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How To Enjoy The Holidays As A Single Mom

I had thought I'd never get through them without my kids around.

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Fiona Dunphy
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My ex-husband and I decided to divorce in March, a few years ago. One of my first thoughts was: What am I going to do over the holidays? How am I going to get through them without being with my kids all the time?

The stress it caused me felt like a daily task I had to carry around with me. I thought there wasn’t even the slightest possibility I could enjoy my favorite time of the year anymore and I had to just realize the holidays were going to be a dark time that would take me to a bad place.

But, it wasn’t like that at all.

Sure, maybe if I would have stayed in that mindset and been swallowed up by self-pity and made the holidays miserable for myself. I deserve more though, along with every other single parent on the planet.

After going through four rounds of putting up the tree, making cookies, holiday music and ringing in the year as a divorced woman who splits custody with her ex-husband, I’ve got some advice for you: The holidays don’t have to be horrible. In fact, they can be pretty damn good.

I’m not saying you aren’t going to have your moments. I don’t know how many times that I pulled into my driveway to see all the candles lit in my windows after dropping my kids off and sobbed in my driveway.

Making my ex-husband’s favorite cookies is too painful, so I don’t. And there has not been a year that has gone by since he moved out that I haven’t longed to be a family in the way we used to be, again.

You can fall out of love with someone and not want to be married, yet still miss them and the memories around the holidays. It’s a very real emotion that kicks your butt and is really confusing.

So, the first thing to do is to realize and accept that you are going to have those feelings and you are going to be uncomfortable part of the time. And you know what? You will be OK. You also need to do the following things.

Start new traditions

Something, anything. I don’t care if it’s a new movie you are watching, or you force your kids to string popcorn with you. (I’ve been known to host an ugly sweater/sex toy party — you do you.)

A new tradition can breathe new life into you and help get you through some tough moments.

There is nothing wrong with a healthy distraction, and doing something you’ve never done before is a really good place to start. Yes, this can feel scary and uneasy. We are so used to clinging to what we know, but starting a new chapter cannot be done if we don’t flip the page and instead keep reading the old one over and over.

Take advantage of the alone time

I never knew the joy of not having to save all the wrapping of the gifts until my kids were in bed. My ex-husband has them all day on Christmas Eve, and I spread out all the gifts and take my time making them beautiful. I have more time to holiday shop without having to hide gifts while my kids are underfoot. And while they are gone, I can watch as many Hallmark movies as I want without interruption (they hate Hallmark movies).

Get rid of old traditions if they are too painful  (or keep them if they make you happy)

There is nothing wrong with not putting up a tree or skipping a Christmas Eve get-together. I had to put away some ornaments we’d made together as a family because I couldn’t handle the memories that would come to the surface. However, I will always decorate the tree with my kids and order pizza the Saturday before Thanksgiving because I love it, they love it, and it’s what starts the season in the most perfect way for all of us (even if it still makes me tear up).

Ask loved ones for their time

If too much alone time is making you feel worse, don’t keep pushing through it. It can be hard to ask family members or friends if you can tag along with them to celebrate their holiday, but believe me, they are always happy you asked. It makes them feel needed and like they are doing something to ease your pain.

I can say with my whole heart the holidays are still a beautiful, peaceful time for me that I look forward to very much. Yes, they have more tears thrown in these days, but it makes me appreciate the joyous moments that much more. And every year — thanks to new traditions, family and hanging on to things that feel like home — it gets easier and easier to cope with the holidays as a single mom.