Help with the holidays when money is tight
Spoiler alert for Solo Moms: the holiday season does not always turn out to be the most wonderful time of the year for us.
Of course, we are not alone. Remember the Cratchit family, in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, struggling to stay cheery and not knowing if they could afford Christmas dinner? The holiday season is as stuffed with financially stressed people as it is with sugarplums. Think about the flood of requests this time of year for donations for teachers, firemen, coaches, babysitters, and people you don’t know who “need your help.”
Still, there are several components during the holiday season that make it particularly tough on Solo Moms.
First, starting the day after Halloween, you are bombarded with visions of gingerbread houses and perfectly happy nuclear families. How can you support the holiday spirit and keep a sense of reality? How do you temper that media onslaught that makes your child assume that Brad Pitt is going to arrive with a golden retriever puppy (a white trained one that doubles as a rescue dog) and sweep you all up into a glowing happy ending?
Which leads us to second part of the problem: money. Santa gets wish lists. And you budget and rebudget, but you just can’t figure out how to put food on the table and put presents under the tree.
Organizations such as D.A.R.E., Toys for Tots, and The Salvation Army (which also gives families in need funds to purchase toys) hold pledge drives to collect toys for kids. They want to make sure that the spirit of Christmas holds true for everyone.
If you don’t feel you qualify for these donations, and the thought of trying to stuff the area under the tree chock-full is giving you debt-collector nightmares, you can subtly alter the conversation as the world around you is flooded with tinsel and decked halls.
Get new toys throughout the year. Pley is a toy-rental company that rents Lego kits at pricing plans starting at $24.99 per month. You keep each kit as long as you want and then return it and another (clean) one shows up within three days. There’s also Sparkbox Toys, with pricing plans starting at $20 per month, which focuses more on educational toys for babies and toddlers.
You can also opt for one big gift. The way to make it not seem so lonely is to surround it with small ones. And when I say small, I mean a deck of cards, new shoelaces, hair ties, whistles, or nail polish. Make sure they are wrapped, and see if you can get shiny bows and ribbons (which will inevitably be shredded).
If there is one very much desired item that you know will be available and on sale, you can have Santa send a note with an IOU so that your child can go pick it for themselves—so Santa is sure it’s the right one. It’s not fabulous, since kids are not great about delayed gratification, but, for some gifts, it’s the only way to go.
There is also Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and considered the start of the holiday shoppin where you can get some amazing sales, especially on electronics, and Cyber Monday, which could allow Santa a little more wiggle room.
Here’s another thought, and it’s not new or original. There is a spirit to the holidays that doesn’t involve gifts. Before you tear out your hair and scream, “I know that, but my kid needs a gift!” let me propose something.
How many of the presents from the last few years have lasted? How many do your kids remember? That was sooo last year! Remember, you are a Solo Mom. You will never keep up with the nuclear parental units. Soon enough the perfect family around the corner will be taking their kids on a trip to London for the holidays. So you have to take a different path.
Instead, create some unique family rituals. Yes, yes, the holidays are also famous for frustrating and exhausting family rituals. Which is why you, as the lead instigator of your family, whatever its shape and size, must create some of your own that your children will remember with fond aggravation long after the gifts.
Food is a good ritual. Leave Santa a humongous cookie. Make cookie treats for his reindeer. Have Santa leave a note saying he’s on a diet, and eat them yourself the next day. Or pick one meal that everyone cooks together.
Have Santa deliver one present that’s for the whole family. If you like puzzles and games, consider having Santa leave a family gift, whether it’s a jigsaw puzzle, a deck of cards, or a board game with an accompanying basket of candy. Use the candy to bet on rummy (or poker!), and change the game so that candy, popcorn, or cookies are distributed when you pass Go!
Gifts for others and going out are also good kinds of rituals. Take a meal to a homeless shelter. Take a hike after you open the presents. Have a Nerf ball fight in the park in the snow. Make sure you do these things together.
Someone in your family is going to complain. Someone is going to be a sore loser. Don’t be deterred! I have countless pictures from the holidays where one of my children has crossed her arms and bunched up her lips. It’s a family tradition, amiright? The light-up shoes are long gone and forgotten. But those pictures of all of us on our Christmas-day hike show the family we built together.
We’d love to hear about your Solo Mom family traditions. Share them by submitting to Perspectives.
Margot Kessler, a screen and television writer living in Los Angeles, is the sporadically witty Solo Mom of two lovely daughters.
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