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Christmas can be a lot of fun. But it can be an emotional rollercoaster – and stressful at the best of times. And many single parents face added pressures around money and arrangements for the children.
We’ve gathered together some advice from other single parents for keeping Christmas stress-free and special for the family. You’ll also find information about where to go if you need support over the holidays.
Try to plan well ahead and agree where your child will spend their time over the holidays. Agreeing the schedule in advance can make time apart easier and less emotional for everyone. If your children are older, talking to them about the arrangements over Christmas can help them feel more involved and in control.
Although it can be hard, trying to be level-headed and civil with your child’s other parent will make navigating the holiday time much less stressful.
It’s also important to remember that ‘Christmas is more than just one day’, as one parent said. If you’re not going to be with your child on that particular day, there will be other chances to enjoy time together over the holidays.
Families celebrate Christmas in different ways, and we all get into a routine over the years. It can feel hard if you’ve recently separated to continue with old traditions.
Our most popular tip from other single parents is to create new traditions – and with them, new memories:
New family traditions can be a great way to make memories that you and your children will treasure long after the decorations have been put away. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive – just something a bit different that you and the kids can enjoy 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’re not asleep so if they’re still up when he gets to France, they know they’re risking it!”
“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!”
We’ve all been there. The shop windows are full of brand new, ‘must-have’ toys. The kids are dropping hints. Your colleagues want to go out for a 3-course Christmas meal. And you have no idea how you’re going to pay for it all.
Try to be realistic about what you can afford and stay away from credit cards.
You can’t buy happiness, despite what the adverts might be telling you. To keep spending under control, focus on smaller, more thoughtful gifts and fun stocking fillers.
One parent suggested making your own selection boxes. Look out for deals on your children’s favourite chocolates, then wrap them up individually to open on the day.
Try not to worry if your child’s other parent can buy them more expensive gifts. The most important thing is that your kids have a fun and happy time over Christmas. It’s the time you spend together that your children will remember.
So do try to avoid the temptation to go into debt for the sake of presents that will soon be discarded.
Dawn likes to involve her kids in the Christmas shopping process to help make purse-friendly 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 them to the toy shop and let them see the reality.
We’re doing a lot of homemade pressies this year. 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 is also having a go at making candles.”
It’s easy to think only about your child’s needs and forget your own over Christmas. But this should be a chance for you to relax and enjoy yourself too. You won’t be able to please everyone all the time. There will probably be times when you need to put your foot down and decide what’s best.
If you’re spending Christmas on your own, it may feel very strange. Be sure to take care of yourself. A lot of parents said their top tip would be to not put any pressure on yourself – just do what you feel able to.
Most of all, remember that things might feel tough now, but it will get easier. So try to treat yourself in whatever way you can.
How would you like to spend the day? You could have a pampering day, to get ready for your kids to come back, or catch up with friends and family. There’s no right or wrong thing to do.
It’s all about the time together
Having my children’s laughter all around me… well, that’s the gift that can never be bought!
It’s what you do that matters
Don’t try too hard or worry too much. My children are adults now and they talk about what we did, not what they got, at Christmas. And the stuff they remember was mostly free – decorating the house, driving round town to see the lights and going to the Christmas section of the garden centre to choose a new bauble.
Make plans in advance if your little one is with someone else. Don’t sit at home alone – stay busy!
Bring and share
Have a bring-and-share Christmas lunch. My family do this and works well. It can really ease the cost of the food.
Go easy on yourself
The best advice I can give is to go easy on yourself. It’s just one day – try to forget what everyone else is doing. Focus on yourself and your children.
Spending time together is what matters
Having my children’s laughter around me… well, that’s the gift that can never be bought!
Although our charity closes over Christmas, there are plenty of places that don’t. Here are a few good places to go for support over the holidays.
Date last updated: 19 October 2023