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Merry, Merry Ex-Mas! Embracing the Holidays as a Single Parent

Counting this year, I will have celebrated 11 Thanksgivings and Christmases as a single mother. With a shared custody arrangement during the holidays, I have spent half of them with my children, half without.

What I found interesting when I was doing some online research about spending the holidays alone as a single parent were the word choices being bandied about on various websites: “Surviving the holidays,” “Alone on Christmas,” “Coping with loss,” and my personal favorite, “Don’t worry, next year will be better.” 

These so-called “helpful” holiday tips are enough to send any single parent spiraling into a depression.

Lynn Armitage

See, the problem with all this survival wisdom is that it stems from a massive assumption that single parents are pitiful, helpless, lonely souls who, if not for these websites to help offset all the suffering, would be decking the halls with homemade nooses.

So I’m going to suggest something completely radical for this supposed sad-sap column about poor, old single parents “surviving” the holidays and suggest that we “celebrate” them, instead, because—NEWSFLASH!—We are in much happier places now, aren’t we?

With a respectful nod to widows or widowers, the alternative to being a single parent, in many cases, would have been to remain in an unhappy, unhealthy relationship with a former partner or spouse, right? That is certainly not the makings for a joyful holiday or a happy home in which to raise your children, if you ask me.

Yes, we have chosen to be single parents—BUT FOR GOOD REASON! And I think it is important, on occasion, to remind ourselves WHY we no longer have spouses to begin with before we RSVP for that holiday pity party:

The top five reasons people get a divorce, according to

If any of these scenarios rings a Christmas—rather, a liberty—bell, then I invite you to CELEBRATE the brave, new world you have discovered as a single parent. After all, if you’re like me, it took you far too long to get here:

1.Infidelity: He’s a cheater, she’s a cheater. Remember how painful that was, to wonder where he was, why she was late, who he was talking to in the back of the house on his cell phone? You and your children were betrayed by someone who didn’t deserve you in the first place. It was difficult to do, but you divorced him or her and you moved on. Isn’t life without a cheater in your home much less crazy now?

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2. Communication problems: It never failed, no matter what you said, he took it the wrong way. Sometimes it was as though you were speaking two different languages, which always lead to one big fight. You tried everything you could to get on the same page, even counseling. But in the end, it always came down to one thing: He never understood you, nor you him. Funny thing though, after the divorce, communication improved 100%, especially in matters that concern your children. And that’s what really counts, isn’t it?

3. Incompatibility: You had GREAT chemistry in the beginning, which resulted in your beautiful children. But once all the passion simmered down and you settled into marriage and your respective parenting roles, you realized that you were different on so many levels. You tried to be the person he wanted you to be, but that whole square-peg-in-a-round-hole thing wasn’t working. Now that you don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not, you’re free to live a more authentic life.

4. Emotional or physical abuse: You always said that if he hit you one more time, it would be the last time. But you stayed for five years beyond that. He continued to hit you and call you names, and worst of all, the children bore witness to it all. One day, you finally mustered the courage to leave because you realized it was the only shot at happiness for you and your children. And you haven’t looked back since.

5.Drug or alcohol addiction: You knew that he smoked pot every now and then, or that she got tipsy on occasion. But what you found out later was that he became addicted to cocaine and blew through the family savings; or that she started drinking in the morning while the kids were at school, and by the time that got home, she was completely bombed and unable to care for them. After years of rehab and relapses, you and your children simply couldn’t take it anymore.

So, about those survival tips . . .

If you’re a single parent, you’ve been through the worst already. You’ve already “survived.” You’re on the other side of that mountain now, the side that offers up beautiful, colorful, panoramic views of life. Unimaginable happiness is possible for you, and it all starts between your ears.

When you find yourself getting sad this Christmas, take a reality check and remind yourself what life was like when you were married to someone who was so wrong for you. In your head, you may think you miss your ex. But what you really miss is the IDEA of having the perfect spouse and the white-picket-fence family. You’re sad because that dream is gone, not because the ex isn’t around anymore.

As for the holiday “survival tips,” it’s really very simple. If you have your children for Christmas, then laugh and love and sing and dance and party and exchange gifts to your heart’s content. If you don’t have your children, do the very same thing with family and friends.

Christmas is just one calendar day out of the year. So what if you don’t have your children on the 25th? When you get them back on the 26th or 27th have all your Christmas festivities then. The holiday police won’t care.

Every other Christmas, when my daughters are with their father, I recite this soothing mantra: “Christmas is the time to be with the people you love. And the people I love are with someone they love who I don’t love anymore. And that’s OK with me.”

Now please pass the eggnog.

Lynn Armitage is a freelance writer in Northern California and an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. She welcomes your feedback at: