Single Parents: How to Create New Holiday Family Traditions

Filed under: Holidays, Single Parenting

Kathy and Noreen Kingston picture

Kathy Kingston and her daughter, Noreen, began creating new holiday traditions when Noreen was a toddler. Credit: Kingston family photo

As a single mom, Kathy Kingston says she strives especially hard to create the magic of the holiday season for Noreen, her 15-year-old daughter.

"I feel like the emphasis on family needs to be even stronger for me as a single mom," the Arlington Heights, Ill., special educator tells ParentDish.

Her daughter is a theater buff so her typical gift includes tickets "for two, of course," to the latest musical and dinner in downtown Chicago, along with a trek around the town to soak in the holiday lights and displays, Kingston says. On this year's list: tickets to "Behind the Emerald Curtain." The duo also shops together for a special gift for the family golden retriever, Seamus.

"Spending quality time together doesn't get any better than this," Kingston says. "For me, I think creating family among ourselves and with all our friends and other family members is very important at the holidays."

She is not alone.

According to the Census Bureau, there are about 13.7 million single parents in the United States today, and those parents are responsible for raising 21.8 million children (approximately 26 percent of children under 21 in the country today).

But in the Hallmark card perfect world of holidays, single parents, step families and other nontraditional families seem to be under extra stress and feeling the pressure cooker of "family" expectations.

For many of these parents, traditional holiday celebrations are a thing of the past, and they are trying to create new magical moments of peace and joy that bind their new version of family together. Parents such as Kingston are looking for creative ways to add a new twist to their holiday traditions.

ParentDish asked several single parents to share creative ways they are reinventing the holidays to forge new traditions and magical moments for their offspring.

Improvise. If your kids are spending the actual holiday with their other parent, schedule a celebration of "Rudolph's Birthday" for the day after your children return from their dad's or the other parent's home, Cynthia MacGregor, founder of The, tells ParentDish.

"Rudolph's birthday is the one birthday party where the guests get all the presents," she says. "Give your children all their presents -- and their Santa gifts if they still believe -- at the Rudolph's birthday party."

Get creative and make it a breakfast party, luncheon or evening celebration for when the kids are back home with you, or before they visit their mom or dad, she says.

Create "yours, mine and ours": Blending faiths requires extra creativity on the holiday reinvention front. After living a single life for most of her adulthood, Marilyn Kleinberg went from living alone to moving in with her boyfriend, his three teenage sons, two dogs and her boyfriend's mother, who lives in an in-law suite attached to their house.

What was even more challenging was blending her Hanukkah traditions with her boyfriend's Christmas celebrations, Kleinberg, the executive managing director for Southern New Jersey-based, tells ParentDish. To avoid stress and "potential disaster," as she calls it, the group decorates half the home for Christmas, and half for Hanukkah.

"I will be lighting the menorah, they will be getting the tree lights ready," she says.

Gift-giving waits for Christmas Day, but Kleinberg prepares latkes and makes a point of discussing her traditions with the teens, their dad and their grandmother. On Christmas morning, the group heads over to the boy's mom's house; Kleinberg cooks and brings over the breakfast.

Keep it simple: Have a holiday picnic, Elizabeth Lombardo, a counselor who works with divorced parents, tells ParentDish.

"Rather than the traditional meal, one newly-divorced dad decided to make a fire in the fireplace, order some pizzas, put some blankets on the floor and enjoy an indoor picnic with his kids," she says. "Then they rented some holiday classics and watched movies together all night."

Buy a tree: "Buying the Christmas tree has become a huge tradition with my kids and me," Michele Woodward, a Washington, D.C.-area single mom to Munroe, 17, and Grace,14, tells ParentDish. "We always go to the same nursery on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and do the same thing. First, we get a bag of hot, freshly-popped popcorn, which is a nursery holiday staple. Then, we stroll through their display of decorated Christmas trees. Finally, we go out into the brisk cold and examine 20 trees before we finally come to an agreement on the perfect tree. There's a lot of laughing and silliness and it's a ton of fun."

Celebrate magical moments: "Decorating our house together is a tradition we've created," Kingston tells ParentDish. "Tradition dictates that all our treasures will be displayed and Noreen has a much better memory than I do. And, we make a big deal out of picking a gift for our dog, Seamus. He loved the dog bed last year. These are simple moments, but very important."

Be silly and make naughty and nice: The Woodward's have made a tradition of celebrating with a friend, who also is a single mother, and her children at an annual Christmas bash.

"The highlight of the party is the naughty or nice list," Woodward tells ParentDish. "Each guest is given a badge to wear -- 'Nice, 'Naughty' or 'Extremely Naughty,' -- with the list made in advance by the kids. The highlight of the party is the designation of one guest as 'Unspeakably Naughty.' He or she gets presented a loving cup full of grog. This party has been going for six or seven years, and now features a 'Hall of Fame of the Unspeakably Naughty.' "

Play Santa: "One thing I've done for several years is give my children a preloaded gift card with a set amount of money," Woodward says. "From this money, they buy their gifts for others. They make a list and figure out a budget. It's also been a way for them to get me a gift -- 10-year-olds have no access to money. Today, as high schoolers, they look forward to planning their purchases and augment the money I give them with money they've saved from their babysitting or jobs."

Create something: Create new rituals by rediscovering your creative self, says Peggy Nolan, the mother of two, stepmother of four and grandma of one.

She created StepMoms Tool Box to help stepparents navigate the sometimes rugged terrain of stepparenting. Bake cookies, experiment with new recipes, spend an afternoon taking candid photos of your kids and stepkids and create a photo montage of them, she tells ParentDish.

Or, engage in crafts together. Paint, craft, crochet, knit or take an art class in something you've always wanted to learn how to do.

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