A Candid View of the Holidays (Through the Heart of a Single Mother) | Collaboration by Sally Smith & Sonya Finley
Sonya Finley: My memories of being a single mother at Christmastime takes me back to when my own mother was doing it, single with five children. Back then, I am not sure if I understood how she struggled just to survive daily life. But, add to that the pressure of trying to provide us with joy at Christmas, well, now you know who Wonder Woman was modeled after. There was never “a lot”, yet somehow she managed to make Christmas special and memorable.
I remember the little 3 foot artificial tree that was the center piece for most of our Christmases. It sat atop a small round end table and was decorated with all the handmade ornaments each of us created at school. At some point it was so covered with our creations you could barely see the tree. Oftentimes presents did not appear under that little tree until Christmas Eve. It turns out a lot of the time that was just when she was able to pull something together, whether from her pocket or various last minute charitable donations.
My mother was the master of innovation. Her creativity during times of struggle created some of our favorite holiday traditions we follow today. For instance, because she could not afford to give us all money to buy presents for all five of us, she instituted the “draw names” tradition. Each child would pull a name and that would be the person they would buy a gift for. Our budget, $5. It wasn’t much, but boy would we make it stretch! More often than not, we would have change left over and so would combine it to buy a
special gift for our mother. Believe it or not, we still do this today! And we have passed it down to our own children. Finding stocking stuffers for five kids was another budget buster, but my mom, true to form, came up with a creative solution for that. Bubble gum machine toys!! Yup! My mom and sometimes my older sister would stand out by the gum machines of whatever store we were shopping at, putting in nickels, quarters, and dimes and pulling out fantastic treats we would later open with childish glee on Christmas Eve. And yes, stockings are still a must have in every household! My oldest sister even sent hers from Georgia one year to be “stuffed”.
I grew up and I too found myself single with children at Christmas. And while loneliness can be an issue—especially when everyone else in your family is married—oddly enough it was not my most pressing concern. My struggle arose from simply not having enough
to do what I wanted to do for my children. I was barely getting the bills paid and then had to find “extra” to bring a little joy to my sons. Of course, having watched my mom navigate through those rough times with love, laughter, and creativity I was found the strength to do the same. I did what I had to do, I accepted charity (in many different forms)—no matter how humiliated I felt in the process—and believe me, sometimes the processes for receiving charity were humiliating indeed. I vividly remember one year I signed up to be adopted. I sat and went through the long process, hoping to be selected; then only to be given a small bag of four, dollar-tree toys—one for each son. When I questioned it, I was told that since I had nothing, I should be grateful for whatever was given to me. I was so broken. I was so disappointed. I so wanted to do more for my sons. Believe me, it is a most horrible feeling to want to do for your children but then not being able. I do not remember how things worked out that year. I think family pitched in, but I am certain that somehow my sons had gifts they were pleased with. If you ask them, they never had complaints about their Christmases.
These days I am still single with children but they are all grown and able to do for themselves. Having gained an understanding and appreciation of past struggles, they have grown into young men who are loving and generous in spirit. Our Christmases are not just about the gifts that mom can give (they buy me gifts now!), but about family and keeping alive the traditions passed on to us by a woman who, in spite of circumstances, created the best Christmases EVER!!
Sally Smith: Ah, the life of the ‘Single Parent’. Many of us ‘Single Parents’ did not start out single and going it alone. We may have had similar beginnings as lots of the intact families that you know and love… I did anyhow. I had the wedding, the baby showers, the family get-togethers and birthday parties. Year after married year, I had that unit, and fell into the rhythm that comes with two parents and… however many kids.
Regardless of the state of my family, there was a predictable quality that encompassed the preparations and observances during the holidays. I did not know it prior to my leap to singularity, but holidays were designed around the model of that type of unit. During the first few years of being alone and raising kids, the holiday motions were like learning to walk after losing a leg. This dramatic visual is to say that it was painful, confusing, and imbalanced, but necessary in order for me, and for my kids, to move forward.
I am in no way throwing a pity party; I was the one that set the separation into motion, that needed to create the change that split our family apart. Like I mentioned, I did not realize how different our holidays would be, and I would not have done things differently, but I will fully admit that I had to get on board with the big changes that came my way.
Without going into sad and embarrassing detail, I will say that several things are drastically different: finances, traditions, and people that you celebrate with are among the biggies. We Single Parents (maybe not all, but some) have to find ways to maximize financial resources during the holidays in order to create as small of a wake as possible. For me, it is not so much to be an extravagant gift giver, but more so that my kids would not have to experience a jarring difference or lack that might elicit concern over my financial state. I have attempted to stretch and make it feel like holidays of old, but always worry that I might not be doing enough.
Obviously, traditions have to change, too. The schedule of the holidays and the family members that are present change. Knowing that my kids would have to adjust to new scenarios, minus me, was worrisome. I felt sad that they might have to incur awkward times, and have difficult conversations. The new normal takes a while to settle in. I am on year-4, and the holidays are finally starting to take on a new, hopeful shape.
Yes, there is hope! Prayers have been answered, hard work has been rewarded, new relationships have been formed, and children are resilient. Love conquers all! I have held fast to my convictions and stayed committed to my Single Parenthood, and through it all, I have been richly blessed. I am constantly reminded that “It is well, it is well with my Soul”.
Sally Smith is a 40-something Mother of two daughters, both whom are loving, talented, and independent. Lila, 19, just started her 2nd year at GCU, and Rubi, 13, just began attending the Orange County School of the Arts. When Sally is not busy driving to the train station, to dance, or selling two way radios (no, really, that is her job!), she can be found shakin’ it at Zumba, or cooking/surfing/chilling with her main squeeze. Life is Beautiful…
Sonya A. Finley has been living the single life for 24 years. In that time she has raised four awesome young men (James – 26, Kevin – 23, Joshua and Johnathan – 18), graduated from college with a BFA, and began a huge step in her professional career. She is on the verge of a new season in her single life that now focuses on a journey not centered around child-rearing. She has made many mis-steps, learned quite a few bits of wisdom along the way and is happy to share with women who find themselves in the same place.