‘Be Gentle With Yourself And Remember It’s Only One Day: How I’m Co-Parenting This Christmas’

Helen Thorn, from The Scummy Mummies, on how she's navigating her second Christmas as a single mum

Helen Thorn The Scummy Mummies co parenting Christmas

by Helen Thorn |
Updated on

“Who’s looking forward to Christmas?” I shout out to a crowd of hundreds of women each night on our Scummy Mummies Christmas Show tour. In response we get a few random cheers, but mainly we hear a collective sigh and even a few groans.

In reality, Christmas for most mums – single and couples – is definitely a mixed blessing and not quite the sparkly, matching PJs picture perfect images that are awash on Instagram this month. Yes, of course, it is absolutely delightful seeing our children unwrap presents and sing in their school concert, and nothing brings more cheer than an entire month devoted to mulled wine and mince pies. However, there is always a huge list to deal with, and I am not talking about the handwritten ones asking for Lego.

Since becoming a single parent in March 2020, all these big events have changed significantly, but in many ways for the better. And, whilst I now do them either on my own, or just with my kids, I still have to negotiate with my ex about the logistics of who goes where, and who buys what.

The other biggest change has been how everything is now down to me, and I must say this has been the best Christmas gift of all. Sure, it’s twice the work, but goodness me, it’s twice as satisfying and enjoyable. I have happily swapped rows over cooking times for staying up late on my own wrapping presents with Love Actually and Baileys for company.

Last Christmas the kids were with me all day, and it was honestly one of the most chilled out days we have ever had. Their dad came over in the morning for an hour to share presents with them, which made them happy, and it was also a great excuse for me to sneak out of the house and drink Bucks Fizz in my neighbour’s garden. Bliss!

Remember, this was deep dark lockdown times, and there was no choice other than keep it low key, so we decided to create some new traditions. For lunch, instead of turkey and sprouts, we all chose three things we loved, so we sat down to a Christmas lunch of pizza, macaroni cheese, roast chicken, with a side of Skittles and cucumber slices. In your face, Jamie Oliver.

Another single mum told me, ‘If you want to do a roast, get everything from the supermarket pre-chopped and ready to cook.’ In other words, don’t try and be the perfect mum and instead make everything as easy as possible for yourself. The day itself was fun, silly and full of joy, and I didn’t have to spend hours peeling potatoes. Win, win I say.

When it came to presents, things did get excessive. Both my ex and I went to town, and it turns out you can have too many sweets and tat from Tiger. So, I have now learnt it’s good to communicate in advance for birthdays and big moments. It isn’t a competition about who buys the best things and while limits aren’t sexy, they are essential.

I know Christmas is really about the kids, but last year I started feeling sad that I would wake up without any presents under the tree, so the week before I took the kids to my local gift shop and bravely gave them my debit card and waited outside. They bought me a few things and had them wrapped and I was pleasantly surprised that I got earrings and lovely candles on Christmas morning, and I’ll do the same thing this year.

Being an Australian, and having lived here for over fifteen years, I am used to missing my family during the festive season, and despite Zoom calls to family and Zoom cocktails with friends, at about 9pm after the sugar and boozy highs, I sat on the sofa felt an ache for a cuddle and a good snog under the mistletoe. But I reminded myself that being alone and happy was a thousand times better than having an empty embrace with someone who made me miserable, or even worse, sitting next to someone who I didn’t want to touch or be touched by.

This will be my second Christmas as a single mum, and this year for the first time I will only see my children for breakfast and then they will be with their dad for the rest of the day. How we decided what to do this year was very much driven by my kids. They are 10 and 13, and a couple of months ago, my ex and I asked them what they wanted to do. It was their Dad’s turn to have them, but they asked if they could wake up with me in their home. We listened and negotiated what was best, and the kids felt they had some say, and I was happy, too.

It’s a strange feeling knowing I will be without them, and one I am being very gentle with myself about. I will make a ridiculous breakfast - one to rival Uncle Buck’s pancake stacks, with all the bacon, croissants, and a bucket of Celebrations and we will probably all get up at 4am anyway, so it will feel like a full day by 10am. But I know I will have a couple of wobbles in the evening, and that’s ok. And one day they will wake up in his house, and that will be hard, but I also know I will survive it.

When I wrote my book, Get Divorced, Be Happy: How becoming single turned out to be my happily ever after, I was conscious I had only one experience of Christmas, so I asked my friend, YouTuber and author, Louise Pentland, for advice, as she’s had years under her belt as a single mum at Christmas. She told me: ‘It’s hard not having your offspring on Christmas day, and I miss my daughter every other year. BUT I remind myself that she’s OK, she doesn’t feel my sadness, she just feels dad joy, and fun, and is making memories with her other parent, which is healthy.

'I also read something that said: “Don’t let your storm get your children wet". So, on Christmas Eve, I’ll say to them, “You go and have the BEST Christmas ever and I’ll see you on Boxing Day!” I tell her that my heart knows when she’s having fun and that makes me even happier, so that she doesn’t feel that weird attachment guilt thing that kids sometimes feel either. It helps to know she’s happy. Then you can go and have a big wobble into a trifle and be a good parent.’

Talking to fellow co-parents is so important in the lead up to any big event, so this year I listened and learned a lot from my support crew. If you’re newly single, I would recommend following @singlemotheredit, @happy_singlemompodcast, @staceyduguid, @frolo_app and @lifesrosie for brilliant content and advice.

Christmas is so focused on the coupled-up idyllic family set up and can be triggering, so flood your social media feed with positive and inspiring people and grab a best buddy and have a cry if you need to.

Always remember it is normal to feel anxious, especially when your life has been turned upside-down. Navigating these new situations isn't easy, but we have to put on our big girl pants and face December 25th in our own way. Have fun creating new traditions with your little ones and while it feels like we should make the day extra special for our family, it really is only one day. And there are so many other ways you can connect with your kids, like spending 24 hours eating chocolate in your not-so-perfect mismatching PJs.

More than anything else, your kids just want to have quality time with you this Christmas, and it doesn't matter on which day or what your house looks like. Merry Christmas everyone!

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