Managing the stress of Christmas in a cost of living crisis as a single parent is hard enough. Most people worry about money during divorce, and have to adapt to new household budgets. The learning curve is even steeper with food and energy prices climbing. And then there’s all the expectations around Christmas on top. In this blog, we look at 5 ways to lower your stress as a single parent this Christmas.
Stay in your own Christmas lane
First off, and this is so hard to do, make a decision to switch off the comparisonitis. It’s a bit of a cliche that comparison is the thief of joy, but we know cliches exist because they’re born of the truth. Think about all the ways you beat yourself by comparing. They might include:
- With your ex-spouse: if they have more money at their disposal you may feel guilty you can’t compete with the treats
- With Christmases past: you may feel nostalgic about how it used to be, when you and your ex-spouse were together. Even if the marriage wasn’t healthy, so much of Christmas marketing is about ‘happy families’
- With friends: Maria from school has done all her shopping already. Zoe is handknitting socks. Jude is taking the children to Lapland.
- With ‘ideal motherhood’: we live in an age of so much parenting advice, it’s easy to feel like you’re the worst mother in the world if you lose your rag one Wednesday morning when they won’t put their shoes on.
You may find yourself comparing in other ways too. The first, vital thing is to realise you’re doing it. Name it: ‘Oh, I’m comparing myself to him again’. Bring yourself back. And remember, you can only work with what you have. You can’t turn back the clock – and even if you could, would you want to go back to pretending everything was fine in a marriage that didn’t serve you. You aren’t Maria, Zoe, or Jude, so don’t pretend to be like them. Focus on who you are, and what you can do instead.
Phase out energy-sapping traditions
It feels like Christmas gets more and more demanding each year! And it starts so early. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to create a magical few weeks for your children. But if it involves you staying up until 2am each night, you need to change tack.
All of us can get stuck in habits that don’t work any longer. You might have excitedly bought an Elf On The Shelf as soon as your baby got to their second Christmas, and thought this would be a fun way to bring seasonal cheer throughout December. Now, six years later, as you’re desperately scanning Instagram for new Elf antics, you wish you could pack the Elf off the shelf and back to the North Pole. So, do it! Write a note from your elf saying they need to return home. And, if you want to, replace the tradition with something easier to manage. A hot chocolate straight from school with elf snowballs (marshmallows) each day. A Sunday afternoon Christmas movie throughout December, with a little treat.
And let’s not forget Christmas cards. Do you really need to send Christmas cards to your work colleagues, or the school mums? Do you need to send Christmas cards at all?
You’ll know what traditions you’ve found yourself stuck in. Let yourself step back and try something different this year.
Just as with other traditions, it’s easy to get stuck in old present-giving habits. Maybe you and your best friend from school have always bought each other’s children gifts, despite the fact they now live four hours away and you haven’t seen them for three years. Maybe your parents always buy you the same spa-at-home kit, which you pile up at the back of your wardrobe.
This is the time to be sensitively bold. Gently raise the topic. Suggest you tone things down this year, or be clear about asking for what you want. Maybe you never use the spa treatment but you would absolutely love a magazine subscription so you can read in bed once the children are asleep.
Be diplomatic, and tread carefully, but approach your family and friends with suggestions of how you could do things differently. It may already be too late for this year (Auntie Evelyn likes to do her shopping in October, don’t forget), but you’ll have at least sown the seed for next. And you may be surprised by how relieved your friend is not to have to buy presents for children she hardly knows.
There can be so much waste during the Christmas season. Too much food, too many presents, too much of everything! Rather than get everything yourself, are there people you can club together with?
If you’re having Christmas with extended family, could each of you contribute to the meal, rather than you buying and preparing it all? Now is the time to share out responsibilities so people know what they need to get.
If it’s just you and the children this year, or just you if the children are with their other parent, could you buddy up with another family? Children love having playmates around, and you can get tipsy with your friend while peeling spuds.
If the children want expensive presents, it might be time to gently help them understand the value of things. Perhaps you can combine forces with grandparents, or uncles, to get them the present of their dreams. In this case, there will be fewer parcels under the tree – but they will have what they want. Or perhaps you can make a contribution to the Playstation 5, but they will need to add their savings or wait for birthday money too. They will cope – and ultimately it’s for them to have what they want, rather than lots of little things as consolation prizes that they aren’t really interested in.
Don’t forget your own needs
It’s ironic this is the last point because I bet it’s the last thing you think about too. But it’s last because it’s the most important! You have the right to a relaxed and happy Christmas too. It’s not only about creating magical memories for everyone else. They need to see that you can have fun and have your needs met too. It will give them permission to do the same if they become parents!
So take time to think about what you want and need from this Christmas period. Do you need to really let your hair down and have a wild night out – to feel like you’re 19 again? Do it. Text your friends and get the date in the diary now.
Do you need to feel like you can just stop? Plan it in. Plan a movie and PJs day for the children, fill bowls with popcorn, candy canes, and chocolate reindeer poo, then go to another room with a book. Or have a bath.
Do you need a good cry? This time of year can bring up so many difficult memories and associations. Give yourself permission to let it all out. Crying isn’t weak, it’s cathartic.
Make sure you have some chocolate, or a cup of tea, or a friend to call afterward to help ground yourself again. You don’t have to pretend to be okay all of the time. Divorce is stressful, cost of living crises add another level of anxiety and Christmas is emotive enough. You are allowed to let it get to you. But, for your own sake, don’t stay in that place of worry.
Gift yourself peace of mind
If you’re anxious about making decisions over Christmas, about your divorce, or how to support your children, I can help. I’m here to help you navigate divorce your way. To help you get clear on the options and the implications of each. To give you the confidence to work this through, step by step, so you can look forward to 2023 with this marriage behind you.
I have some diary availability in December. Book in your free consultation and know you’ll be starting strong in the new year.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com