The Single Woman's Guide to Surviving the Holidays

The Single Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays

Well, single ladies, we’ve only got about 6 weeks to get ready for Christmas and 2 weeks for Thanksgiving. Since we’re flying solo, with kids or without, divorced or just solitary, it’s time to dive into the Single Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays. Break out your Excel sheets, budget planners, and the Xanax. Oh, and the padded ammunition Nerf guns for next Valentine’s Day, and you may want to book your therapy appointments now.

Or we can all just get together with Kleenex, ice cream and afghans, because there are probably quite a few moments where it seems like blanket-burrowing is the only survival strategy that makes sense in the post-divorce, high-pressure holiday “frenetics” of trying to be joyful and triumphant when really, we’re closer to baleful and despondent.

Of course, hiding under the blankets is not the single woman’s holiday survival guide anyone is looking for. It’s not the Christmas story any of us want to write for ourselves or our children — whether we’re long divorced, newly divorced, single as a dollar bill and child-free, or a single mom of four celebrating along with our teenage son’s girlfriend, the family dog, and a couple goldfish.

Oh, the holidays…

Why do we still aspire like lemmings to that homey Norman Rockwell scene of rosy, wedded, nuclear family bliss, all cozy and unconcerned about purchasing $8 dollar bread loaves and cartons of eggs – let alone the latest iPhone or whatever else is being pushed. Those Rockwell collector’s items, those numbered editions and numbered days are broken shards for about half of America born after 1982 — all the product of divorce. 

It’s time to ring in a new paradigm. It’s called Honesty. The holidays have gotten so much hype, so much press, so much money and marketing and melees at the megamalls and so many ridiculously early preemptive strikes by retailers pushing Christmas products in July that many of us would often prefer to just boycott the whole enterprise. It’s time to laugh at ourselves a little and let go of the idea that it’s normal to panic over holiday preparation.

Single women who are child-free (a.k.a. “Not a Moms” or “nammies”) can get away with a boycott of the holidays. If you’re a single mother, though, you really can’t pull off a full holiday filibuster. You can create your own unique traditions, though, and the newly divorced moms can drive right into that 360-spin instead of trying to maintain the same direction and meet all those ludicrous expectations. Divorce changes everything. Perhaps it’s best to just step on the gas, head to the top of the curve and roll with the momentum. 

Take the celebration and all the old traditions and flip them on their heads a little, and don’t allow comparisons to what “used to be” trip you up if you can help it. Comparison to the old will not help you survive the new, especially during the holidays when it seems like there’s always another hoop to jump.

On that note, let’s talk about some ideas that might give you a little traction on the road toward a holiday season that has more “thrive” than “survive” under the tree.

Make New Traditions

Things are different, so make it a celebration of doing everything differently. Eat a picnic on the floor or turn the living room into a tent fort village in your favorite holiday colors. Do a scavenger hunt for presents instead of piling them under the tree. Have dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner, wear ridiculously mismatched outfits or formal attire throughout. If you live in a snowy landscape, bring buckets of snow inside and build a snowman in the tub as fast you can.

The family member who offers the best guess for how long it takes Frosty to melt wins the prize hidden in his hat. Have a Queen of Commotion Drawing of silly “tasks” each family member does for someone else or the whole family – like paint their sisters’ toenails, paint everyone in the family’s toes different colors, adding curling ribbon and pipe cleaners to everyone’s hair so you look like a family of festive insects. Dance around the table three times wearing a set of antlers and singing “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.” Conduct contests, like Pea Burbling. This involves tilting the head all the way back, placing a pea on pursed lips and blowing a steady stream of air under the little legume to see if you can hold it aloft. Think whale spouts. (My mother is a champion pea burbler). 

Single women have the freedom of choosing ways to celebrate that only have to suit us, but singles may be more susceptible to those loud silences. Spending time with close friends and family can help you keep that deafening quiet at bay and help you remember that you’re loved, and that there is joy afoot as long as you look for it.

It’s a Trip

Holiday time is also a great time to take a trip somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, and go it alone. You’re much more present to the experience when you travel by yourself, and you strike up conversations with strangers more openly and engage in the day and the culture more freely than you do when you travel with a companion. The only agenda and schedule you have to worry about is yours.

Check out “Table for One: My First Trip as a Single Woman.”

Girly Time

If you’re single and staying home, or you’re divorced and the kids are at dad’s house, take endless baths and blow bubbles while you’re in there, put cucumbers on your eyes, journal, light candles, dance around the tree, exfoliate, dye your hair — all the girly things that get overlooked in the day-to-day. Or just veg on the couch with a movie marathon, some wine and plate of your favorite cheeses, fruit and nibbles.

You’re the only you on Earth; find new ways to like yourself and your own company. Moving from holiday surviving to thriving is a matter of shifting your focus to what is spectacular, and it is fairly spectacular to have created a life among all the other lives on this fragile, beautiful planet.

For more ideas on what to do now that you are in this single, independent state, look at our popular “100 Must Do’s for the Newly Divorced Independent Woman!”

Emotional Processing Vs. Emotional Wallowing

For me, Valentine’s Day can be an emotionally tricky holiday, probably because I don’t have children and that one is more geared toward the expectation of coupledom rather than the demands of a family. If there are regrets to be had about how things ended or mistakes you made, this is when they may try to come back to the surface. 

Sometimes it can be good to comb through feelings, but there comes a point with emotional processing when it stops facilitating self-knowledge and crosses over into wallowing in what you no longer need. Try to strike a balance between taking responsibility and giving yourself a break. Remember: Getting a true sense of a feeling and where it comes from is helpful at first, especially as you come to an understanding of yourself. After that, trying to get a deeper sense of it is Ego looking for a reason to feel any particular way, like an anxious dog obsessively chewing up her person’s slippers… pair after pair.

Breaking Free from Emotional Patterns and Finding Liberation

As Eckhart Tolle put it, this is memorizing an emotional reaction. So how do you break out of the mental hamster wheel? Install a punching bag. (I know I say that all the time, but I love my punching bags). Break out that Nerf gun and knock empty cans off the TV if you feel like it. Try to start laughing at the mental patterns when you notice them instead of chastising yourself, and then visualize the thought dissolving like a sugar cube in water — every time. It takes practice. But if it makes you laugh and feel a little younger and a lot liberated, it’s probably a good thing.

The newly divorced with kids may have to share custody and spend the holidays away from their children for the first time, and that may be wrenching and bear an assortment of feelings like guilt, regret, anger and shame. Try not to give these drama devices any mental real estate. Conversely, you may also find yourself a little relieved to have some time to yourself even while you miss your children. Don’t scold yourself for this; take advantage of it to delve openly into your situation without having to worry about keeping a lid on yourself for the kids’ sake. Do things you enjoy; eat something that only you like; take a walk at midnight. Celebrate that you have no one else to please but yourself for a window of time. 

Hear from other divorced women on how they cope during these “festive” times of year. Read “Divorced Women Share 14 Secrets to Surviving the Holidays.”

Managing Emotion as a Family

Accept that grief might sneak up on you and make a plan for managing yourself so that you have a moment to feel it and then release it as you’re able. Let your kids know that it’s ok for them to be sad, and it’s ok Likening a feeling to a hug might be helpful: Hugs are great when they’re real, but you can’t stand around hugging someone all day. Give the emotion a good, strong hug, let it go and move on. Part of managing the change in the holiday season and getting past survival into thriving is to manage your kids’ expectations about this ahead of time. Allow for authenticity, but make sure to steer back to celebrating what you all still have and are re-creating together.

Consider, “7 Ways to Lovingly Support Your Kids Through Divorce.”

Keep it Simple

Do a slumber party around the tree with a game or a favorite holiday movie selection or a holiday story read aloud. Play board games. Take the spending out of it as much as possible if you need to and keep in mind that feelings of guilt or not being “enough” are likely to come up; just prepare for them and let them go. You do not have to be perfect.

Give Services

Volunteer and donate. Meals on Wheels or the Giving Tree at an area church or synagogue or mosque are great giving-back opportunities that you can do as a single woman or with the kids as a way of teaching them about community and empathy. Consider having everyone in the family clean a few items out of their toy boxes or closets — items they’d be willing to give away to a toy or clothing drive. Get out to a local beach or park with some garbage bags and do a cleaning sweep. Let the kids decide what places, people or charities need the money that might have been spent on their gifts. Each family member gets to pick their own favorite and post their reasons why on the fridge.


Make big breakfasts in the a.m., and then keep the rest of the meals simple with the kids’ help in designing and preparing the menu. Make up a thermos of cocoa to take to the Salvation Army Santa at the grocery store and then take a drive around the neighborhood to look at lights. See if a skating rink is open, or what the children’s museum is offering. See what local aquariums, YMCAs, local theatre companies or youth centers might be hosting. 

Get Creative

Make crafts for gifts, bake cookies or build a gingerbread house. There are pipe cleaner flower pots, egg shell art for ornaments, slime recipes, homemade dog biscuit recipes, pom-pom crafts (think pine cones with fuzzy balls), origami, popcorn and cranberry strings for the tree, dioramas from your favorite holiday stories and box villages for around the tree. There are hundreds of great arts and crafts books geared toward kids and adults. You don’t have to have kids to color, inside the lines or out. 

Quality Time Coupons

Each kid likes to spend time with you in different ways, so give them each a gift certificate for their own one-on-one afternoon or day with Mom. Offer gym trips, sparring sessions for the budding martial artists, making a new costume for the dancer, bike rides, playing catch, checkers and chess matches, story time, make-up and hair lessons on YouTube, a formal request for their expert lessons in how to play a video game or a do new dance, or making a special meal together.

Whatever you decide, make it yours. Traditions start somewhere. Your best guide to surviving the holidays — single, divorced, alone or swimming in a family — is to focus on what is, not what was.


Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and print journalist living in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Connect with Jennifer at


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*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”

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