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.
Take out the word mom and this applies to single people without children, in fact many only wishes they had kids to celebrate with
I agree with this whole heartedly. I wanted children so badly but it just wasn’t in the cards. I see everyone doing all the Christmas fun stuff and I wish that I could be doing them too. Sometimes I get frustrated with moms who complain about how they wish they didn’t have to do all this holiday bullshit, and I’m over here wishing I had the opportunity. It’s all about perspective. This is an informative read to remind ourselves to always be kind .
Thanks!! They are also dads that need this!
Take out the word mom and this applies to single people without children, in fact many only wish they had kids to celebrate with
And please don’t tell me to socialise and enjoy my break from the kids when they are with their father. I miss them every moment and worry about their welfare.
One of the things I had a very difficult time with during the holidays was doing Santa’s shopping with my daughter in tow and still trying to keep everything a surprise for her. It would have been extremely helpful if a friend or family member had offered to watch her while I shopped.
Yaas. With my oldest this was the case. When she was pretty young I’d put her in the shopping cart seat and cover the gifts with my big coat in the cart and check out while she played with a toy and bag everything really well. I did have a lot of help financially from my church to help with bills and to be able to get a few gifts though. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to afford them. Part of my problem though was not wanting to ask family to help. I didn’t want to be a burden. I guess that’s where that please offer to help comes in.
It’s important not to try and empathize by saying, “Karen is a single mom too”. I’m not Karen. It’s awesome that you feel she has everything together. Let’s not compare single moms as if we’re competing for something.
This applies just as much to single dads. As a single dad I fell very isolated because my circle of friends was very much due to my wife’s circle – so when that ended, I really lost connections
Yes, yes it really does.
Being a single mom is hard whether at Christmas or any time of the year. I’m sure it’s just as hard for single dads too but I can only speak for myself. I came home from the hospital alone after a C section with a new baby. My husband was gone and although he saw my son almost every week he made it clear that he had a new family now and my son wasn’t part of it. Because his 2nd wife didn’t allow my toddler son in her home I was at least spared being without him for holidays but it hurt me that my ex allowed this. He was such a sweet, easy going little boy, it makes me want to cry now 20+ years later.
Besides being left out of many activities I also had to deal with friends telling me how lucky I was not to have a husband aggravating me and how much easier their lives would be if they could just go to work all day like me. They didn’t have to work outside their homes because they were very financially well off. I guess they thought my house magically cleaned itself, groceries just appeared, clothes washed themselves, etc. They never considered the stress of being the sole support of their household and being the only parent. They didn’t understand the hard choices I had to make in my career for my son. I don’t regret those decisions for a moment but it would be nice if they acknowledged that the choices had to be made. Single custodial parents can’t travel for their job regularly. They would be shocked at how much of an impact that has. If you haven’t worked for 30 years please don’t tell me that it would be easy for you or that you could step back in to a career at any time.
I even had a former friend tell me that she knows I would have liked to have been a good mom but I had to work. I cut off my relationship with this person when I realized that she regularly made comments like this putting me down and also made disparaging comments about my ex in front of my son. I worked really hard to never speak ill of him in front of him so I wasn’t going to let someone else do it. What’s worse, she seemed to have decided that my son had inherited the bad characteristics she attributed to his father and commented on them. That’s when I knew I had to cut her out of our lives.
To newly single parents I will tell you that it does get easier as your kids get older and as you settle in to the new normal. The guilt never goes away completely but it gets better too. I have been lucky to have a few close friends who have supported me and I am grateful for them.
My son is 28 and a very hard working, self sufficient young man who is doing really well in his career and his life. Some of his friends who never faced financial struggles, never went to daycare, always went on family vacations and got just about everything they wanted are not doing as well as he is now. As an adult he is able to see this now and is grateful for the life we had – except for those student loans! LOL
It’s very upsetting your story hit my heart. My kids father was abusive and a drug user once he ruined mine and my two boys life Elijah white and Sebastian he moved into a new girl and we were at the bottom of the chain in the worst part of Baltimore. I had fought with the system they helped me for a yr but once I started working they took money away. If this is my so called child support what should it matter if I have a job? I’m so sad for my children they have no aunt uncles or cousins that come to see them it is so sad .
[…] what single moms need friends to know during the holidays – Finding Joy […]
It becomes old hearing women act as if they are the only ones who are single parents. It’s becoming more and more common place for women to abandon their children and leave them with the father to raise alone. Maybe take both sexes into consideration when writing these articles. I’ve watched my own child’s fair share of tears wishing for a connection with a mother who abandoned him. Good article, but it applies to anyone who is single and a parent.