2020 will be my first Christmas as a single mom. Here's how I'll survive it during a pandemic

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A mother is preparing for her first Christmas as a single parent.
"Mom, how many sleep until Santa Claus comes?"
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I look at my seven year old daughter. Her eyes are full of excitement and her smile shows her missing front tooth. It's only a matter of time before the other fails. If so, I know I'll indulge in a good scream. My baby with the rubbery grin has been gone a long time.
The young girl in front of me still believes in St. Nick - for now. She couldn't do it until that time next year, and as her mother, I want to do everything in my power to make this time of year magical and memorable for her.
Why?
Because this is my first Christmas as a single mom.
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If you had asked me last year if my marriage was going to collapse amid the chaos and loss of a global virus, I would have said the idea was a stretch. If you had told me that my little family of three would be split in half, I would not have believed it.
But here we are.
"Fifteen," I finally reply, counting down the days in my head to see how much time I have left to mentally prepare for the holidays.
Parents get used to life during COVID-19 - but hope to make the holidays as special as possible for their children.
It's always been a special time of year for me since I was a little girl. I remember my sister and I laying out our stockings, waking up at five in the morning and almost bursting with the thrill. I'm waiting for my parents to get up so we can go downstairs and see all the gifts Santa has delivered.
When my daughter came along, I wanted to continue some of the traditions I grew up with, such as my father reading “The Night Before Christmas” after we left out a few cookies and milk for St. Nick.
My ex's family always celebrated on Christmas Eve, however, so sometimes we would get home quite late and my daughter would be half asleep and exhausted, not in the mood to eat food or hear an old fashioned story. The lack of time that night always hurt my heart a bit and I knew I had to follow our other Christmas traditions the next day as we celebrated with my side of the family.
But this year will be very different - for her and for me.
The emotional challenges facing single parents in the run-up to Christmas are overwhelming. Last weekend I dragged our Christmas tree out of the basement and then almost lost it when I couldn't put the base together. Then my daughter came in and found out. She also solved the puzzle of how the three strings of lights should be attached.
SEE ALSO: COVID-19 and the Holidays: How to Help Feel Alone and Stressful This Holiday Season
As I put on the stockings, tears came to my eyes. Our two cats each had one, so this year there were a total of four instead of the usual five.
I paused, dreading the inevitable question.
"Where's Papa's stocking?"
A big part of my job as a new mom is navigating my own pain and losses in order to be strong for my daughter. But I've also learned that it's okay to be honest and open about my feelings with her at times.
"Papa doesn't live here anymore," I replied. "So this year it's just us and the cats."
"Does that make you sad?"
"Yes."
Christmas traditions, like writing letters to Santa Claus, bring a welcome escape from life during COVID-19.
I put the wreath on the door and decorate the rest of the house while she's at school. I don't want to answer any more of those heartbreaking questions, but I know they are all about to come along with the more childlike ones like "Can Santa Claus see you in the bathroom?" or "What if he burns his butt on the way down our chimney?"
Not only is this Christmas weird because my husband and I split up, but it's also happening in a new COVID world that is hard to spot. Instead of going to the mall or doing local shopping, I buy almost everything online. There are no get-togethers with friends or holiday work groups. Instead, people all over the world are sick and dying.
We all really want a vaccine.
ALSO SEE: How To Prepare For Seasonal Affective Disorders During The Pandemic
But children need a sense of hope, a light, and the comfort of routine. And so I pull out the paper so that my daughter can write her letter to Santa Claus so that we can mail it together and make sure he gets to the North Pole on time.
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I will still buy her a new pair of vacation pajamas, an old tradition that I will carry on on my own. But I am determined to make new ones too. I buy an advent calendar and try to explain the meaning of Christmas instead of just focusing on how many toys she has on her list. I also make a commitment to taking Elf on the Shelf seriously and even set an alarm on my phone every night so I don't forget to take it to a new and fun place. I have other ideas, like baking Christmas cookies, even if they turn out to be a shapeless but delicious mess.
An unexpected gift during the holidays is the strengthening of the bond between a mother and daughter on their first Christmas.
I imagine Christmas morning when the two of us busily storm down the stairs to see what's under the tree. Normally I could film this scene, but I know this year it's going to be more important than ever just to be there to make sure she knows I'm there and how much I love her.
If you'd asked me four months ago if I had the inner strength to make Christmas special for my daughter, I would have said "no chance". But I've learned an important lesson since then: mothers are incredibly strong and resilient when it comes to their children, and we will do everything we can to see them happy, especially after a terrible year of so many changes.
It may look and feel different and take some getting used to, but I am confident that our first Christmas will be something special and unforgettable. No doubt I will also feel a pain for past things, but that's to be expected, and I know that as time goes on, I will feel it less and less. I'm so proud of how my daughter and I have grown closer and strengthened our bond over the past few months.
I never expected a global pandemic and a major change in my life to give me such an unexpected gift.
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