holiday depression

Planning for Drama-free Holidays as a Single Parent

Let’s get one thing straight: Christmas is about the kids and not you nor or ex-partner. Okay, so now we’re over the most difficult part, I’m going to share some ideas about making Christmas for you, your kids, and even your ex more cordial, cooperative, and celebratory.

The Schedule – Christmas Morning

This will be our 5th Christmas as a divorced family and we’ve learned a few things about making the schedule work. Everyone wants to establish and maintain family rituals. While my kids are beyond “Santa” they do still expect a surprise on Christmas morning. That’s our job. They’re still kids.

My ex and I have tried several configurations but the following seems to work for us.

After they are out of school, for the week before Christmas they are at their mom’s house. (Their primary and permanent residence. We tried one Christmas morning at my house, and their mom came and did presents with us, but it was a stretch. Besides I didn’t have a fireplace.) And on Christmas morning the kids wake up in their normal beds and get to rush (meander these days) into the living room when they wake up to the variety of gifts from Santa and various members of my ex-wife’s family and friends. (One Christmas I did the morning at her house, but that too was a bit more emotional effort than it was worth.)

Between noon and 2 pm on Christmas day (with the flexibility left up to the kids and their timing) they transition to my house. These days we have a bit of a hybrid family. My sister’s house has the big tree and her two kids. (She’s also divorced.) And my mom and sister make the big Christmas lunch. We celebrate my tradition now with my mom, my sister, and her kids. It’s a cheerful event, and both pairs of kids get to exchange their gifts between each other as well.

Then for next week or so the kids are with me. We transition them back on or just after New Year’s Eve depending on plans. This mix gives us all a plan and a schedule that provides for Christmas at both parent’s houses. This year I’m providing additional transportation and care during the first week since my ex-wife has a major presentation that week. It’s all about cooperating and putting the kid’s interests above your own. You can deal with your issues elsewhere and on your own.

The Gifts

A while back my entire family decreed that Christmas and presents were about the kids and not about the adults. So we primarily exchange gifts for my kids and my sister’s kids. My son, being a techie kid usually wants some exotic computer part or accessory. This year we built him a super-fast gaming pc and for Christmas, he wants a fancy high-refresh-rate monitor that can keep up with his new video card. I’m going to buy it, and my mom and ex-wife will contribute the funds. Easy. And since he will be at my house, opening it on Christmas morning at my sister’s is easy, and he can use it during the time he’s at my house. (Yes, we now haul his black desktop tower computer between houses._

My daughter is a bit less coordinated because she’s into clothes and shopping with her friends. This year I’m taking her and two friends on an outlet mall excursion this weekend, before Christmas. I’ve tried to convince her that the better deals are had after Christmas, but she wants to go NOW. Since she’s more about the shopping than the gifts it’s easy to get her a Lululemon gift card, or in my case, take her to the Lululemon outlet store in a nearby city.

The Off Time

The hardest part for me, during the previous four holidays was my alone time. This is the part of the holidays that takes some strategies and plans to keep me from falling into a sad and cold place. Here’s what I am doing this year.

1. Work is good. I do have some contract work that will keep me cranked over the first part of the holidays. (Next week.) And I’ve offered to be an alternative transportation parent, since my work is flexible and my ex has some prior commitments.

2. What I’m doing for me. I have been on a renewed path towards fitness over the last few months, and this Christmas I will continue with my M – W – F tennis cardio workouts, as they are available over the holiday schedule. On the other days I’ll use our local running trails to keep me out and about and working out.

3. Alone is okay, but not all the time. When I get alone, or isolated is when I suffer the most. So I use my laptop to take my work to coffee shops and restaurants all over town. (See my recent Gift Guide to learn about my noise-canceling headphones.)

4. Write about it. This blog has been transformational. Reframing every interaction with my ex-wife in a positive light has allowed me to let go of most of the negativity in my life. And writing about the hard parts can give me some poetic narrative for what I’m going through. Thomas Moore says in Dark Nights of the Soul, that writing the story of your pain aligns you with a long tradition of great writers. By making your story a bit more epic, you can get some objective distance from the experience itself.

The Wrap Up

Divorce is a bitch. And divorce-mas (the Christmas time when you’re a single parent) is one of the times people experience the most sadness and stress. Here’s the plan.

Kids first. It’s all about them. Deal with your stuff on your time.

Be kind. Your ex can be a partner in making things easier. (All negativity should be dealt with outside the relationships.)

Your joy is also critical to a successful holiday season. Be gentle on yourself. Do every fun thing you can think of doing. Go see a movie. Call friends. Attend “singles” parties via Meetup or any other single friends.

When you’re alone, make use of that time to reflect, strategize, and make plans for what you’re going to to next.

Giving is the best part. Every gift of peace and calm you can provide returns to you ten-fold during the holidays. Try this. Be Mr. Nice Guy. (Or Nice Girl) Just do it. Take the Grinch out back and show him the highway, at least while your kids ar around. However, by actively bringing the positive joy into your plans the old sad Grinch may head out of his own accord.

That’s the plan. Good luck with yours. Happy Holidays.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling life after divorce. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.

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image: Timberland Santa, Kevin Dooley, creative commons usage

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