My first holiday season as a single mom, I was feeling pretty good about where I was post-divorce. I’d fallen into a rhythm with my kids and our new schedule, redecorated my bedroom, and liked having a few evenings a week to spend time with girlfriends. Then I drove down our driveway during the first snowfall of the year and went from feeling happy to not being able to breathe. It was as if all the Christmas pasts came out of nowhere and swallowed me whole. At that moment, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through the holidays as a single mom.
How would I get all the gifts and wrap them? Would I have the energy to make things as magical as I had in the past? How would I get through the times when I couldn’t be with my kids and everyone else seemed to be celebrating with their families? I immediately called my best friend, who gave me some of the best advice ever: Make sure you do something for yourself. The rest is going to fall into place.
But at first, I had a hard time wrapping my head around that one. How could I carve out time to do something for myself when I had so much more to worry about this year? I also felt too sad to do anything for myself. It felt like nothing would bring me out of my holiday slump, and that was a hard truth to swallow because I’ve always loved the holidays.
But my friend was right — it was important for me to take care of myself first so I could address the things that needed to be done and be present for my kids. After all, this was their first holiday season without their parents being married, and it was going to be harder on them if they saw me constantly sad. I needed to get my head in the game, but that didn’t mean forcing a smile on my face. That meant doing things for myself that I really needed, things that would sustain me.
I finally decided to book myself a facial — something I’d always wanted but never had done. Immediately my mood changed. I had something to look forward to. What’s more, I felt like I’d invested in myself, and it made me realize I hadn’t done that in a really long time because I was so worried about everyone else.
I’m not saying it was a miracle cure, but it helped me get through that holiday season and I will always remember it. It was so relaxing and was the most pampering experience I’d ever had. The salon smelled of lavender and I almost fell asleep while getting a foot rub as steam hovered over my face.
Now I’ve been divorced for over five years, and this will be my sixth holiday season as a single mom. Each year has gotten easier and has run smoother. I’ve replaced some of our old traditions and held onto others. I no longer do things that aren’t necessary or stress about trying to fit it all in. I’ve accepted the fact I will spend Christmas with my kids in parts and pieces and I’ve committed to investing in myself when my kids are with their father. I’m looking forward to booking another facial (my Christmas gift to myself), hosting a cookie swap, and meeting my girlfriends for our annual gift exchange at our favorite restaurant. Actually, I can’t wait.
If you are a single mother and are facing the holidays with a sense of dread, I see you. I know how difficult it can be. Please remember to do something nice for yourself. It doesn’t have to be a huge, grand gesture. It can be something as simple as getting a book you’ve been wanting and actually reading it. Maybe there’s a course you’ve been wanting to sign up for. Take a weekend to yourself if you can, or plan a girls’ night. If you’ve been wanting to get a massage, make an appointment.
You deserve this — not only because it’s the holidays, but also because something like a divorce is hard. When moms are faced with such a huge life change, it’s our natural instinct to make sure everyone else is cared for and settled. A lot of the time we neglect ourselves in order to make sure everyone else is comfortable.
It won’t make everything better but I guarantee you, it will really help.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too much money online and drinking Coke Zero.