Christmas is a time for family and friends, celebrations and togetherness, but if you're a single parent, it can also be a time of loneliness and sleepless nights.
If that sounds familiar, that's because loneliness and sleepless nights have been pretty much ever-present in the chaos and mayhem that has been 2020.
So why not top it off with a big cherry on top at the end of the year?
I've re-partnered now, but when I was a single parent, Christmas was my least favourite time of the year – which was a shame because I've always loved the whole kitsch Christmas vibe. But it was just so hard.
When families were hosting barbecues and get-togethers, I was often left out because I didn't have my kids with me. My married friends were off doing married, family things, while I was on my own wondering just how much Netflix I could watch before it came up with a prompt that said, "Don't you think you should do something else?"
Of course, my friends thought I was so lucky having all that time to myself, but all I felt was lonely. I missed my kids and I felt left out of everything.
Then, when I did have my three children, I was 100 per cent hands-on and exhausted from parenting 24/7. Going out with them was hard work and expensive at a time that I was struggling financially as well.
And staying home was isolating in a way only parents who have spent days on end alone with their kids can understand. We love them, but the conversation isn't often scintillating – and if the children are young, their demands never end.
These days, I'm back to loving Christmas again. My children spend half of the holidays with their father, but I have a partner and social engagements, and fun stuff to do.
But I never forget my single parent friends, because I know how that feels.
If you want to help a single parent friend, here are a few ideas:
1. Give them a call just to check in. If they don't answer, keep trying, or ask if you can pop around. Don't take their silence or deflection at face value. They might be struggling and need someone to make the effort.
2. Acknowledge that you understand that the holidays can be tough, and ask them how they're feeling and what they need.
3. Invite them out for a one-on-one coffee or a wine. Not every activity has to involve the whole family and they might appreciate having someone to enjoy some adult time with.
4. Invite them to your family barbecues or even to your Christmas day celebration, even if they don't have their children. Don't assume that they probably have something better to do.
5. Keep in touch with texts, or send memes – whatever works just to keep the conversation flowing and remind them you're there. It's no replacement for physical catch-ups but consistent reminders someone cares are still valuable.
6. If you know others going through the same thing, be sure to introduce them. It can really help having friends who understand what you're going through.
Single parenting can be tough at the best of times, but put Christmas and this bin-fire that is 2020 together and it can feel like a whole lot.
It doesn't take much, but every little effort helps to remind your friend that you're there and they're not alone. And it might make their Christmas that little bit merrier.