The number of women raising children alone is on the rise. Whether by choice or circumstance, single motherhood is becoming increasingly common. As founder of ESME.com, a website dedicated to helping single moms, I can attest to the fact that single moms are independent, resilient, and doing a great job of raising their children. However, the holidays present additional challenges that can stress and overwhelm even the strongest of single moms. Whether the single mom in your life is your sister, friend, or colleague, here are five realities that will increase your empathy and make you a wonderful ally during this holiday season.
1.The holidays emphasize the feeling of being out of sync with the traditional family structure. Holiday cards, letters, school holiday parties, classic holiday TV programming, and seasonal work events often emphasize two-parent collaboration. Although the season can be joyful, there is a deluge of reminders that you are not part of a couple. The first season as a single mom can be particularly painful, since family traditions feel turned upside down, and the children may be mourning the loss of their other parent or stressed about being shuffled between two homes. I dreaded those first holiday parties as a divorced mom with good reason. Whether you were hit on or scorned, there was no escaping that you weren’t part of a couple.
2.Financial pressure increases during the holiday season. Most single moms endure daily economic stress, but the holidays—with their focus on gift giving and elaborate celebrations—ratchet up the anxiety. The day-to-day budget is burdened by spending on gifts for teachers, coaches, tutors, day-care providers, coworkers, family, and friends. Add special holiday food to the regular grocery list and the fact that kids and moms often need dressier clothes for parties, recitals, or religious celebrations, and you begin to grasp a single mom’s financial juggling act. Moms who parent on their own are resourceful, but the added financial squeeze can keep a hardworking single mom up at night. I used to get creative with inexpensive teacher gifts, but when it came to my kids, I would often splurge and throw down a credit card, which haunted me far longer than the Ghost of Christmas Past.
3.Single mom guilt often rears its ugly head during the season of joy and giving. Mom guilt is real, and single mom guilt can be epic. Society too often reminds us that children should have two parents and that single moms might not be able to give children all that they want or need. Most of the time, moms can ignore these erroneous judgments, but the holidays with their rituals and traditions can lure guilt to the surface. Single moms often wish that they could afford all the holiday trappings, such as expensive holiday shows or island vacations. We feel guilty that our children might not reap all the joys of the season. Guilt over my divorce used to make me go overboard in my attempt to make the holidays special. I pushed myself too hard and ended up cranky, exhausted, and far from jubilant.
4.There’s never enough time during the holidays. Single moms squeeze a lot of love, laundry, work, bill paying, cooking, cleaning, and caregiving into 24 hours. The holidays, and all the expectations that come with them, foist more time pressure on moms parenting alone. Shopping for and wrapping gifts alone take time. Baking for school events, more time. Cooking and cleaning up holiday celebrations, even more time! I recall many a night, I’d tuck the kids in, bake, clean the house, wrap gifts, and get about three hours of sleep. The kids didn’t deserve the gift of zombie mom but that’s what they got.
5.Holidays often accentuate loneliness. There’s something about doing everything by yourself during the holidays that can get depressing. Ordinarily, single moms enjoy their independence and relish being in charge of the household, but rituals such as wrapping gifts and going to parties or holiday events can drive home that you are alone. Even when you are in the company of your children, especially if they are very young, decorating a tree or lighting a menorah can feel solitary and less than festive. After my divorce, I used to be all smiles and holiday cheer for my kids, but inside I struggled with the feeling that I was the only grown-up in the house. Watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and other kids’ holiday classics didn’t help. Nor did filling my own stocking or lugging a tree all by myself.
Now that you have a sense of why many single moms approach the season with dread, use this information to help a single mom this holiday season. Be understanding, supportive, and even ask what you can do to help. If she’s like most single moms, she might say she doesn’t need any help. In that case, offer to join her at a school event or holiday party; ask if you can take the kids shopping or to a holiday event; bring her a special meal; or, better yet, cook for the whole family. These are just some of the ways in which you can spread joy to a single mom family. One New Year’s Eve when I couldn’t get a babysitter, my friends brought the party to my house complete with food, champagne, and sparkling cider for the kids. And they even cleaned up. Now that’s a tradition a single mom can get used to!
Photo by Jodi Womack