As one of three million solo parent families in the UK, Dawn Savidge is determined to put her experience into practice.
Christmas. The season full of hope and promise. Family nights in watching Christmas films, sipping hot chocolate, cuddled under blankets. Flurries of snow covering the once drab dark nights, with excitement and promise of fun. It truly is the season to be jolly. But for so many people, Christmas is not the happiest season.
There are three million solo parent families in the UK, which account for about 15% of families. And it is estimated that one in three families in the UK are blended. Every one of them is trying to work out how to both manage their feelings of guilt and provide a ‘perfect’ Christmas for their families.
My children were 10 months, 2½ and 5 when we had our first Christmas as a new solo parent family. It was the first time that I truly felt like I had let my children down. This led me into ‘needing’ to buy an excessive amount of presents for my children, which I couldn’t really afford, to try to stop the feeling of guilt. The hopes that I had of a perfect family Christmas, two parents and all the magic that comes with it were dashed. Then there was the added financial pressure of just one wage. I put so much pressure on myself to make it perfect that I honestly cannot remember much of our first Christmas. I felt an immense sense of failure as a mother.
Over the years, I have prayed and worked through lots of issues that being a solo parent throws up. These are my top 5 ways to enjoy a Christmas as a solo parent.
1. Jesus was not born on 25th December
I know it sounds obvious, but it was something that I needed to remind myself. Christmas is a celebration of the wonderful gift of Jesus to us, but He wasn’t born on 25th December, or even in December. The date was set a celebration of the winter solstice in the Roman calendar back in 336. One year I had the revelation that as long as we celebrated the birth of Jesus at some point during Christmas week then we still had a Christmas.
2. Children don’t need stuff, they need you
Can you remember the days of the Argos catalogue? I remember pouring over it, circling toys that I ‘had’ to have. My sisters and I rarely got what we thought we needed because our parents were not rich. However, my Christmas was not ruined because I didn’t get a Mr Frosty machine or the Action Man that I asked Santa for. Instead, my memories were made up of stories told under the Christmas tree, getting up early to Santa’s bells, a cooked breakfast, church, and lots more food. One of my children was recently clearing his room out as he readied himself to leave home. He looked at all his childhood toys and gave away bags full of stuffed animals, puzzles, and games. He could not believe how much stuff he had collected over the years and how much of the stuff he had rarely played with. Children will not remember what you gave them for Christmas, but they will remember the time that you spent as a family. The games you played, the conversations you had, the traditions that you held as a family.
3. Look after you
Christmas can be a tiring season, especially if you are looking after little ones on your own. Make sure you sleep and eat well. Take time to breathe at the beginning and end of the day. I like to start my mornings with a coffee and my Bible, and that time becomes even more precious when I’m living in a busy season. Looking after others starts with looking after you first.
4. Joseph was a stepdad
I remember this totally blowing my mind when I first heard this in a sermon. God was Jesus’ father and Joseph was his wonderful earthly stepdad. So, Jesus was from a blended family! Wow! I know this might be slightly heretical, but it really helped me in my search for a husband. Blended families can be beautiful, and Jesus was part of one.
5. Be creative
One income can mean that just paying bills is a struggle. So, when Christmas comes, no matter how much you have saved during the year, it might not cover everything you want to buy for your loved ones. If like me, you have used buying presents to make up for the guilty feeling, you can find yourself in a lot of debt. Instead, I would urge you to be creative.
- Use the four present rule. Something to wear, something to read, something you’d like and something you need. One year our something you need present was our first holiday abroad which not only created some wonderful memories, but also meant that I was able to spread the cost of Christmas.
- Look for gifts in charity shops, eBay and Facebook marketplace. A lot of what has been given away still has a lot of life left in it. One of my favourite presents as a child was a yellow bike. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learnt that my dad had been given it for free and he had painted it new for me.
- Last year, I gave each child a day out with me. It gave us some quality 1:1 time and I got to spend a whole day with them doing something that they really loved.
- One of my favourite Christmas presents was the year I popped a card in 12 individual boxes and wrapped them up. On each card was written a monthly family pledge to do something together. These ranged from a family fun day, which they chose to go swimming, a Clued-Up game in our local town, to a play in London. Again, this spread the cost of Christmas over the full year.
Ultimately remember that things don’t necessarily create memories. Don’t feel sad when there aren’t hundreds of presents under the tree. Create new memories, traditions, and moments with your loved ones.