It’s that season again and it’s time to rerun this column. If you’re in a bit of a holiday slump, this goes one out to you. For the survivors of previous sucky holidays, tell the new ones how you did it in the comments. Thanks! — Tracy
Dear Chump Lady,
I am six months out from separation. Facing holidays alone with three grade school age boys. Friends all happily married (for the most part). Family all happily married.
I need any and all survival tips. The closer it gets to Christmas, the more easily I cry. I can’t stand to open Christmas cards from friends because their beautiful intact families reminds me of my broken family thanks to my cheating husband.
Offers of help and generous gifts from neighbors and congregation members just make me feel inadequate as a mom. I don’t want to be known as “the single mom” of the neighborhood, but I will be.
Divorce is amicable so far, which is a huge blessing; but about 45 days away from being able to be finalized.
All of it is still surreal. When I calculated today that I had asked him to move out exactly six months ago, I couldn’t believe that much time has past. It feels like I have been treading water without help for only a month or two.
It is a relief to not have the tension and day to day interactions with STBX. However, I am mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. All of you who have been single parents know that this is one tough gig! And relief every other weekend isn’t even close to enough time to catch up on everything that falls by the wayside when you are doing it alone.
I don’t know if everything is compounded because of Christmas. Or if my new reality is just settling in and I am scared to death to raise my sons without a full-time support system.
I figured this was the best place to go for ideas on how to make it through the next three weeks and make it as good a holiday season as possible!
Next year has to be better, right?!
Some holidays suck. When things suck — let them suck. You’ve been separated for 6 months. Your divorce isn’t finalized. You’re trying to get used to your new reality during a season of oppressive bonhomie. Who can blame you for occasional fits of weepiness? Even the sturdiest of us reel at the disconnect between our drab, ordinary lives and the manic imperative to be fabulous at the holidays. What? You don’t have your presents wrapped in artisan, wood-block print paper made by free-range lepers in India? You didn’t translate those Christmas cookie recipes from the original German? Didn’t you get invited to that party? You know, the one with the live nativity outside and the imported camels? No? Oh. Sorry.
I guess only the Intact, Happy, Married people were invited.
Please stop comparing yourself. Not every intact family is beautiful. Many of them are flaming cauldrons of dysfunction. And yes, some are happy. Be happy for them. The world needs all the sane, happy people it can get. Your problem is you need to expand your notion of “beautiful” and “intact.” You have custody of three boys. You’re at the helm. That’s an intact family. You’re just missing a fucktard, which is not missing much.
Yes, single parenting is hard work. But single parenting is not LESS THAN. It doesn’t mean you’re defective. Frankly, I found single parenting much, much easier than parenting in a bad marriage. In my first marriage, I paid the mortgage, all my own bills, my car, my son’s childcare, pre-school. I had a surly husband who didn’t much want to hang out with me, and the full weight of his untreated mental illness. I realized I was already a single parent. I didn’t have a fully invested partner. Having him out of the house was liberating and, hey, at least it was honest.
You were married to a cheater. No matter how many soccer games he attended, or bills he paid, that man was not a fully invested partner, in your marriage or in your family life. He directed his resources at fucking around on you. You’re mourning what you thought you had, how you enjoyed being perceived, not who he really was.
You don’t want to be known as the single mom? You ARE a single mom. Wear it as a badge of honor. You’re freaking HEROIC. You’re raising three boys on your own. This is your chance to raise good men with YOUR values. Did you really want to stay “intact” with that man and model to your sons that husbands and fathers cheat? And women must eat that shit sandwich and let the man enjoy his side-dish fuck entitlement?
Or do you want them to know that women are strong and life has deal breakers — and if you fuck with someone’s dignity and betray them, you will find your ass divorced?
Divorce is not failure. Cheating is failure. The shame of infidelity is not your shame to wear. I realize this is not how you expected your life to turn out, but it’s the rare person whose life turns out how they expected. And those people are dull and risk adverse. Intact can be enviable, it can also be boring as hell. And smug.
LimboLand, trust that in time you will find your sea legs on this parenting thing and you will have better days ahead, and yes, even happy holidays. But right now, you’re in crisis. Your world just got turned on its head. You are blessed that you are surrounded by kind people who want to help you. Accept the help. You know how you keep good people in your life? You let them help you. Don’t shoo them away. Be gracious, accept their kindness, and do a good turn for them later, when you’re able.
Reciprocity is what makes a relationship healthy. That means you don’t always get to be the giver. It means you also have to accept taking — graciously. That can be humbling for the more control freaky of us chumps. Makes us feel vulnerable. If you’ve been with a narcissist, you’re expecting that score card. Shit, I’m going to owe you and this is not going to be pretty.
No. Some people are actually nice. Take the fucking casserole. Say yes to the babysitting. ENCOURAGE these people. Keep them close and do not reject them because you fear being pitied. That’s about you and you internalizing Single Mother is Less Than. They don’t see you that way. They see you as a lovely person who is in crisis and alone for the holidays, who could use some bolstering.
I could not have done single parenting without a lot of help. I had a dear friend who had my son for sleepovers every time I had to travel for work, or even sometimes when I had a date. And every chance I got, I reciprocated. I took her sons. Nearly every weekend I had a motley assortment of boys at my house. I looked for opportunities to do for my friends because I KNEW I was going to need their help too.
Being a single parent can open up your world in new ways, and deepen friendships. “Intact” families can be very isolating. As you build this new life, build a tribe. Lots of people are cribbing it together, doing this parenting stuff by the seat of their pants, even the married ones. Make some more friends.
But for now, just get through the holidays. Focus on your kids, making their Christmas bright. Create some new traditions (cookies for breakfast!) Relax. Please don’t spend those precious kid-free weekends doing chores. Enjoy some self-care. Watch a movie. Have coffee with a friend. Blob in your pajamas. You deserve it.
This new stage of life isn’t a punishment, it’s a gift. I know it doesn’t feel that way now — but you’ll get there. I promise.