How to Handle the Holidays Alone

(Photo: U.S. Air Force.)

Ideally, we would all get to spend the holidays with the people we love, particularly when that person is someone we're also raising children with, but it doesn't always happen that way.

Many of us many find ourselves navigating a major holiday (Thanksgiving, Christmas) without another adult's help.

I'm fortunate to have my husband home this holiday season, but five of our twelve Christmases as a couple have been spent apart. Here are a few ideas I've picked up along the way:

1. Do it differently.

It's not going to be the same; it just isn't. And that's a good thing. It shouldn't be the same without that Must-Do Parent at home. Trying to make it seem the same will just make it more obvious to everyone that the Must-Do Parent isn't there.

It's OK to keep up with a few "it just wouldn't be Christmas without ____" traditions you may have, but also try to incorporate changes to your routine this year. If your family always visits Santa at a certain shopping center, go to a different one. If there's a light display you've heard about but never visited, this is your year to go. 

If your children are old enough, consider assigning them a country to research and then having your family adopt one holiday tradition from that country this year.

Or get super creative and makeup something new and unique. Remember Festivus?

2. If at all possible, travel ...

... especially if you don't have family nearby. I know all the packing and planning seem like a hassle, and that long drive is daunting. But trust me, it will be worth it.

The holidays can be a very lonely time. Don't count on even your best-intentioned friends to pull you through that funk. They'll likely get busy with their own family activities. A Must-Have Christmas is a perfect time to work in a visit to Grandma's house.

3. If you can't travel, hang out with other solo parents.

One year when my husband was away, I celebrated Thanksgiving with a single-mom friend and her kids. She and I thoroughly enjoyed the grown-up conversation, and the unexpected play date made the day special for our children.

4. Shop online.

Online shopping has revolutionized Must-Have Christmases. Instead of stressing over how you'll get to the store to shop for presents for your children when they're always with you, just log in, click and wait for the deliveries to arrive.

(Just be wary of retail therapy. It's easy to over-spend when that other adult isn't home to see what you're doing.)

5. If lots of baking or cooking is one of your traditions, then by all means cook.

Buy some disposable containers and plan to give your confections away. I love to cook during the holidays, but a fridge full of leftovers that never get eaten is just depressing. Worse, a house full of sweets is likely to all be eaten -- by me.

In the past when my husband hasn't been home to help me eat all that rich holiday food, I've shared it with neighbors, friends and elderly people I knew from church. Maybe it's cliche, but sharing food is a great way to share the holiday spirit.

6. Volunteer.

Again, depression is a real concern for many people during the holidays. And when you're home alone (and being home with only small children for company counts as "alone"), it's easy to dwell on what do you don't have.

Giving your time to others is an excellent way to get out of your head and remember all the great things that are happening in your life.

If your children are old enough, there may be volunteer opportunities they can participate in, too. If you're not sure what you can do, a site like can help you find an organization in your community that would love to have your help.

Suggestions for friends of Solo Parents

If you have a friend or family member who is Deployment Parenting this holiday season, here are a few things you can do to make their season a little brighter.

  • Offer to babysit, and be specific. The holidays are busy and stressful and MHPs need breaks. It's great to say, "Let me know if I can watch the kids." It's even better to say, "How about I watch the kids for you this Saturday?"
  • Invite them to come to your events. Even if they say "no" they'll still appreciate the invitation.
  • Help if they are traveling. Offer to get the mail, water plants, pet-sit, or keep an eye on their house if you know they plan to travel. Knowing that someone local is looking out makes leaving town less stressful.
  • Keep in touch. Call, text or drop by -- whatever best fits with your relationship -- to let them know they're on your mind.

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