How to deal with Christmas as a single dad

If you don’t have your kids for the day, or part of it at least, the loneliness and sadness of Christmas as a single dad can overwhelm.

This Christmas will be the third since the mother of my children and I chose to separate, but it will be my first with my kids and me at our home on Christmas morning … I’m so excited!

2016: Christmas with the ex

My former wife and I separated mid-2016, and being a mutual decision to do so, we discussed and agreed we would still do family occasions together — although that’s since changed and we now split the day between us.

The first Christmas post-separation saw us do something we’d planned while we were still together: we took our kids to Carols by Candlelight in the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on Christmas Eve. It was special and fun for the kids, and only a little awkward for us two … partly because I lost the tickets and had to retrace our steps and then call the box office to cancel and reissue them. D’oh!

We did the Santa thing together that first year, so went back to the former family home after carols. Once the kids were asleep, their mother did the present placement under the tree, and I spent most of the night putting together the kids’ new trampoline, before sleeping on the couch.

We spent Christmas morning together as a family, albeit a differently-configured one, and it did help the transition. We lapped up our children’s joy, were friendly to each other, and I headed back to my place just before lunch.

Our kids spent the afternoon with their mum and her family, while I had some downtime until the early late afternoon, before picking up my kids and driving a couple of hours to my mother’s place, for dinner with my family. It was a lovely day overall, and our kids loved it.

2017: Splitting Christmas Day

When last Christmas came around, my ex-wife told me she didn’t want to do the day that way again. I felt differently, but these things can’t be forced, so we decided to split the day: one of us would have the kids Christmas Eve night through to just after lunch on Christmas Day, and the other would then have them for the afternoon and night.

My kids were with their mum for Christmas Eve and morning last year, and my wider family wouldn’t be getting together until mid-afternoon, anyway. Knowing this, I stayed up late Christmas Eve, watching the carols and then Love Actually, with a little feast of salami, cheese, dip and biscuits. It was nice enough, and I think I’ll do that each year I’m on my own.

On the morning of Christmas itself, I had a wonderful and early FaceTime call from my excited kids, before I went back to sleep until closer to midday. My late night was a deliberate one so I could sleep through the loneliness of the morning. It worked.

I collected my kids at 2pm and we went to my brother and his wife’s place for a fun afternoon together with them and my mother, before an early dinner.

This year: Christmas morning with my kids!

I’m excited for Christmas this year in a way I haven’t been the past two. My kids and I will wake up together in the home I’ve created for us, and my mum is going to stay with us as well. The kids adore their Grandma so that’s going to be really special.

In recent weeks we’ve decorated our tree, put lights up on the front porch and elsewhere, and welcomed a second Elf-on-the-Shelf into our home.

‘Lily’ has a cute freckle and earrings, and joins ‘Lenny’ the cheeky elf who arrived last year.

Lily writes sweet and encouraging notes to the kids. She has had a really positive impact on my eldest, Leo, who has some improvement to go on trying to speak with a kind voice. He’s quite smitten by Lily, and she’s been really good for him — a hoped-for-but-not-assured parenting tool. Yay!

In splitting the day, my former wife and I eventually decided, after much discussion, to do the Santa thing separately at both houses. It works well for the kids, as they have Santa presents at both of their homes!

The cost of Christmas

The money side of that, though, does make it challenging. Last year I’d just moved houses a few weeks before Christmas. That meant a double-up on rent and bond, and the cost of moving and acquiring more furniture, made money really tight for Christmas.

I know how much money you spend shouldn’t affect the gesture or kindness of presents. Babies and toddlers aren’t really cognisant of the money aspect, anyway, which is a positive and was early on. Now older though, my kids aren’t jerks when it comes to always getting expensive presents, anyway, which is a credit to the way me and their mother have raised them.

BUT… it’s heartbreaking having to borrow money so you can cobble together a handful of good presents for your children.

And it’s sad having to use the money you’ve been gifted as an early birthday present (mine is on December 28) to put petrol in the car so you can do the cross-city driving on Christmas Day to make sure you and your kids are with wonderful people.

But that’s what we do as parents, isn’t it: put our kids’ needs and happiness ahead of our own. I did it and do it still, willingly, because they should be first.

This year I don’t have that expense of moving, so I won’t have to scrape as much to create a wonderful Christmas. My bigger worry is balancing things out evenly so none of the kids feels short-changed. And that seems like a ‘normal’ enough worry for any parent of multiple kids, so I don’t mind that at all.

Planning ahead to minimise loneliness

Our morning and lunch together this year will be really special, before my kids get picked up at 2pm to spend the afternoon and that night with their mum, her partner (their stepdad) and her family.

I’m not sure how I will be that afternoon and evening. I hope I’ll be in good spirits and be able to enjoy the time with my mum and one or more of my brothers, but I don’t yet know their plans. They’ll probably ensure I’m with them — they’re beautiful people.

But if it does eventuate that I’m on my own for Christmas afternoon and night, I will probably spend it with our bulldog Ozzy, down at the local dog beach and then snuggled in the lounge room enjoying some downtime under the ceiling fan.

My kids will have a wonderful time with their mum, and have had a wonderful time with me, and that’s the best thing I could want.

Originally published at Direct Advice for Dads

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