The “Get Real” Guide to the Holidays

The “Get Real” Guide to the Holidays

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What your kids really want is you—happy, whole, and healthy

It’s hard enough being a Solo Mom when it is not the holiday season. When the holidays come, our normally hectic lives get even more hectic. And the responsibility! It’s all up to us to make everything perfect, whether we’re compensating for the absent parent or competing with our ex’s fantastic holiday extravaganza. Right?

Not really. Trying to do it all is a short road to a gin-soaked mess of a holiday, complete with unhappy children and an abundance of debt. It is not just OK to take care of yourself this holiday season, it’a really good idea. Here’s an example why this is true.

Last year, my mother bought what appeared to be the perfect premade Christmas turkey. A beautiful golden brown, it came from one of those upscale food purveyors that advertise in magazines and make us all feel insufficient as cooks. All it needed was to be heated. It should have been the perfect turkey, but it wasn’t. It came out of the oven with an acrid smell. Children and grandchildren looked at each other. Soon we figured it out: the turkey had been vacuum-packed in plastic to preserve its beautiful shape. There was no way around it. It was a disaster.

You’ve been there. Maybe you didn’t cook the turkey in its wrapper, but all of us have landed right on our butts trying to make things perfect, neglecting ourselves in the process. Yes, your kids want some presents and holiday magic, but they probably will be content with a lot less than you think, and you certainly don't have to achieve perfection. What your kids really want is you—happy, whole, and healthy.

Fine, you say. But how? Here are a few ideas from other Solo Moms:

  • Remember that the holidays are a season, not a day or a meal. The length of the holiday season can make us crazy. We get trapped into thinking that every day has to be perfect. Turn that crazy-making thought around and remember that each holiday season only needs to have one or two nice memories. And you don’t even have to plan them. Just keep an eye out for the day when something fun happens. Maybe a child starts giggling. Or there is a perfect winter snowfall. That's it! Grab it. If the actual day or meal isn’t perfect, so what? You had your moment. Tell stories about it for years to come.
  • Buy yourself something nice. Wrap it and open it when the kids open their presents and say, “It's just what I wanted!” This trick comes from my Solo Mom sister. It might seem silly, but there is something nice about getting a present that you really wanted. And it saves you from that soul-crushing moment when you realize there is nothing for you.
  • Wear lip gloss and do your hair. This is no time to play Cinderella before the ball. Buy one toy fewer and spend the money on yourself. Someone is going to take pictures, and you want to be in them, not hiding in the background. Plus, here is a secret that my grandmother knew: people treat you better when you polish up a bit.
  • Ask your kids about their favorite holiday traditions. If there is a tradition that isn’t on their lists—or yours—skip it. Or stop by that holiday party and say hello, but don’t stay long. Focus on what you enjoy and what your kids care about. Give yourself credit for everything you do. Got the kids’ hair cut? Go you! Bought the kids some toys? Awesome!
  • Write appreciation letters for gifts. If you are short on money and shopping time, a one-page letter about what you love about someone can be a great gift. If you want to be a little fancy, frame it. This makes an excellent gift from young children for their grandparents or aunts and uncles. In a letter that my older son and I wrote for his grandmother, he said he loved that she cooked bacon. That single line touched her more than any of the gifts we could have bought for her.
  • Buy in bulk. If you really like to give presents to all of your kids' teachers and the mail carrier, consider buying a dozen of the same present. I like to give out nice-smelling body washes. Has anyone ever noticed that I gave the same thing to more than one person? I am sure they have. Has it mattered? I doubt it. Bonus points if you order online and don't have to go to the mall.
  • Plan to do something if you aren’t with your kids. I have my kids 24/7. So, a few years ago when the stars aligned and my ex took the kids for Thanksgiving, I assumed I would enjoy the quiet. I was wrong. At least plan which movies you’d like to watch ahead of time. If you can, get out and be with other people. Go out of town, if possible!
  • Don’t use alcohol or drugs to steel yourself for gatherings or to keep that perfect face on. Seriously, nobody wants to be the woman who took a Valium before the office Christmas party and then had a few. That isn’t how you want your kids to remember the holidays either. I’ve never heard an adult reminisce fondly about drunken family members at the holiday dinner.

Finally, remember: there is no shame in serving packaged food. If you chose to buy the precooked turkey, however, make sure to take the plastic off before heating.

Robin Rogers is an associate professor of sociology at Queens College, City University of New York. She lives in Brooklyn with her two boys.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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