Difficult Situations · Stepfamilies

19 Quick Holiday Tips for Single Parent Families and Stepfamilies

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The holidays can be wonderful! It just takes the right attitude. Decrease the stress of it all and find real joy this holiday season with this advice:

When the kids are with you:

  1. Honor your feelings and then be grateful for what you have. Whining and gratitude go together. Honor your feelings of frustration, fear and so on. Then look at all the things you are grateful for—no matter how small. Have at least one safe person to “vent” to.
  2. Lower your expectations for one perfect holiday. Instead, just count all the sweet moments you can find.
  3. Stop focusing on gifts. Holidays are not about how much money you have or how many gifts you give. Make the holiday about the most important things: love, family, warmth and doing things together! Give your kids less of what they don’t want and more of what they do want: your time, your attention and your love. Don’t compete with your ex.
  4. Create rituals and traditions to make your memories. Don’t try to start them all this year; just think about one or two. Ask your kids for ideas. They’ll like contributing, and they can be very creative.
  5. Plan each day of your holiday. Plan time to rest and time to play each day. Adults get to choose what to do, also. Plan exercise, too, to help with stress.
  6. Plan your meals. Make sure everyone knows how to help and what to do during cleanup. Assign kitchen chores to each person and have everyone work together. Keep it simple.
  7. Prepare for everyone else’s expectations and feelings. If you have young children, and they express sadness at missing Mom or Dad, prepare to say, “I’m sorry you are sad. But I am glad you are with us. It will be okay.” (And then get them busy doing something fun.)
  8. Don’t create scarcity as part of your holiday. You have plenty of good things to offer your kids. Don’t say things like, “We don’t have enough money for a big Christmas.” When your kids start listing off what they want, just listen. Or you can say, “It’s fun to think about all that stuff, isn’t it.” Make sure everyone is gifted evenly, and make sure grandparents know to do that for biological and stepchildren.
  9. Create a warm atmosphere. Fill your home with warmth and the smells of popcorn, soup, hot cocoa or cider. Bake. Drink hot chocolate by the fire. Snuggle under blankets in holiday pajamas.
  10. Parent your children even during the holidays. Stick to routines. Especially naps and/or bedtime. Set and keep rules. It’s no time to let them fly off the rails.

When your children are with the other parent(s):

  1. Be proactive. Avoidance shows up at holiday time. For many parents who aren’t going to be with their children, the thought of planning or looking ahead seems painful. Do it anyway. Plan now what you are going to do when you get upset. Plan what you will do everyday to keep your spirits up. Go to family or friends or have them over. Whatever you do, this is one meal you need to have with others. Not planning your whereabouts for this day can set you up to be sad, sad, sad.
  2. Create “alone” time over your holiday. If you plan too much, you’ll end up exhausted instead of refreshed for the holidays. Don’t be afraid to be alone. Practice being alone and doing things you enjoy, such as watching movies, reading, doing puzzles, whatever brings you joy.
  3. Decide with your children when you will talk with them. If your kids are five or over, it always worked for me to decide with my children when I should call them on holidays. If you call and they aren’t there, leave a happy message and try not to get upset about it. Call back later. Never make them feel guilty about missing your call.
  4. Show empathy for your ex’s situation. Stress and expectations will affect your ex-spouse or partner, too. Prepare as much as you can to help alleviate some that. Determine now when you will drop the kids off and pick them up. Even if you’ve got an ex-spouse who makes things difficult, do your best to be flexible. Make it about the kids, not you.
  5. Do things you can’t do with your kids. Parents need breaks, too. Forget the guilt and dip into the margaritas in the afternoon. Go to three R- rated movies in a row. Have beer and pizza, while watching football, without having to take care of kids. There are a few benefits of being a single parent, and this is one of them. Try to enjoy it, no matter what.
  6. Use your holiday time to do one or two things that will help you catch up. Use your downtime to get ahead on chores and to-dos. You’ll feel better and gain a sense of accomplishment. Just don’t spend the whole time on cleaning out the closets or doing laundry.
  7. Be creative about rituals and traditions for yourself. Whether it’s going to a football game, on a shopping spree, to a spa or some other treat, start your own tradition for the years without your kids. It will give you something to look forward to and celebrate.
  8. Recognize the good moments. It will be hard without your kids, so pay attention to the joy you experience. It’s an amazing feeling to make it through your first holiday alone and realize that you can be okay. If you allow yourself to have some fun and joy, even better.
  9. Tell your children to “Have a wonderful time!” and mean it. This one is critical. You may resent your spouse. You may be terribly sad. You may want the entire season to just disappear. Do not take that out on your kids. They deserve a wonderful holiday, so do everything you can to give it to them.
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