It made me think about my own childhood. I was raised by my mum, and never knew or met my dad. That’s all I knew, so I didn’t have to go through the terrible experience of being separated from one parent or another.
But even though I didn’t go through a painful break-up, I still felt different from the other kids I knew, all of whom had ‘normal’ families. My mum obviously knew we were different from other families in our neighbourhood, and to a certain extent had to put up with the stigma of being a single parent in a respectable area where she was greatly outnumbered by the normals (this was the 1970s).
But the way she responded to it, especially at Christmas, was so amazing. I didn’t realise how amazing at the time, but when I grew up and had my own family, I was so filled with admiration for all the effort she put into making our Christmas really special. And this could be done by any single parent family, to make sure their children never feel inadequate or that they’ve missed out in any way.
What she did was invent all sorts of little rituals which built up to the big day. We made little tree decorations, some were chocolate, some made out of card and glitter. Then there was the excitement of getting out the decorations and putting them up. On some nights we would read the Christmas bible stories (my granny was very religious and made sure we understood what it was really all about!).
Then there were the games and the food! Even though cash was scarce, she was great at making little nibbles and homemade savoury treats. We would get out the board games and eat our treats, and maybe be allowed to stay up an extra half hour before bedtime.
Then there were the ‘midnight’ adventures! There was a field just down the road from us, and in the middle of the night (probably about 8.30pm), we’d get dressed up in our warm clothes, take torches and a flask of hot orange and go roaming around in the dark. It was a mad thrill at that age!
What I later realised she was doing was creating a sense of togetherness, closeness and specialness. She was making us value each other, and by creating the little rituals, making us focus on what we have, rather than becoming wistful for things we could never have.
And it worked. You really don’t have to try too hard, to give a child wonderful memories. Small things done frequently give them a sense of specialness and belonging. And most importantly of all, it makes them feel they’re special themselves.
As a parent who’s been a married partner, and a single parent, then a married partner again, I’d love to reassure any single parent that they don’t have to visit the local loanshark to make Christmas a wonderful experience for their children. In my experience, it’s all about making them know what’s actually possible, and then creating a warm, wonderful experience that begins well before Christmas day.
It takes a little planning and imagination, and very little money. And your children will be talking about it 30, 40, 50 years later. All because you cared. All because you took the time. They’ll never forget.