Christmas for single parents

Originally published on 24th November 2023 at 10:06 AM
Reading time: 6 mins
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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 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.

1. Plan parenting time arrangements early

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.

2. Create new traditions

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:

Make Christmas Eve even more magical with a pyjama party – put on a festive film, get comfy on the sofa and tuck into your favourite treats.

Out with the old, in with the new – one parent suggests letting your children pick some new decorations for the tree, or you could make your own. Nothing beats making snowflake paper chains to get you into the Christmas spirit!

It wouldn’t be Christmas if it didn’t involve food. If you’re feeling brave, you could even let the kids decide what you eat on the day. Baking cakes, mince pies and gingerbread – get your children involved too. It’s bound to be fun (if a little messy).

New traditions don’t have to break the bank, and they can be a good way to teach children the importance of saving. Try putting 50p a day in a jar for the 12 days of Christmas, and then let your kids use it to buy a gift for someone.

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 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!”

3. Make a budget and stick to it

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.

For adult family and friends, Secret Santas can be a really fun way of giving gifts while keeping the costs down. And just having 1 gift to buy makes things a lot less stressful.

And setting a spending limit for the kids’ presents with their other parent can help avoid the competition that sometimes creeps in around Christmas.

4. Get creative with the presents

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.

5. Don’t forget about yourself

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.

Help over Christmas

Although Gingerbread is closed over Christmas, there are a number of places you can still get support if you need it.

  1. We have partnered with Shout, providing a free, 24 hour support service to anyone who might be feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Find out more here. Call Samaritans free on 116 123. Mind has information and advice on all aspects of mental health as well as emotional support – 0300 123 3393. Try Cruse Bereavement Care if you’re struggling to cope with grief at Christmas.
  2. The Salvation Army runs a Christmas Present Appeal. You can be referred for help by your nearest Salvation Army centre.
  3. If you need help with food, you may be able to get help from a foodbank. The Trussell Trust has a free helpline you can call on 0808 2082138 and you can use their site to find foodbanks near you.
  4. If you have nowhere to stay or don’t feel safe in your home, call Shelter’s emergency helpline on 0808 800 4444. Crisis may also be able to help.

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