The holiday season as a newly single parent brings a range of emotions, and you may find yourself flip-flopping between uneasiness, relief, and loneliness at times. The good news? You have your kids to spend time with and enjoy — and going through these new and unfamiliar feelings together can be a great source of comfort, both for you and them.
It can feel overwhelming to figure out how to give your kids the holiday celebration they deserve, particularly if your ex was traditionally in charge of holiday planning. Remember, what matters most to your kids is spending quality time with you during the holidays; not the number of presents, cookies, or holiday parties involved. With a little bit of creativity and planning, you can have a wonderful family holiday — and make it one your kids will always remember.
Here are a few tips for making the holiday season really ring as a single dad:
Break — and Make — Traditions
This tip is important, especially if your separation from your ex was recent, and is still fresh for your whole family. Don’t try to replicate the exact same traditions you had before the divorce, or separation. Your kids likely have great memories associated with those past experiences — so leave those alone, and allow them to live on as wonderful memories.
Choose instead to start new traditions together. Attend a new holiday event, or buy new lights to hang. Get a few new Christmas tree ornaments, or Hanukkah decorations. Learn to prepare an unusual seasonal food together. Choose to do things that fit the personality of your new family unit — activities both you and your kids will enjoy, that will begin to form great memories of this new chapter in your lives.
Focus on Experiences
Most of us have enough “stuff” in our homes, and the truth is that many of the items and toys kids want one year are forgotten by the next. Instead of investing in more toys and electronics, which won’t truly soothe your family’s uncomfortable feelings this season, look for experiences instead. Take the kids on an unexpected trip, or visit a fun holiday attraction you’ve never been to. Make sure you iron out all the details with your co-parent ahead of time, so there aren’t any conflicts. Your kids will cherish the moments you spend as a family for much longer than any material gifts.
Ask Your Kids for Suggestions
Save yourself a few steps, and ask your kids what they would like to do (and receive) for the holiday. Perhaps there are activities you haven’t heard of, or special things they have in mind that you can do as a family. Coming up with new traditions can be a fun family activity — sit down and brain storm new ideas together. Perhaps take a trip to the nearest holiday or craft store, and let each kid pick out a few new decorations. Try to give each child an opportunity to choose an activity, either at home or in the community (within reason, of course). It’s possible that all they really want is to make cookies at home with you.
You’re bound to feel a range of difficult emotions as the holiday season progresses, particularly when your kids aren’t with you. Plan ahead for these times, and surround yourself with pleasant or comforting distractions. Make plans with friends and loved ones, or just head out and enjoy a hobby or activity that you really love. Go to the gym, the movies, your favorite restaurant, or that new hobby shop you’ve been meaning to check out. Try not to dwell on the past. Get out and enjoy the best of the current season – both when you’re with the kids, and when you’re on your own.
Bonding over shared community service is a great way to spend holiday time with your kids – and it will help remind them of all they have. Find volunteer opportunities that apply best to your family, whether it’s with local hunger groups, holiday toy collections, or even the animal shelter. Try to make a lasting tradition — maybe you can continue volunteering even after the holiday season has ended. Volunteering gives everyone (no matter what age) a good dose of perspective; and it truly feels good to help others, which can make some of your icky holiday feelings fade away.
Remember, your kids are the main reason you celebrate the holidays. Find ways to make them feel special, without going overboard with material items. When you aren’t with your kids, look for smart ways to take care of yourself, too — because when you take good care of you, you’ll be able to give your best to them.