Holidays Can Be Extra Hard For Single Parents — Here Are A Few Ways to Show Support

Starting around the time Halloween ends, a countdown to New Year’s Day begins in my mind. My list of “to-dos” lengthens, my bandwidth stretches beyond its limit, and my time, money, and energy begin to deplete. Often that means patience begins to run low, too.

I’m sure most people reading this can relate — the days between Halloween and New Year’s Day are tough. Festive, but exhausting. That’s especially true for single parents and solo parents: parents who, like me, have no co-parent in the picture at all.

On any given day, single parents are juggling an impossible number of balls. Add holiday season chaos to all of that, and we’re the juggling headliners in a three-ring circus.

Underneath all that juggling, there’s a layer of loneliness, too. Or, at least, an acute awareness of the fact that we are single parents — and if we drop a ball or two, there’s no partner to swoop in and catch it.

Admitting that isn’t a cry for help. It’s not a call to non-single parents to lengthen their already overwhelming holiday “to-do” lists in order to drop off a casserole or help wrap gifts — although I’m sure that’s always appreciated. It is instead simply a call to awareness, a call to support single parents in ways that require little effort and aren’t always obvious.

Give Us a Heads Up

Single parents’ bandwidth is stretched to the absolute maximum on a regular day. We’re wholly responsible for the emotional, physical, mental, financial, spiritual, social, and intellectual well-being of our children, plus all the regular stuff that comes with being an adult: bills, careers, car troubles.

When the holiday season comes around, things start to slip through the cracks. Often, those “things” feel minor in the face of daily challenges — like being up to date on the hottest gift trend or being on top of the holiday “must do” activity — but they end up being the cause of a major child meltdown. (Yes, this example comes from experience.)

A text from a friend letting us know all the girls are getting XYZ and the store is selling out, or that all the boys are excited about ABC holiday show and asks if we’ve gotten tickets feels like a gift. And it is. That heads-up is the gift of catching one ball before it shatters and tossing it back into the mix.

Invite Us Along

Holidays are family time. Of course, we all want to focus on making memories with our families — our own children who are growing up too fast — and I’m not suggesting anyone run out and buy the single parent in their life an extra set of matching PJs for the family holiday card. But an invitation to go ice skating with your family or to come over for a gingerbread house decorating contest goes a long way.

The single parents are doing all of that on their own, anyway. Most would appreciate having an adult there for some of it. A little adult conversation goes a long way.

Bonus: the kids get a built-in playdate.

And yes, the phone works both ways, as do the invitations. Single parents can do the inviting and hopefully, that effort is reciprocated. But the truth is, sometimes relationships with single parents are a little lopsided. Sometimes we can’t see beyond our stretched bandwidth, or find the courage to admit this is lonely.

Lean Into the Friendship

During the holiday season, when we’re in the thick of trying to do all the things without any help, we can get tunnel vision. A call from a friend to talk about celebrity gossip, their partner’s terrible boss — or whatever — is a reminder that our identity is more than our single parenthood. Sometimes that small reminder is enough to deflate some of the building pressure.

Also, if you’re calling a single parent, be real in those conversations. Vent about whatever needs venting on your end. Let single parents support you, too. When we can, we want to. Though maybe be a little sensitive, and save the extended venting about what a bad gift-giver your partner is for someone else.

Listen and Validate

This one’s simple. Just listen and acknowledge that it’s hard. No need to try to fix it.

Give a Little Grace

Without a doubt, there are single parents who are more on top of trends, who are the ones sending out the heads-up to other parents. There are others who have no interest in making plans with other families, and they’re not interested in talking about the latest celebrity gossip. This isn’t a one-size-fits all list.

The one thing that’s true though, is that all single parents could use a little extra grace during the holiday season. A little extra patience. We all could, of course.

My intention is never to start a “who has it harder” war. It’s divisive, and I don’t think anyone can win that battle — or should win that battle. My intention is simply to acknowledge that holidays are tough for single parents, and we might need a little more support. Maybe that looks like swooping in to catch a ball we dropped during our juggling act; maybe it looks like helping us return to ourselves.

Whatever it is — it’s appreciated more than you know.

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