A dad who has “been there” gives single parents some important tips on surviving the holidays.
With Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve approaching, our thoughts naturally turn to what these days will bring for us. For us single-parents, these times can be especially difficult, whether the children are with us or not.
We face having all the child care responsibilities, dealing with upset children, potentially feeling uncomfortable at friend’s parties, not being invited to a party because we don’t have the kids with us, the shame associated with divorce, an overwhelming feeling of loss and our own loneliness.
Over 20 years ago, my wife and mother of my five young children left us and never returned. Back then I was a scared young man who had to figure out how to raise my kids and find happiness. So, I have had to face 20 holiday seasons as a single-dad, and while it took me a while to adjust, here are 3 things I learned that made my holiday seasons meaningful and merry.
Learn to Love Being Alone
This is a must if you want to be happy. Relying on others for our happiness will surely lead to disappointment and unhappiness. It wasn’t until I learned that being alone has huge advantages and I started to make that time meaningful and productive did I truly find happiness in my life. The holiday times are the most difficult to be alone – unless you change your perspective on them. The first holiday I was alone with five little kids. I felt sorry for myself. I sat around and sulked. I made myself miserable and my kids more miserable than they already were from their mother leaving. After that holiday season was over, I reflected on what had happened and I vowed if not for my sake, for my kid’s sake, I would not let that happen again. The next holiday season I started to make plans for us, I started to realize all the things I could do that having a mate prevented me from doing. I re-arranged my room and house, I started writing, I made plans for me and the kids that my ex would never have liked – not out of spite but because I wanted to do them. I even volunteered to do some charity work. My kids saw me happy, and they started to become happier too.
The fear of being alone has led many of us to choose partners that aren’t good for us. We measure potential partners against the fear and unhappiness of being alone. But once you learn to love that alone time, a partner must be better than that or you’ll chose not to be with them and that means you are going to make better choices – and less likely to make the same mistakes again.
Find Gratitude for the Positives in Your Life
It’s easy during the holiday times to feel sorry for yourself. Your relationship has failed, your kids are living in a house divided, and it’s likely your finances are strained. Your future is unsure and everyone else seems so happy. Woe is you. For myself, holiday season or not, when I am feeling down, I simply think about all the things I must be grateful for. I have made a list that I refer to frequently. It raises my spirits every time without fail. And I refer to it sometimes when I am feeling good too – it inoculates me from feeling down. I share with you a part of my “gratitude” list:
My good health
My kid’s good health
My kids became successful adults
My having a business that supported me through marriage, divorce and kids
My physical strength
My perfect eyesight
My freedom at middle age
For learning big life lessons and surviving them well
For my success in writing
For being able to help other men with my Man-Up Project
For finding a great new job
Escaping bad marriages
Living in the United States
Being an American
Being a New Jersey Devils Fan
For somehow making it through raising five kids
Having the opportunity to spend time with my adult children
God repeatedly protecting me
Every day you wake up in the morning you have something to be grateful for. Make a gratitude list and refer to it often. It’s guaranteed to lift your spirits – especially at holiday time.
Everything Happens for the Best
This is a deep philosophical principle that has guided me through tough times. It provides me with happiness and comfort on most days. You may think this is not how your holiday season is supposed to go. Your life may not have turned out as you expected. But how many times has something that you thought was bad for you turned out for the best – eventually? There’s a famous story from Jewish folklore that goes like this:
There once was a farmer who owned a horse. One day the horse ran away. All the people in the town came to console him because of the loss. “Oh, I don’t know,” said the farmer, “maybe it’s a bad thing and maybe it’s not.”
A few days later, the horse returned to the farm accompanied by 20 other horses. (Apparently, he had found some wild horses and made friends!) All the townspeople came to congratulate him: “Now you have a stable full of horses!” “Oh, I don’t know,” said the farmer, “maybe it’s a good thing and maybe it’s not.”
A few days later, the farmer’s son was out riding one of the new horses. The horse got wild and threw him off, breaking the son’s leg. All the people in town came to console the farmer because of the accident. “Oh, I don’t know,” said the farmer, “maybe it’s a bad thing and maybe it’s not.”
A few days later, the government declared war and instituted a draft of all able-bodied young men. They came to the town and carted off hundreds of young men, except for the farmer’s son who had a broken leg. “Now I know,” said the farmer, “that it was a good thing my horse ran away.”
What does this teach us? You never know what has happened is for your best until the final chapter is written. When I became a single parent of five hurt little children, I was scared and had no idea how I was going to survive. I thought it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me with a 20-year jail term ahead.
Today, 20 years later, I realize it was the best thing that ever happened to me. My kids and I raised each other, I became a man, my kids turned out successful, I gained an appreciation for life that I would never have gotten had things been easier for me. I found spirituality and I have a closer relationship with my kids than I could have ever imagined.
What has happened to you in your life is for the best. Just keep that in your mind and you are more likely to have a happy holiday and a happy life.
Wishing single parents everywhere a happy, healthy and meaningful holiday season.