. This year, for maybe the first time, I’m listening. I’d love to be the mom who could pull off every magical Christmas event I see on social media, but it’s not realistic.
Do: Know that you’re not alone
The holidays can be a big trigger for people suffering from depression, anxiety, or those dealing with grief and loss. The expectation that everyone should be cheerful can be soul crushing for someone trying so darn hard to live up to it, but who just can’t get into the spirit. I spent Christmas last year surrounded by many, never feeling more alone in my life. I felt sad, and scared, and terrified to let anyone know how dismal I was feeling. I smiled, I laughed, and I’d never felt like an imposter more in my existence. If you’re feeling rough this holiday season, you’re hardly alone. Better still, there is help for you, if you feel that way. There is a way back, no matter how far gone you think you are; you just have to ask. I’m so well aware how difficult that actually is, but I promise, you’re not alone. If you need to talk, find a friend, find a doctor, or reach out to the suicide prevention lifeline. You don’t even have to talk, you can text! We’re all in this together.
Megan Courtney is a widowed mom of three young wildlings, ages eight, six, and three, and dog mom to two goofy black lab mutts. She writes about her journey through widowhood and single parenthood on her blog (http://mom-entum.co/), and continues passionate work as an advocate and fundraiser for the National Brain Tumor Society. She is also a fitness enthusiast and health and wellness coach, who’s training for a half marathon and working toward earning her CPT certificate. Megan holds a BA in English Literature and always finds inspiration in the little things: her favorite song, a new book or planner, or a fresh set of pens. You can find her on Instagram as @megs_momentum.