Finding Joy as a Single Parent During the Holidays

There are going to be sad moments after a divorce. As we head into the big Chrismas and New Year’s holidays as single parents everywhere are going to find themselves celebrating these family-oriented vacations alone. As we moved from new parents into parents with kids, I never imagined a future where I would not have continuous, loving access to my young boy and girl. However, things did not work out as I expected.

I recently wrote two posts related to this “survival without our kids” moments.

This season my children are autonymous young people with their own agendas and their own cars. Making appointments with them is now our task as adults. As single parents with non-custodial schedules, we can’t count on tons of time with our children after divorce. In my case, my son is away in college, and my daughter no longer does the every-other-weekend shuffle, so my “dates” with them are my responsibility. If I don’t make the effort I won’t see them. They have places to go and people to see. This year, I offered my son my apartment while he was here for Thanksgiving. While he was honored by the offer, he saw the advantages of continuing to staying in his old room in his mom’s house.

We Make the Love We Have

Just as it is my responsibility to engage with my near-adult children, it is also up to me to keep the season light and not focused on the divorce, my single-life, or discussions about their mom and her new husband. I am lucky enough to have my mom still in the loop, so we had an amazing family dinner yesterday, in celebration of Thanksgiving and my 57th birthday. And I’ll tell you, I don’t believe I could not have been happier. (I’m still in bliss.)

It is our responsibility as single parents to take the focus off our kids and off the failed marriage and put the focus on supporting and being engagingly interested in their lives. Thanksgiving was not about us, it was about all of us, our extended family. And this year we were 12! A huge number for us, having contracted due to death and breakups in the last few years. We come together with my sister and her two kids, my mom, my two kids, and several special guests.

In the early years of the holidays as a single dad, my job was to survive. I had to work to put my happy-self forward for a few hours as we engaged in the traditions I had come to dread since the divorce. Over the years, I have come to accept the loss of 70% of my kid-time. I have come to appreciate my alone time and time for developing newer and healthier relationships for myself. And ultimately, healthier relationships with my kids. They know they are not responsible for my happiness. And I am constantly giving them the message that I am available for support and love, while not demanding much more from them than to text me back within 24-hours, so I know they are okay.

New Chapters and New Horizons

We are all on our own journey. Each of my kids navigated their own holiday dread after the divorce. And now, we’ve come out the other side of several difficult season’s greetings. I floundered a bit as a single dad. I struggled with some chemical and existential depression mixed in with the holiday stress, and… Well, this year was different. Yes, I’m in a thriving new relationship. AND… My kids are thriving. And thriving at seeing me genuinely happy in a way that is new for all of us.

We’re just through the beginning weekend of the season, but I can say my life and attitude are vastly different than they have been in at least 13 years. From my Total System Meltdown, last November, I’ve rebuilt my self-esteem, my mental health program, and most importantly, how I perceive my own mood variations and challenges.

I like to be on top of the world, as most of us do, but I haven’t done very well in the past when I sink into “maintenance mode” rather than aspirational mode. What I learned from my last stumble is that I AM MY OWN WORST ENEMY. Yes, I was off my game, but I was highly functional. I just was unhappy about not being in rockstar mode.  What’s different today: I am okay with the rise and fall of my hyper-productive/creative mode. I cannot sustain performance mode forever. We’ve all got to have recovery phases in our lives. Now, mine can be filled with acceptance and self-care, rather than frustration and self-loathing.

A Stronger and Gentler Single Parent

I’m better at supporting and celebrating my children than I was in the early seasons after the divorce. More importantly, I am better at supporting and celebrating my own mood changes. I am okay. I hope you are okay. And if there’s anything I can do to support you, please let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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image: what I lost in the divorce, john mcelhenney, creative commons usage

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