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Single Parents' Guide to Avoiding Insanity at Christmas

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SINGLE MOTHER
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It's that time of year again people, oh yes, can you feel the silent creep of inadequacy climbing up your spine and whisper in your ear telling you how crap you are actually doing at being a parent?

Can you see the glint of want in your eight-year-old's eyes and feel that you're never going to be able to fulfil Santa duties without drowning in a sea of credit card bills and 'I owe you's'?

Is there any wonder that the suicide rates increase by around 4% at this time of year, I think we can possibly attribute that to some lack of Seratonin and endorphins due to distinct shortage of sunlight, but I think that the immense pressure we put ourselves under at this time of year is certainly a contributory factor. As my kids grow older, I find myself thinking "will I end up in the local loony bin before 2 January?"

I'm doing this Christmas thing for the fourth year on my own, and I have to say this year's been the toughest by far. This is basically because my daughter has fallen in love with the joys of the iPod, iPad and iPhone.

And my lovely bank balance says "cough" very discretely and then swears vehemently at me.

So, what am I going to do to save any modicum of sanity I have before the front line of the 25 December hits me full on in the face?

Obviously I'm going to write about it. Rationalise it, and offer advice - perhaps this year I'll listen to my own.

And here are my golden rules for surviving Christmas dented, but intact.

1. Be realistic

If your bank balance says your budget is £100 per child then stick to that basic budget. You are not going to be able to magic another £400 out of thin air, and taking a credit card debt or loan for covering one day where the kids would probably rather play with the boxes is a complete waste of time and interest rates.

Think about past Christmases. Last year, for example, I bought my daughter one of those life-size dolls, the ones with real hair and real clothes, and are apparently so realistic said daughter screamed her head off when she saw it thinking that I was trying to replace her. Bad move mum.

My son on the other hand received a lego table, not inexpensive, but decided to build a den with the box, and sat in it for almost two days before even looking at the lovely blue oversized blocks that cost me an arm and a leg.

Moral of the story is, it doesn't matter how much you spend, they'll end up playing with the silliest things and probably be as happy because you're there sharing time with them instead of being at work/at school/cleaning house etcetera.

2. Ask for help if you need it

I don't mean monetary help, I mean that help when you need an hour or so to yourself, or an evening to get absolutely rat-arsed and be yourself without having the pressure of being the responsible parent. Being alone with children 24/7 is extremely rewarding, but also extremely soul-consuming. You basically forget who you were before the children came along. Remind yourself by asking someone to babysit for a while, and be with friends. Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of responsibility. And after all, a happy parent is a good parent.

3. Be Organised

I am probably weakest here. I make lists and buy presents in the January sales and I always save up through out the year as I know I'll never afford everything alone, but I ALWAYS forget something as I leave my Christmas shopping; especially food shopping until Christmas Eve. I don't tend to forget people, last year I forgot the Turkey, believe it or not. Typically I had a chicken in the freezer, but it wasn't the same. Did I panic? Did I heck. There are always sausages in the freezer too, and the kids would have loved a roast sausage lunch.

Make sure that you set reminders especially for cooking times etc, do most things on Christmas Eve, so you get more time watching the kids opening and playing on Christmas morning. And Christmas eve and Christmas day SWITCH YOUR MOBILE OFF!!

4. Don't compare with the Jonses

I stood in Argos today, I'd rung and reserved some of my children's gifts and picked them up. I stood at the till next to a very-well dressed woman who after her order was processed was asked for a total of £1690.97 to which she calmly handed over her AMEX. I died inside a little, feeling pathetic that I had only spent £60 but then it was on things that my kids had actually asked for. It's easy to feel useless at this time of year because you want to give your children the best of everything. You just have to keep telling yourself you're giving them the most important gift of all, your time and love (and a cardboard box).

5. Treat yourself too

It doesn't have to be something massive, I always get myself a book, from Santa, and stick it under the Christmas tree, so when all the merriment is over and we're full of lunch I can sit down with a glass of wine and the kids are playing with their toys and engrossed in Christmas telly, I read my little gift from Santa.

6. If it all goes tits up, smile

It's all to easy to work yourself up into a big ball of nerves for the festive season. So keep smiling, I swear it's a secret weapon, but after a while you really do start to see the funny side of things.

Mostly deal with things in small easy-to-digest chunks and you should be able to get through to January in one piece both physically and emotionally. It's tough being there on your own, but there are people out there to help. Gingerbread are great and can offer brilliant well-rounded advice at this time, and any time of the year, you can contact them on 0808 802 0925.

Whatever you do, don't suffer in silence. There are so many of us out there willing to share. Give yourself a big pat on the back, another year done and dusted, roll on the New Year!