I have written about this subject before and so this year I was asked by Family Action to write a blog post for their website about how we have managed to survive Christmas. It’s been a long old journey and every year is different, but we’ve found a messy sort of formula that I hope works for all of us, but mainly the children, who matter the most. Families come in all shapes and sizes and Family Action is committed to supporting them realising their potential. All families encounter difficult and challenging times and many will find ways to deal with their problems, getting the support they need from friends and relatives.
(I don’t know where this image came from but I love it!)
However, some of my suggestions don’t really work when you throw the kids into the mix – take for example my idea of cheating wherever possible and buying Aunt Bessie’s roast potatoes or some of the other supermarket brands – but my children over the last few years thought that was unacceptable cheating and my son has taken on the duty of making proper roast potatoes using goose fat. He takes the job very seriously….but this year it’s gone like this:-
Him: Mum, are you OK to buy like 4 large bags of potatoes – we are going to need loads for 14 people
Me: Yup no problem
Him: And don’t forget to get loads of goose fat.
I duly go and do this and lug it all home. Apparently not enough goose fat. Go and get more.
Him: Can we ask our friends across the road if they’ve got space to cook the turkey in their oven? We won’t have space for both and I need the potatoes to be really crispy so we will have to spread them out in several tins.
Me: Not really ideal for my friends? We are still working on this plan.
Him: Mum as I’ve got my Xmas Eve brunch and then going to dad’s I won’t have time to peel them, so do you think you could do it so I’m not peeling potatoes for like three hours tomorrow when we get back.
Me: WTF??? The only reason I bought REAL potatoes is because it’s become your job. If I’d known this was going to happen I’d have resorted to Plan A.
This is awful. I don’t want to peel potatoes for 14 people.
Anyway, wherever you are and whoever you are spending Christmas with, I hope you have a happy time. Good luck with your day and here are my other top tips from the article:-
Christmas can be a difficult time of year no matter what your family dynamic consists of and it is often hard to get away from the happy family stereotype of what Christmas should be like. Tolstoy’s famous quote about families springs to mind “all happy holidays are alike; but every unhappy holiday is unhappy in its own way.”
Our own and our children’s expectations of happiness at Christmas time can be overwhelming at the best of times, but even more so when you are a single parent. Having managed ten years of single parent holidays still doesn’t make me an expert, because each year comes with a different set of complications and issues, but it does mean I can share some practical advice that has helped us all get through Christmas with our sanity and our sense of humour still intact.
The most painful element by a million miles is obviously working out how you share the children over the holiday period and in particular on the big day itself. Some couples manage to ensure they are all together on Christmas Day for the sake of the children, whilst others have taken it even further and included new partners, but this is of course rare. I would recommend that unless it is totally harmonious, throwing all the blended families together is not going to be the best solution for the children, so make sure they take priority. Ultimately, whatever compromise you make, try not to battle too much over the children – I know that is easier said than done, but if you can both agree to share them then everyone will have a better Christmas. This also applies to the presents you give your children. Try to liaise with your ex-partner about what they want and what you plan to buy them. Ideally, you should avoid competitive present giving (much as the kids love that) and either continue to share the big present or agree which ones you’re going to buy them. If you can still do a shared present then maybe you can do the present opening together with the children?
“Mix it up a bit. Be creative. Invite friends to join you so that you can share the load.”
The arrangement that has worked best for us and our children so that everyone gets to spend time together on Christmas day is that each year we alternate between having the children for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning so that you can do stockings and presents or having them from lunchtime onwards for the remainder of Christmas Day and Boxing Day. It makes it far less painful all around, knowing that every year we are all going to be able to spend time together on Christmas day come what may.
The next trick is to start looking at Christmas from a different perspective. Mix it up a bit. Be creative. Invite friends to join you so that you can share the load. Or go and visit others. Start new traditions. If you don’t have your children on Christmas Day then think about a European Christmas and do a big family meal on Christmas Eve instead. If you are cooking then I would recommend that you involve the children and cheat wherever possible – mine now enjoy taking over the Christmas meal which is ideal for me (ignore the mess).
If you don’t have the children for Christmas then do try and plan something special with them that is a little bit different – go to the theatre, or ice skating, a Christmas market or to friends for a party in the lead up to make it fun family time, so that the wrench is not so great when they do leave.
It’s important to remain as positive as possible for the sake of the children. Once they leave, make sure you have plans for the day – spend it either with friends or family or even plan to go away somewhere so that you are not alone and moping. If you do find yourself with some spare time then think about going to help out somewhere like Crisis with serving Christmas lunch for the homeless.
Try and look on the bright side – this will be a different Christmas with different rules, but at least you won’t have to hang out with your in-laws or eat Christmas pudding if none of you like it!
Let go of all your expectations about life and look for the fun. The kitchen dancing, the different games, the surprising moments.
Ultimately it’s just another day.
You can do this.
If you’re worried about family tensions this Christmas you can call their FamilyLine service. You can get in touch via telephone, text message or email for emotional support and guidance as well as practical advice and information.