Sophie, single mum of one, blogs on how her feelings about Christmas have changed over the years and how to survive spending it without your little ones.
Christmas was my favourite time of year until 2011.
Childhood Christmases were spent cosied up within my family of five: two loving parents on hand to provide me with our childhood cravings; two lively brothers to provide me with snowy peltings. Our house was filled with noise, laughter and copious amounts of food, all set to the soundtrack of carols on Radio Two and dubious 80’s Christmas sitcoms.
When I got married and had our longed-for child, I fantasised about sharing the precious traditions from my childhood with my newly formed family – but this was not meant to be. After one cold Christmas as a family of three, we split up, and not long after, the bomb of divorce imploded within our family scattering our lives into separate corners of the country.
The first Christmas
The first Christmas spent apart was a strained affair. Living temporarily with my parents, my small son and I shared a bedroom, his cot squeezed up against my lonely double bed. My ex visited for Christmas, staying in a B&B around the corner, and leaving at the end of each day. Tensions ran high and arguments were constantly simmering – the hurt was just too recent and raw. No arrangements had been made for contact, it was all so new for everyone and we flailed around, not knowing how to act or what to do. The uncertainty of Christmas present and future hung over us like a depressing spectre of things to come. Christmas that year was well and truly ruined for all concerned.
Soon into the New Year, the ex decided that we should make arrangements for the coming Christmas, and for all Christmases after that. It was decided that we shared alternate Christmases, and since I had had our child with me and my parents that last Christmas, our son would stay with him for the duration of the impending Christmas period. Due to the hundreds of miles that separated our homes, the visit would be for well over a week – commencing six days before Christmas Eve, only ending a few days after Christmas day itself. In January, this seemed bearable, or perhaps, too far away in time to imagine. But as the days turned into weeks, then months, and as the slow crawl through the year hastened to a gallop towards December, the impending dread of a Christmas spent without my child, covered my heart like a black cloud.
Alternate Christmases suck
Christmas Eve arrived – normally the day that excites me the most. What should be a day of wrapping last minute presents and a late-night stroll around the neighbourhood, admiring glistening trees peeking through people’s curtains, was instead spent drinking with my two brothers and later, returning to an empty, cold house on my own. Christmas seemed very bleak at this point. It didn’t get any better when I woke up alone, perhaps a Christmas first, and passed time hoovering whilst waiting for the precious (late) Skype call to watch my son open his presents without me. My heart broke as I saw his excited face looming into view, and I strained to hear his voice through the rustling of paper. I craved to cuddle him; my whole body ached to have him within my arms, stroke his still baby soft hair, and share his delight in this magical time. Instead, I touched the screen, plastered a frozen smile upon my face and silently calculated how long it was until he came home.
Alternate Christmases suck. After researching on the internet and chatting to fellow lone parents, it seems that this is the arrangement for most parents who divide their time with their offspring over Christmas, and the general consensus is that there is no getting away from the fact that it is hard. If you are fortunate enough to live near the other parent, there will still be periods of time when you are alone during the festive season, most likely feeling anything but festive. As parents, we put ourselves under so much pressure to have the BEST time; to do everything we can to ensure that our children have the most amazing and memorable Christmas. Every advert, shop and television commercial bombards us with the ideal family scenario: rosy-faced children beaming with joy as their two adoring, parents look on. These are idealistic portrayals of a family that doesn’t seem to be that common anymore. There are around two million single parents families in the UK, which make up a quarter of families with dependent children, and yet the media continues to feed us the stereotype that only serves to make the families that are different, feel somewhat inferior by comparison.
How to survive
So, how to survive the season, without your offspring? So far, within his short life, I have endured two Christmases without my child. There is no denying that it’s not the ideal scenario – I can’t imagine any parent not wanting to spend such a family orientated time without their precious offspring. One thing that I have learnt is to consider Christmas as a period of time, not just a day or two. Stop focussing attention on those three days of Christmas Eve, Day and Boxing day – because if you are missing some, or all (in my case I miss all three on alternate years) of these days, you will feel bereft. Instead, try to enjoy other days that you and your small folk have together. Do Christmassy activities on some of the days that are not the ‘big ones’, treat these unnamed days as just as important and worthy of celebration. Hey, have Christmas dinner on a different day –– treat it as an alternate, or bonus, Christmas. Your kids will love it, whatever the date. Enjoy the time you have with them – make the most of every day within December, so that you don’t feel robbed of time when they are not with you. Since our child started to share Christmas between the two homes, I start Christmas a lot earlier than I used to: my tree is up on December 1st, without fail, so that comethe actual Big Day, we both feel that we have really made the most of Christmassy opportunities.
Go easy on yourself
As for you – take it easy on yourself. When you do encounter the dreaded time that you hand over the children and your house suddenly seems to suffocate you with the silence – think of the positives. You are a hardworking parent all year round, now is the time that you can take time out to rest yourself and perhaps even enjoy (gasp!) some time that is purely dedicated to you. I find that I often fantasise about some precious me time, when I am juggling parenting, running a house and holding down a job, but as soon as I am child-free, I feel like I am missing a limb and the mists of self-pity threaten to descend. STOP. Ignore those sympathetic looks from colleagues when you tell them you are child-free this Christmas. Take positive steps to make the time you have to yourself proactive/restful/sociable – whatever makes you happy and keeps you distracted from negative thoughts. Have late nights, read an entire newspaper, enjoy an uninterrupted coffee, wallow in a long leisurely bath, go for long walks along child-unfriendly terrain, shop, run, drink, socialise, go to the gym, read, go to the cinema! Anything, anything, that you usually struggle to do, as you are too tired or have dependants that make it impossible.
Above all, avoid negative thoughts about your situation. I have been there, and I understand the dull ache of loss when your children are absent over Christmas. If it is possible, use Skype, phone calls, and social media to keep in contact to comfort you, and them, if the missing of each other becomes too much. And remember – as quickly as the wrapping paper has been torn from the last present, they will be back.