Friday, November 16, 2012

The Single Father’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays

If the holidays are stressful for families that include both a mother and a father, then how much more stressful is the season for the single dad? Undoubtedly, the rhetorical question may be left to some debate. From my experience, however, I’d estimate it to be quite a bit further north of 100% more stressful.

Here’s the 411, my brothers.

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If you haven’t already realized it, you still have to do all of the things you did when you were one-half of a married couple (or some permutation of domestic partnership). Unless you have a chauffeur or a teenager who drives, you have to take your daughter to basketball practice and shop for gifts. Depending on your own personal belief system, you may have either to light the Menorah or trim ol’ Tannenbaum and snow blow the driveway after the most recent winter storm. (Regardless of your religious affiliation, I’m afraid you’ll still have to clear the snow from your driveway.) And, yes, you will also have to attend, plan, and/or otherwise participate in family, your children’s classroom, and office parties while attempting to maintain, what may appear to be in vain, your sanity.
Good luck! See you in January!


Check out a few ideas which will help make the part of the year beginning on the fourth Thursday in November and ending sometime after the BCS Bowl Games as pleasant and rewarding as possible for you and those children you see at the breakfast table every morning. Like just about everything else, I’ve learned this stuff the hard way, so learn the break in the green from my putt.

1)     Put on your oxygen mask first: Okay, I know this is cliché and it also happens to be the first “Golden Rule” in The Single Father’s Guide to Life Cooking, and Baseball, but there’s a reason for that. You can’t be any help to anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first. Anytime things get crazy, just walk away and catch your breath. That might mean you’ll exercise. That might mean you go to a ball game with some of your buddies. That might mean having a date with your girlfriend. Whatever it means, slow down, take a step back, and, then, return refreshed and ready for the next challenge.

2)    Maintain your routines: Yes, even during your children’s school breaks when you and your kids don’t have to wake up for school or work, be consistent with bed times, wake up times, and meals. Sure, you can vary a little, maybe letting the kids stay up a little later to finish watching It’s A Wonderful Life or Eight Crazy Nights, but stability is important to maintain health. According to a Cambridge University study, “Children living in households with intensive, stable caretaking usually had moderate cortisol levels, low frequency of illness, and appropriate immune responses.[i]” Doesn’t it just make sense to reduce the chances that you or your children get sick during perhaps the busiest time of the year?

3)    Make a gift budget: If part of your family’s tradition is gift giving, (and frankly, whose isn’t?), then make a list of people for whom you’ll buy gifts, set a budget, and stick to it.

4)    Get the gift-buying out of the way early: As I’ve already quite clearly suggested, the holidays bring with them a lot of responsibility for the single dad. Doesn’t it make sense to remove from your plate as soon those things you can as soon as you can? Whether you patronize your local merchants, drive to the nearest Walmart Superstore, or order all your gifts from using SuperSaver Free Shipping, schedule a few hours or a day when it’s convenient for you and get it done! Then, focus on the next thing.

5)    When it comes to family/office/classroom parties, do what you can: “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go!” Well, that’s fine, but you might have gone to two grandmother’s houses on previous Thanksgivings or Christmases, but now your romantic interest wants you to spend the holiday at her house. Look, most people will understand that you, as a single father, can only do so much. For those who are so self-involved that they can’t understand your plight, well, that’s too bad for them. Prioritize and, if you are simply unable to do something someone else wants you to do, learn this important word: “No.”

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6)    Eliminate the “Net Consumers of Resources” in your life: This one will help you 24/7/365, but there’s no time like the present to start. I’ve observed that there are two kinds of people in the world, Net Producers of Resources (NPR’s) and Net Consumers of Resources (NCR’s). In general, NPR’s are optimistic people who not only make the world a better place by their very existence, but they also regularly commit random acts of kindness and make others’ lives easier in the process. On the other hand, NCR’s are pessimists who literally suck the life, energy, and fun from every damned little thing. They consume your time and energy by their perpetually negative energy and complaints. Dude, get rid of them. You have enough to contend with your and your children’s needs, tree trimming, Menorah-lighting, movie-watching, snow-shoveling, gift-buying, and party-going without someone figuratively or literally bringing you down. Keep your NPR’s. Lose the NCR’s. You’ll be happier for it.

Check back at The Single Father’s Guide regularly during the holiday season for more parenting and holiday tips to make your life happier, healthier, and more fulfilling.

Seriously this time, good luck single dad.

[i] Family environment, stress, and health during childhood. Flinn, Mark V. Panter-Brick, Catherine (Ed); Worthman, Carol M. (Ed), (1999). Hormones, health, and behavior: A socio-ecological and lifespan perspective., (pp. 105-138). New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press, ix, 290 pp.

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