I’ve been a single mom for almost six years now. Part of me can’t believe it’s been that long and other parts of me are still raw. And most of me is pretty darn worn out (but I mean, what mom isn’t? Especially during the holidays). In these six years I’ve learned some real, raw and often unspoken truths about this single mom holiday journey that I think are important for the friends and family of single parents to know. They’re hard to articulate in the midst of the journey, so perhaps my time, perspective and real will bless you and your friends.
So friends of single moms (and dads) – this is for you and trust me, they are all meant in love, but they are really important to just know.
- Holidays are hard. They just are – especially in those early single parenthood days. All the traditions and all the images of what you hoped the holidays to look like have changed for your friend. So love them, but know that underneath the smiles there is probably a heart that hurts. Like hurts in a way that is often indescribable or they don’t want to open that box because they’re trying to keep it together. They will feel like they’re letting their kids down (even though they’re not), so show up for their kids too. Maybe you sit with them at a school program or at church or at Starbucks. But know that they struggle, so don’t minimize it, just love them. The words it’s the most wonderful time of the year might not apply for them and they might tell you they just want to get to January. That’s okay. Don’t fix it, just be there. You showing up and not trying to put a ribbon and glitter on the holidays but letting them feel matters.
- The demands of being a single parent are exponential. It is not the same as having a spouse that travels. Don’t tell them this or say that you understand or try to get it (unless you do). Please, just please don’t. I know you mean well, but the difference is that a spouse that travels still has the emotional support connection. A single parent feels alone in the journey AND often has to deal with animosity. Their demands are very high. So give them grace within the journey and freedom to say no. They will feel like they have to hold everything together and that is a great amount of pressure. They’re just working to get footing again. And the demands during the holiday are even higher because they will feel the pressure too “fix” the holiday for their kids.
- Don’t exclude them. This hurts. The hardest part about being a single mom is not feeling like you fit in with things. Extend the invite to parties or events (help them find childcare) and give them the option to say no to it. You see that provides power for her and shows that your friend/family member matters to you. Again, I know you mean well, but being excluded is sometimes the worst. We need friends. We get that we’re single and don’t need that to be a reason to not be a part. And oh yes, find out if/when they have their kids. Pick them up, do something, invite them over – especially if this is the first holiday without their kids.
- Help them out. Show up for those school things. Go Christmas shopping with them. Bring them dinner. Help decorate. Helps sort the Christmas stuff with them so they can get rid of stuff. Give them permission to NOT get a tree or any other holiday things. Just help. If you know their finances are different then can you help out with presents? Take them to coffee, bring them dinner, help with the laundry, shovel the driveway, drive the kids to school – anything to be a part of their village. Single parenting during the holidays can feel extremely isolating so be their constant.
- Let them create new traditions. In other words, give them the space and freedom to develop new traditions for their family. Traditions are tough – and if the traditions involve their previous traditions or something that might make the kids sad – it is really challenging. So encourage new traditions. Find a holiday parade to go with them on OR take the kids to see Santa OR anything. Now I realize, since this is my sixth Christmas solo, that there is good in the previous traditions and their is equally good in the new traditions. But it took time. So your friend needs that too. They need permission to let go of what they thought life would be like so they kind find joy in this new chapter.
- They don’t need to be told they are so strong. Even though I know you believe it is the kindest, kindest thing. The truth is they are really really tired of being strong and probably would tell you that they have no other choice but being strong. What they really need from you is the permission to be real. To set down some of that so strong stuff. To have a safe place – without answers – but where the emotions can be guarded. Help them out, hold their arms up and be proud of their strength but find ways to help.
- Let them know they are loved. And important. And worth spending time with. And that they are not alone. The holidays can be hard on everyone, but those single moms (and dads) well, my friends, this is your time to really GIVE during this time. They might never be able to articulate the thanks or it might take years, but I can tell you it truly matters. All of it does.
Be a friend. They will be there for you too.
Trust me, we remember who shows up.