7 Ways Single Parents Can Manage Holiday Stress

November 22nd


Managing holiday stress

Any parent knows that the holidays can be full of both magic and mayhem. For single-parent families, the period from Thanksgiving to the New Year can be incredibly taxing and stressful. If you’re going it alone this season or know someone who is, KohParenting is here for you! This week’s post will share some sanity-saving tips for all the single moms, dads, and caregivers out there. Read on and let us take care of you, while you care for everyone else!

The Gist

The percentage of single-parent households continues to rise in the U.S. Many separated or divorced parents spend much of their custody time as solo caregivers to their children.

Single parents may struggle during the holiday season, an already stressful time made more difficult without the support of another parenting partner. Holidays can trigger painful memories and drain physical, emotional, and financial resources.

Single parents can survive the season by prioritizing self-care, paring down their holiday expectations, planning their schedule in advance, and embracing the special time with their children.

Friends or family members who wish to alleviate holiday stress for single parents can do so by spending time with them, sending supportive messages, lending a nonjudgmental ear, helping with their holiday “to-do” lists, and including them in social gatherings.

The Reality of Single-Parenthood:

The demographics of the American family are constantly changing, and single parenthood is more prevalent than ever before. A recent article from Forbes Magazine states that in 2020, 21% of children lived with their mother only and 4.5% with their father only- numbers that have risen significantly since 1968. In addition:
  • 4 in 10 children were born to unwed mothers
  • 1 in 5 children under the age of 18 are being raised without a father
  • 80% of single-parent families are headed by single mothers
  • Approximately one-third of single-parent families live in poverty - (Source)

These statistics drive home the fact that single parenthood is very common. We also know that after a breakup, each parent may spend much of their custody time alone with their children. Both parenting partners may be highly involved and invested in raising their kids but care for them separately (from distinct households at different times). They are often the sole adult guardians responsible for all the caregiving tasks and decision-making when their children are with them… including during holidays.

When the Holidays Hurt: Potential Pitfalls of the Season for Single Parents

Parenting is demanding, any day of the week. It’s especially difficult when you’re doing it alone, without the assistance of a partner. But the holidays often amplify the burden even further. Here’s why:

  • Memories of holidays past: The holidays often represent time with relatives and loved ones. If you harbor unpleasant memories, the season may re-ignite your trauma. Even if your memories with your ex were pleasant, you may still experience nostalgia and grief “for what once was.” The first holiday after a significant loss or life change, such as separation or divorce, can be excruciatingly painful.
  • High expectations: Society places high expectations on families at this time of year. Parents may feel pressure to make every moment magical, cram their schedule with fun, festive holiday activities, or purchase all the latest and greatest gifts.
  • Strained finances and resources: All this holiday merriment comes at a cost; many parents find that they’ve tapped every ounce of financial, physical, and emotional resources throughout November and December.
  • Limited free time: Life gets hectic as everyone tries to pack all the fun family bonding into a few short weeks. Routines and schedules often get discombobulated, which impacts everyone’s well-being. Many parents find that they have limited time to relax or unwind.
  • The rapid spread of germs: Flu, RSV, COVID-19, and other illnesses often multiply in winter. People sometimes become more susceptible to them as the busyness of the holiday season depletes their physical resources. Frequent social gatherings or contact with large groups of people (at special events, parties, shopping malls, etc.) spread the germs, and suddenly, these viruses become the gifts that keep on giving!

According to a recent poll from the University of Michigan, 18% of parents report high levels of stress during the holidays, and 20% state that their stress level takes away from their children’s enjoyment of the season. These numbers don’t differentiate between partnered vs single parents. However, you can imagine that with all the factors we’ve listed above, single parents and their kids may potentially experience even greater hardship during this time of year.

KohParenting’s Top 7 Holiday Survival Tips for Single Parents

The reality is that many of you will be single-parenting your way through the holiday season with your children. The other reality is that holiday parenting stress is inevitable. But does this mean single parents should just grin and bear it for the next few weeks? At KohParenting, we’d argue that the answer to this question is a resounding “NO!” We believe that the difficulties you may be facing as a single parent make it all the more imperative to prioritize finding joy: for yourself and your children. Here are our top ideas for minimizing everything stressful and maximizing everything special about the holidays.

Single parent survival tips
  1. Remember that you create your holiday magic. No one- not the marketing execs, social media influencers, or even other parents or relatives- gets to determine what your family’s holiday is “supposed” to look like. Take that power back for yourself! Take a moment to re-envision what you want to happen; you can write this down, make a vision board, and even involve your children in a discussion about what traditions, experiences, and feelings you’d most like to capture in the coming weeks.
  2. Reduce expectations and pressure on yourself. Remember to keep your expectations reasonable and identify the most essential elements of your desired holiday experience. Avoid setting goals that are beyond your control or create undue stress. For example, instead of aiming for difficult-to-achieve things like “deliver homemade cookies to all our neighbors,” you could “commit to doing one kind thing for a neighbor in December.”
  3. Start planning as early as you can. Open the lines of communication with your child’s other parent, if applicable, to coordinate your holiday plans. Establish a holiday spending budget to help you be more mindful of your finances. You can even use an app (“Santa’s Bag,” for example) to streamline holiday gift-giving. Outline your schedule for the season and review it with your children. If this seems challenging to you, don’t fret! Our previous posts and learning guide can make it easy! Check out The Holidays Are Coming, Setting Holiday Expectations With Your Co-Parent, and Develop Your Holiday Schedule.
  4. Share your plans with others, and get comfortable saying “no.” One of the reasons that the holidays are so pressurized is that so many people’s expectations get enmeshed; it can be hard to do what’s in your best interest if it means making changes that will disappoint your children, friends, or relatives. It’s much better to tackle these conversations in advance rather than relay the news at the last minute. Rehearse what you’ll tell them, and prepare yourself for their reaction. Get comfortable with the idea of saying “no;” setting boundaries at holiday time will actually prepare you to be able to do so at other times of the year!
  5. Pencil in self-care and downtime into your holiday schedule. The best way to prioritize healthy routines (sleep and meal times, for example), relaxation, bonding, and self-care is to write them into your schedule as a non-negotiable .
  6. Connect with others. If you have a social network (supportive family members, friends, etc.), now is the time to call upon them. Chances are, they’ll be thrilled to help! This can also be a great opportunity to connect with other single-parent families; you can share the experience's ups and downs and work as a team to make the season fun for all of you.
  7. Embrace the newness; new doesn’t equal “bad”! Your holiday may not look exactly like it did before or like you envisioned, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be great! Single-parenthood has some potential upsides; you may be able to do things the way you want, with less input from others, AND you can also savor additional one-on-one time with your children. Focus on the positives and make the most of the opportunity!

Suggestions Single-Parent Supporters:

Do you have a friend or family member who is a single parent? What better gift to give this holiday season than your love and support? Read on for our suggestions for how you can make single parents feel cared for during a time when they’re doing so much for others.

1. Be mindful of your approach.
It’s important to be sensitive to the connotation of “help,” as some might interpret the idea as a sign that they’re not doing a good enough job.
2. Avoid adding to their mental load.
You may be inclined to ask what you can do to pitch in, and that’s great! But remember that single parenthood requires so much constant thought and effort that many don’t have an answer ready. Consider instead taking the initiative to offer or invite rather than “ask;” for example, you could say, “I was thinking I’d love to come decorate with you; is there a night that works for me to bring over dinner, and we can do this?” 
3. Lend an ear, and let them vent openly.
It’s hard to see your loved ones in pain. But when we immediately try to solve the problem or shy away from talking about uncomfortable things, we deprive them of the support they need to address what’s really happening. Never underestimate the power of simply being there, whether that means going for a walk while they talk or sitting on the couch and laughing or crying.
4. Send thoughtful messages or texts.
A simple “I’m thinking of you,” “I value our friendship,” “You amaze me with all you do!, or “How are you feeling?” takes very little time but can go a LONG way.
5. Gift a self-care item or experience.
If you’re able to, and you think it would be well-received, consider gifting a spa treatment, a concert ticket, a paint night, or whatever it may be that your single-parent friend finds relaxing. It’s hard for single parents to make time for self-care, but they’ll be more likely to do so if you hand them the opportunity or even offer to go along with them or provide childcare. You can also offer to assist their children in purchasing or making gifts or cards for them.
6. Include them.
The holidays can be for the family we’re born into and the family we create for ourselves. Open yourself up to being the chosen family for your single parent and their children by including them in your holiday celebrations. Just be aware not to put too much pressure on them if they don’t feel up to attending.
7. Invite them out.
Sometimes we all just need a little break! Invite them to join you in a fun, stress-free activity away from home to get a change of scenery and divert their minds from the holiday “grind.”

Give Back to Yourself This Holiday Season:

Self-care isn’t about being selfish; it’s about survival. Single parents, we want to hear from you: what do you do to manage holiday stress? We hope this post speaks to your experience and validates and empowers you to take care of yourself so you can take care of your children in time for the holiday season. Single parent supporters, we hope we’ve inspired you to give them some extra love in the coming weeks. However you celebrate, however you cope, know that you’re not alone; KohParenting is here for you year-round for all your co-parenting needs!

Join our community where you can stay informed on what's happening in the world of co-parenting and learn more about what we do.

By Koh-Parenting Services LLC

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