All a lone parent needs at Christmas, apart from cash and caffeine, is the company of other adults who cab make them laugh. That’s it. Hardly ground-breaking, writes Suzanne Harrington
The worst thing about being a lone parent at Christmas is not hauling an eight-foot tree indoors from your car and somehow ramming it upright near a plug socket. Nor is it having to foot the entire festive bill yourself, while dealing with the demands of arsey teenagers who scoff at Santa but still expect a lavish visit.
It’s not all the arrangements you must undertake so that you and the kids don’t accidentally end up home alone on the day itself (you wouldn’t actually care that much, but they’d moan and think it was weird). It’s not even the stark fact that making Christmas magical, perfect, the best ever etc, is all down to you, every year, forever — or until they move out, whichever comes first.
No, the worst thing about being a lone parent at Christmas is the Christmas stocking, or lack thereof. Yours, not theirs. Theirs is bulging with goodies filled by you, obviously. But who will do yours? Not having someone to do your Christmas stocking stuffed full of lovely nonsense, even if you are middle aged and should know better, can feel like the saddest thing ever. The Achilles heel of single parent Christmas.
Before you start crying on my behalf, I should say that this only happened once ever, an administrative error during my first Christmas as a single parent. A decade ago, when I was still getting the hang of it and not tuned into the detail. The feeling of dismay, and of not being able to show this dismay for fear of seeming like an overgrown toddler while surrounded by actual toddlers, was a lesson in the importance of putting on your own oxygen mask first.
Identifying your own Achilles heel, whatever it is, and putting action in place to prevent it happening again. Not forgetting that although Christmas is all about the kids, you the adult has needs too, no matter how absurd. Ever since my initial oversight , I have been inundated by Christmas stockings, stuffed to the brim with goodies by my sister. We do one for each other every year.
The best thing about single parenthood — and not just at Christmas —is the autonomy. You get to create your own traditions, rather than just going along with what is; as the years pass, these traditions become embedded — making gingerbread and holly wreaths, having Lindt reindeers for breakfast, the joyful present-opening ritual that lasts all morning. These traditions are now part of our family Christmas. Maybe they will be part of my kids’ Christmas when they’re adults, or maybe they’ll make their own. I really don’t care, so long as they invite me to Christmas lunch.
There is no emoji on your smart phone to denote the one parent family, despite more than one in four Irish and British families headed by a lone adult. Most of whom — 90% — are women. You’d wonder why our lovely families are not acknowledged with the same inclusion offered to the families with same sex parents, given our hefty demographic. Is it because people automatically assume that being a single parent — anytime of the year — means that somehow your family is tragically incomplete? (We so aren’t, by the way).
Hopefully attitudes are continuing to change to reflect our reality. Go online and browse the wide selection of (awful) American Christmas ornaments designed specifically for one-parent families who make up one third of all US families. Again, mostly mummies. And it will come as a great shock to nobody whomsoever that it is mummies, lone or otherwise, who shoulder the slog of Christmas; whether you have a partner or are going it solo, you will bear the festive brunt. It’s tradition.
Non-scientific methodology — a group text to friends — confirms this.
“I dread it,” says my friend Mary, a lone parent of four daughters. “Nightmare,” says Lou, lone parent of two. “Exhausting,” says Sarah, partnered parent of two. “Massive headache,” says Jen, married parent of three. “Comes around way too fast.”
This massive festive headache is not, however, the fault of menfolk. Nobody has ever forced me to bake gingerbread, sprinkle glitter all over the house, or stay up half the night wrapping presents. This is my own free will. I do it so that my children, despite currently being hideous teenagers, will look back on their childhood Christmases with a warm glow of fond remembrance, because mummy made an effort.
And as single parent, that effort has been redoubled despite mummy not really giving a rat’s ass about Christmas — because it’s part of the job description. You do it for your kids, even if your kids are firmly in the I-hate-you-give-me-a-tenner phase of development. You suck it up, and continue to sprinkle the glitter.
All a lone parent needs at Christmas, apart from cash and caffeine, is the company of other adults who make you laugh. That’s it. Hardly ground-breaking, but when you consider the spike in divorce rates in January, you can’t help but feel just the teeniest bit smug at your good fortune. At your freedom. At your autonomy.
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