Christmas as a single parent can be a daunting thought. So Gingerbread, which supports single parents and families, asked parents for their top tips for having a happy Christmas.
Christmas can be a lot of fun for your family. It’s a great chance to spend time together, enjoy some little luxuries and show each other how much you care. However, there may be moments when you feel under extra pressure – financially and emotionally. Budgeting, making arrangements with your child’s other parent, and perhaps coping with being apart from your children over the holiday period can all be a challenge.
We asked single parents for their tips on how they keep Christmas stress-free and special for their families.
1. Plan contact arrangements early
If you can, plan ahead and make advance arrangements for when your child will spend time with their other parent over the holiday period. Drawing up and agreeing a schedule in advance for when your child will be with their other parent can make time spent apart easier and less emotional. And, while it can be difficult, trying to remain civil with your ex-partner will make the process of sharing the holidays much less stressful.
For single mum Dawn, keeping calm is the golden rule:
“Never call your ex-partner names in front of your children. Tell them the best parts whenever possible and leave it up to the child to decide if the other parent is worth it.” If your children are older, involving them in contact arrangements over Christmas can help them feel more in control of the situation.
2. Spend quality time together
“On Christmas Eve we look at a tracking website www.noradsanta.org to see where Santa is. Of course, Santa won’t come if they are not asleep so if they are still up when he gets to France, they know they are risking it!” Establishing new family traditions can be a great way of making memories you and your children will treasure long after the presents and decorations have been put away. They don’t have to be complicated or expensive – just something a little bit different that you and the kids can enjoy together. “Our favourite tradition is a homemade advent calendar. I make a new one each year and include activities we can do together such as crafts, ice skating, having a proper hot chocolate with all the trimmings, seeing the local Christmas lights or eating dessert before dinner!”
3. Decide your budget and stick to it
We’ve all been there – the shop windows are full of the brand new, ‘must-have’ toys, the children are dropping hints, your colleagues want to go out for a three-course Christmas dinner, and you simply can’t think how you’re going to pay for it all. Being realistic about what you can afford and keeping away from credit cards can save you a lot of anxiety. For adult family and friends, organising Secret Santas can be a really fun way of giving gifts while keeping the costs down. For the kids’ presents, setting a spending limit with their other parent can help avoid those feelings of competition that sometimes arise around this time of year.
Planning ahead may help you feel in control and reduce stress. Check out a free online budget planner from the Money Advice Service which can help you take control of your money.
4. Be present-savvy
Dawn finds that involving her children in the Christmas shopping process is a great way of making purse-friendly present choices. “When it comes to your child wanting an expensive toy that you know is rubbish but they see as great because the TV ad makes them look great, the simple answer is to take your child to the toy shop and let them see the reality. “We’re doing a lot of homemade pressies this year. For example, we’ve made chutney using discounted fruit and vegetables. We save empty jam and sauce jars, which my children decorate with stickers and ribbons. My eldest child is also having a go at making candles.”
5. Don’t forget about yourself!
As a parent, it is easy to concentrate on your child’s needs and forget your own. But Christmas should be a chance for you to relax and enjoy yourself too. Remember: you can’t please everyone all the time and there are going to be moments when you need to put your foot down and decide what’s best for you and your children.
Lisa is a single mum to her son, Freddie, and this year she’s volunteering over Christmas while her son’s away. See her tips for how she makes Christmas a special time for her family.
If you’re finding the festive period a bit tough, chatting to other single parents can be helpful. Gingerbread friendship groups can be a great source of support, and many organise social events that you and your children can get involved in. You can also chat to other single parents in Gingerbread’s online forums.