The C Word
The happiest and most joyful time of year, right? Perhaps. But when you’re a single parent, it can be the complete opposite.
I chose to become a single mother when my son had just turned 3 years old and my circumstance was far from ideal or easy. The process was a very difficult one. I went through a lot to get us where we are today without really realizing at the time. In truth, it’s only really this year that I’ve sat back and realized/given myself credit for the sacrifices I have made in order for us to have the happy lives we do today.
I left in January 2013 and at the time, the thought of Christmas and all the logistical stuff that would now come with it as a Single Mother never crossed my mind. I had more important things to consider than Christmas, the small matter of finding us a home and filling it with everything we needed from teaspoons & toilet roll to beds and a fridge.
I make the sacrifices. I make it happen 364 days of the year. It’s non-negotiable and in all fairness to my son’s Father, I’ll throw him a virtual bone here, he’s never contested me on our son spending Christmas away from me. I *think* from memory, as the very first Christmas approached he did ask me, and I said no. Simple as that. My argument? I make everything happen 364 days of the year. Why on earth are we having this conversation?
You may think “I wish I had her strength”. As you read this, you may think that I’m selfish, that I’m playing down the role of separated father’s all over the land. On the contrary, there are many Father’s who show up and want to actively & responsibly co-parent in their children’s lives, I wholeheartedly wish I could say that I’ve had first-hand experience of that.
These are questions I asked myself, and I had to be brutally honest with my answers:
1. What is best for my son?
2. What would HE want?
3. How can I be fair
4. What is right?
5. What do I want?
These questions were not easily answered. Naturally, there is a LOT of emotion when it concerns your own children. But if for no one’s sake but your own, you must be honest. The rest will fall in to place. Our children feel safe when they know all is well.
When I say I have Christmas, by that I mean Christmas Day. Come 10am Boxing Day, he’s gone to his fathers. It’s at that point every single year I sob and feel abysmal. You may think that I sound selfish, but I can never help it.
At that point, I don’t enjoy the company of my parents who have been married for 33 years or my sisters, who each have their husband’s/partners. I feel awful writing that, but I can’t help it. I can’t bear to be at their homes or to be in my own and look at the unopened toys that I worked my arse off to afford, but due to the madness that IS Christmas Day, my son never got to really look at. It feels freezing cold.
The best thing I have found to do is work. My career lies in retail management, the other side of Christmas is mass consumerism so lucky for me I can spend a day or two working till late. I often look at parents dragging their children around the shops and wish I could say to them “go home there are so many nicer things you could be doing that dragging your kids around the shops”.
If I worked in an industry/for a company that closed over Christmas until the New Year, without hesitation I would be doing voluntary work. Both my son and I support local causes supporting the homeless all through the year. Its important to me for him to understand that life can be unkind to people and we must always help others regardless. So if I couldn’t work, I would be volunteering.
I realize you may read this as a mother who has a different set of circumstances. Indeed there is no generic type of single mother (a common misconception but that’s a whole conversation for another day) and there are hurdles you’re having to jump that maybe I don’t.
One mother contacted me on Instagram when I started talking about Christmas (she has asked to remain anonymous) and said that she dreads it every single year. That she feels forced into a corner and feels like she lets her 3 children go off to Daddy’s because she fears he will take them away from her permanently. “He has more money and knows top-notch lawyers, it’s a battle I feel I cannot win”
To this, I openly call bullshit. This lady and I have now spoken at length and I have signposted her in the direction of people who can support her. But if you can relate to this behavior, which in no uncertain terms is bullying, I cannot recommend the services of Gingerbread charity highly enough. Gingerbread exists purely to support single-parent family’s and they really know their stuff.
Know your rights. Make sure Christmas is set fair. Do not accept bullying tactics or aggressive language.
Another mother noted the financial strain, this too is something I have been all too familiar with
If you are worried about the financial strain, here are some recommendations:
1. Check your benefits.
Use the free benefit calculator to double check your benefits and tax credits payments are correct. When I became a single mother I had no idea the amount of help I was entitled to.
After only recently checking, I discovered I was being underpaid quite drastically for my working tax credits. It’s worth investigating
2. Turn 2 Us
Turn 2 Us are an organization that helps provide financial support when people need it by supporting grants. They also supply information on money saving from free school meals, travel assistance, tax-free childcare, healthy start food vouchers and more.
BUT please remember, it is JUST ONE DAY!
Make & plan activities for the month where work/nursery/school/time allows.
Be it a trip to your local theatre to watch a Christmas play together (google near you, there are some great and really funny ones about for as little as £1!) seeing family or friends, baking, outdoor play, crafts… there is SO much you can do and it doesn’t need to cost a lot at all!
My first Christmas I started to apply huge amounts of pressure to myself. I panicked about not having the right/enough presents for my then 4-year-old. I can remember that he only had a few gifts to open and I broke my own heart before he woke up on Christmas morning feeling like a failure. But he knew no different. He sat and opened each gift and said thank you after each one. It was at that moment that I realized if you give your child/children a warm & loving home full of understanding and good moral teachings for 364 days of the year, this 1 day doesn’t have to be the hell that you preempt it to be. I can still see him now opening a Toy Story jigsaw puzzle in his Thomas the Tank Engine pj’s and beaming from ear to ear. We’ve still got the puzzle. We could complete it with our eyes closed. I think we’ll get it out this evening.
Don’t push yourself. Don’t punish yourself. Most importantly, don’t create unrealistic expectations for yourself.
I can also understand that Instagram can also be tough, lots of people post their very nice presents underneath very nice trees doing very nice & expensive activities that look very nice on their very nice squares.
If it makes you feel negative, just unfollow accounts that don’t make you feel good about yourself or your choices/circumstance.
Comparison is the thief of your own joy, do not let anything take away from your Christmas.
My inbox is always open.
- Danni @alright.bab