By Sarah Hughes
If somebody had told me this time last year that my 2022 festive season would be spent as a single woman, I would’ve told them they were Christmas crackers (sorry). Not that I didn’t want to be single; in fact after the Covid years, my marriage had taken such a battering it was by that point, unrecognisable. I felt like I was engulfed in thick fog, sleepwalking through my days, with a quiet but persistent voice in my head telling me I was the only one who could reclaim my one, precious life.
So to cut a very long and painful story short; in May of this year, I made the decision and took a leap of faith and now I find myself heading into ‘ the most wonderful time of the year’, technically alone, for the first time in twenty years.
As the mother of three young boys who live with me the vast majority of the time, I’m not sure it’s likely my December will be hugely heavy on the sequins and the parties, but I want to ensure it’s really, scarily heavy on the love, you know? Christmas has always been my favourite time of year, even more so since having my kids and creating all the magic for them… and I’m determined this year won’t be any different. Nevertheless, I have a creeping trepidation and rising anxiety about how we’ll all handle this first festive season as a separated family.
To ease my worries, I’ve been speaking to some fantastic women whom I love and respect dearly, who have been in this particular boat before; lots of them many many years ago. I’ve been jotting down their little golden nuggets of advice over the past few weeks and using them to compile my very own Christmas coping strategy.
Have a read, and if you’re facing a similar Christmas to mine, maybe some of these tried and tested tips will work for you too.
Create new Christmas traditions
This one seems like a no-brainer but it hadn’t occurred to me. There’s really no point recreating so many of the Christmas traditions that we had as a family of five. Yes, there will be some things that we can keep up as a common thread to provide familiarity and reassurance for the kids. Their Dad will be there in the morning when they wake up, we’ll do all the crazy present opening that takes just over ten minutes to complete after way over ten weeks of saving and buying and wrapping.
But there’s little point in trying to make this a carbon-copy Christmas of the previous ones. A good friend of mine told me it’s really delaying the inevitable because we won’t be able to keep it up forever and it’s best to be honest with the children that this Christmas will be different, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
To that end, I’ve completely lost my marbles and decided to do the Elf on the Shelf for the first time ever… I realise that I’m adding an extra layer of stress onto my already stressful existence but hey! I think the big two boys will love helping me set the elf escapades up for their younger brother… and it’s new; a totally new tradition for us. It’ll be fun right? Right!?
Lean on your friends and family
This particular gem has been pressed into my palm probably hundreds of times since May. It’s one that at times I find difficult to do, and other times I have no choice. The wheels sporadically come off the well-oiled machine of my new family set-up, and i have no choice but to ask for help. It’s resulted in a closeness with my nearest and dearest which I had totally underestimated and funnily enough even though I’m technically alone this Christmas, I can’t remember a time in my life when I’ve felt more loved, more supported, more cherished… it’s a Christmas miracle.
As I head into December, after almost six months separated, I would add a little sidenote to this piece of advice:
Keep the circle of friends and family tight.
In the early days after the split I found myself talking to lots of different people; I felt like I had loads of friends and that was great. People I barely knew were offering me support, advice and help. It was all lovely and well-intentioned but as always in our crazy modern lives, it couldn’t be sustained.
I find far greater comfort in my immediate family and a small handful of my ride-or-die forever friends knowing every single fear and thought that runs through my head, than having an army of helpers who only know snippets.
So this festive season forgive me if I’m not a social butterfly; it might be a toughie, so I’m keeping the circle small and strong.
Be realistic about finances and what you can afford
This one came from my ever-wise Mother. A sure-fire way to ruin your first Christmas as a single person is to get yourself up to the eyes in debt to pay for it, right? I mean, thinking cynically, if you can’t say “Sorry I couldn’t afford to buy you a better present.” whilst you’re in the midst of a divorce, when the heck can you?
In all seriousness though, you might have to reframe what Christmas looks like in light of a big change in your personal finances. Maybe it means more nights in with the girls, rather than hitting the town every weekend in December. Maybe it means having honest conversations with friends about not buying gifts for each other this year, or at least setting a budget.
There’s also the matter of talking to the children to manage their expectations of what Christmas might be like as a single parent family… in fact it’s something my amazingly astute eldest child raised with me rather than the other way around. As parents we can fall into the trap of feeling so guilty about the split and the effect it has had on the children, there’s a danger we go totally over the top in terms of gifts in an effort to ‘make it up to them’. Instead, talk to your kids in an age appropriate way about what you can afford this year, the chances are they’ll astound you with their maturity on the subject. If you’re stuck for ways to start the conversation, this article has some great tips.
Stay vigilant for big emotions
Christmas is a time of year where the pressure to feel happy and excited can conversely push some really negative feelings from the darkest corners of our minds. Grief, heartache and resentment are all lurking in the wake of a separation, for both the adults and the children.
A piece of advice we’ve all been given I’m sure over the years is to avoid comparing ourselves to others. For me this year, that means I’ll largely be avoiding social media in December. Perfect Instagram posts of blissfully happy 2.4 children families are probably not what I need to see! Having said that, I’m realistic enough to know that what we see on social media is never the full story. If I scrolled back to December last year I’m sure I was probably posting the requisite Christmas pyjamas family pic in an effort to convince everyone and more importantly myself, that I was happy.
I’ll also be keeping a super watchful eye on the kids in the run up to the big day… even though they all seem to be coping very well with their change in circumstances, there’s every chance that Christmas will produce some big and unexpected emotions. Giving them a safe space to let all that feeling out without fear of judgement is of paramount importance.
Find the joy for you, not just for the kids
This final piece of advice was given to me by a woman I chat to in my neighbourhood who I think is simply fabulous. She raised three boys on her own (all who became happy, secure and successful men) after a difficult divorce and I feel such an affinity with her because of this. She told me last week; “It’s so easy to put yourself on the back burner day after day when you’re single parenting. So whenever you can this Christmas, find the little pockets of joy for yourself. It’s not selfish.”
She’s so spot on. Putting yourself last becomes a habit… a very bad habit. But Christmas is for everyone, me included. And that means scheduling in some non-negotiable down time with my girlfriends, dancing the night away, flirting with some charming unsuitable men and treating myself to one little gift that I really covet… I mean, nobody else is going to buy it for me are they!?