Helpful holiday tips for single parents

by Emily McCormick 86th Medical Operations Squadron Family Advocacy

The holiday season can be exciting and joyful, but it can also be tough for families impacted by separation or divorce. If you are a parent facing your first holiday season as a single parent, you may be feeling anxious, overwhelmed or concerned about how your children will cope. You are not alone.

Children grow quickly, and the years can race by. This holiday season is the only one you’ll spend with your child at this age and stage. This holiday season can be positive and provide happy memories for you and your children, despite the loss you’ve experienced.

Here are some tips suggested by parents who have been down this road:

• Plan ahead.

If there is not already a custody or legal separation in place, have a meeting with the other parent and develop a schedule for the holidays. Be specific about dates and drop-off and pickup times. Knowing when time with each parent is scheduled will decrease anxiety for your child and help them feel they don’t have to choose between you. You may want to discuss gifts with the other parent to avoid duplication or overspending.

• Create new traditions.

First holidays, birthdays and special events are especially difficult for children following separation. They may express sadness and anger about changes in family traditions and having to split time between households. Acknowledge your child’s feelings and then talk about creative ways to celebrate the holidays that include new as well as old traditions. It’s easy to focus on the big events around the holidays, but each moment spent with your child offers opportunity for fun and connection. Put up a tree and make some new ornaments. Visit a Christmas market. Build a snowman or take a walk in the woods. Play a board game and have hot cocoa. Do volunteer work as a family. There are many ways to connect as a family and have fun.

• Be a role model.

Children take their cues from the adults around them. If a parent focuses on the losses and what’s missing from the holidays because of the divorce or separation, it makes it more difficult for children to cope with their feelings. Give your child the message, “This may be a tough season for our family, but we will get through it. I love you, and every day is a day to celebrate because we have each other.”

• Be positive and encouraging about the child’s time with the other parent.

It can be hard to hear about the fun time a child is anticipating or has experienced with the other parent. Allow them to talk about it. Your child may worry about you being sad or lonely while they’re not with you. Give them the message that you will miss them, but you have plans during that time and you’ll be OK. If your child won’t be seeing the other parent over the holidays, ensure that your child is able to video chat, have a phone call or otherwise be in contact.

• Practice self-care.

Holidays can be stressful enough without the added stress of family separation. Be kind to yourself. Find someone you trust with whom you can talk. Take a time out if you need it. Acknowledge that this is a tough time, and set limits to what you commit to.

For more information, the 86th Medical Operations Squadron Family Advocacy offers a two-hour training called “Kids First: Strategies for Effective Co-Parenting.” The next class is scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday at Health Promotion on Ramstein, Bldg. 2117. For details and to register, call Family Advocacy at 479-2370 or 06371-46-2370.