Christmas and New Year is tough for single parents, tougher than other times of the year (and Christmas 2020 is a standout one for us all) so I’ve written this blog post to ease us through this festive season with genuine joy.
This year, I aim to fully enjoy myself by approaching everything with presence, acceptance and the 5 secrets to Single Parent Festive Wellness.
I now know that Christmas shines a big, fat light on my singledom (for me, it even tops Valentine’s day) but this is okay. I’ve accepted it, all is well, and I don’t plan on being single forever! Right now, everything is just as it should be.
The twinkly, glowing media images that reel off happy family after happy family with mums AND dads are what they are. The fun festive bits of this season which accentuate no other adult being around (such as how excited my son gets by decorations) are simply experiences I currently share alone. Regardless, I am grateful for them all.
The split care (if you have it) of children over the holidays can add tough feelings. I know I felt it last year and in the run-up to this one. Are your children with you Christmas Day and Boxing Day, or with the other parent? Maybe you aren’t seeing your child this New Year due to Covid and are feeling the loss of that already. Arrangements vary from situation to situation; more so this year than any other as many of us will additionally be absent of extended family.
A Happy Christmas 2020
I invite you though to not fight those negative spaces; to not be annoyed by the switches or of the times we’re currently in. To stay in the negative or to paste on fake positivity will serve us single parents little gain.
The sun will rise and set on the days of this festive season like any other year. I know I’ll be trying very hard to be present to all the experiences I have. We have choice in how we interpret what life brings. As Shakespeare wrote ‘there is nothing either good or bad, only thinking makes it so’.
So, whether you’re parenting totally solo in Christmas 2020, whether you’re apart from your children, or together with them and others but without a romantic partner – I want to share with you my 5 secrets to Single Parent Festive Wellness. I hope these secrets bring peace, fun and joy at the end of a year like no other.
The 5 Secrets…
1/. Do things that make you feel good…
When we focus on giving our children the best possible festive experience, we can forget to take care of ourselves. So, this year (and every year!) spend some time doing things for yourself that you enjoy. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so have that soak in the bath or take time to read your new book. Do things that make you feel special, grounded and are just for you. You are your own person, as your children are their own too, so enjoy being you!
2/. Let go…
As single parents, we are masters at juggling and managing an array of life. We run the household, provide income and are there for our children day and night. Striving and giving, but all this juggling can make it hard for us to let go of the reins. We can lose our ability to let things be. Surrendering control is empowering, peace-giving and on a higher plain for not only ourselves but for our children. So, surrender to that which you feel resistance over and let peace envelop your soul.
Do this as much and as often as you can. Laughter is a powerhouse of goodness for your physical and mental health. Avoid too many news updates and instead, laugh at movies, play games and mess about. Our children are better at this than we are (as well as lots of other things, lol) so look to them for guidance! Laugh every day and laugh hard.
4/. Live mindfully…
Enjoy all the moments that Christmas 2020 and New Year give for what they are. Focus on whatever is happening with all your senses. Really experience it, don’t let thoughts about the past or the future fog your mind. Look at a mince pie as if you’ve never seen one before! As your children open their presents, watch their faces and feel the energy they exude as they pull paper and ribbon apart. You’ll get so much from this.
You might think this is hard to fit in (whilst getting everything else sorted) but movement of our bodies reaps enormous rewards. Doing at least 30 minutes of cardio exercise each day is great for us in mind, body and spirit. If you can do it outside, then even better! I get out and about with my toddler every day and I have an exercise bike in my bathroom for when he’s in bed. Yoga, pilates and weigh bearing exercise is also key for muscles, flexibility and overall health.
Enjoy this festive season. Catch up with others virtually, love the moments you have and look to the future for what Christmas-es will be like.
I wish you and your families health, happiness and joy for 2021. Thank you for supporting this blog and my work with single parents.
If you or someone you know would benefit from coaching in 2021, please let me know. It has all the potential to be their best year yet!
(Photos by Chad Madden, Kira auf der heide & S&B Vonlanthen, Unsplash)
There just wasn’t a lot of fun anymore. A lot of busy-ness. A lot of doing this and that, holding everything together. A lot of toddler love, which holds my heart never endingly, but every so often I’d still feel the engulfing absence of former fun.
I was a single mum, growing a mini-me single-handedly.
I managed a home and ran a business. In fact, I ran three with sporadic income. A hopeful entrepreneur.
Responsibilities and aims here, there and everywhere but I also knew my blessings – opportunity, education, a wonderful son, health and loved-ones.
I still missed a little bit of grown-up fun though.
Dressing for a date fun.
Dancing all night fun.
Laughing so my grin stuck fun.
There wasn’t much of any of this.
Not only was I missing fun but I realised a fundamental part of me was missing.
I wasn’t much fun myself anymore – not much fun to be around or be with. I was serious now. Everything was important, committed, tough but that’s just how it had to be. What did I have to complain about? Suck it up. I made these choices.
There was a sense of self-harm about it, self-flagellation.
Deep down, I longer for fun and not only for its sake but also, very clearly, for my mental health.
Fun is important.
Fun manifests fun.
Fun brings joy, endorphins and stress relief.
Before, I had always considered myself a fun person and without it I was missing a lot of positive energy. Not good for me or my son, so, I decided to stop stopping grown-up fun and to start having some.
The aim was to document everything on Instagram as ‘100 Days of Fun’ but, then, Coronavirus happened and this wasn’t fun for anyone. No dancing for the world, shopping off, dates on hold, the economy tanking and people dying. It couldn’t have been bleaker. I felt helpless for others and fearful for and of everyone. What was happening to us?
I decided to stick to my fun 100 days. Stick to Instagram. Stick with doing something good consistently as I needed it now more than ever and maybe someone else would like it too.
I improvised and did collage instead of shopping, laughed on video chats with friends and danced alone in my flat. I went for walks with my beautiful boy in beautiful places and I took photos of dishes I cooked.
What was more important though for me than anything was the process of it all.
The process of thinking of something fun to do that I could post about. The process of being committed to showing up consistently. The process of initially feeling this new project was a chore and of pushing through to then find it joyful. Every part was therapeutic during a time when the world was in limbo.
I began to look forward to posting my next fun picture and did it one day after the other, again and again, until there were 100 of them.
On September 23rd, the day after the Autumn Equinox this year, I put my final day on Instagram. This 100th post showed a picture of my son staring adoringly at a tractor and its’ trailer. He loves tractors and the effort he put in inspecting every inch of it made me smile, so, I took a photo and shared it online.
Doing 100 days of fun has shown me some things. That setting myself a challenge and sticking to it feels good, pushing through the uncomfortable parts of change gets me to a place of ease and positivity and doing fun stuff brings fun back into life. I hope you enjoyed my 100 Days of Fun too.
Here’s looking forward to all dancing all night again soon! Wishing everyone a wonderful start to an autumn of more fun…
In January at Live Life Better, I introduced the concept of being Healthily Happy which incorporated the wellbeing 3L’s of Learning, Loving and Laughing. For May and during this challenging time for the world, I want to focus on this more and bring ‘Learning, Loving and Laughing’ together in one word – FUN!
Right now, there’s not as much family fun around as there once was. Parents are dealing with loss, change and difficulty whilst holding everything together at home. There’s play but there’s also tears. There’s joy and there’s stress. One thing that’s certain is a rollercoaster of emotions so, if ‘time flies whilst you’re having fun’, I’ve decided to do more of it now to pass this time positively. Would you like to join me in bringing more fun into your days too?
A self-care commitment
I’ve made a commitment to do something fun, every day, for 100 days. I already do lots of fun stuff with and for my son, and he is very good at having fun (I learn a lot from his lead), so this current pledge is about personal, parental self-care. As I say often, ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ so I’m going to boost my wellbeing through fun and, in a roundabout way, I’m sure my son will benefit too. Fun breeds fun and a mum having fun is fun in itself (lol)!
Fun is serious business in serious times
A brief Google search on the value of fun lists its importance for productivity at work, for children’s development and even in the aid of recovery. Psychology Today has a compelling article on the importance of play for everyone. They maintain ‘play is serious business,’ calling it a ‘banquet for the brain’ so we shouldn’t view fun as frivolous. HelpGuide talks persuasively on the mental health and relationship benefits of play for adults saying it can ‘add joy, relieve stress, supercharge learning and connect you to others and the world around’. They argue play improves brain function and stimulates creativity.
In 2018, Steve Taylor from Leeds Beckett University, wrote about ‘awakenings’ in the British Psychological Society’s magazine. He described these as “a temporary expansion and intensification of awareness that brings significant perceptual, affective and conceptual changes,” which could be related to experiences of flow; and flow can be thought of as (Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi, 1988: 36) “the holistic sensation that people feel when they act with total involvement.” Hopefully some of these awakening or flow experiences will arise from the fun times to come over the upcoming 100 days!
The Oxford English Dictionary defines fun as “light-hearted pleasure, enjoyment, or amusement; boisterous joviality or merrymaking; entertainment”. How would you define fun for yourself? Is it doing things that are creative, silly or witty? Perhaps it’s about novelty or activities you know you enjoy? What about joy, where does this fit for you? My 100 days of fun will be about things I know I enjoy (but don’t do enough) as well as trying out novel and creative activities. It’ll be about both ‘creativity’ and ‘enjoyment’. Those will be my key words.
Fun ideas for isolation?
I’ve jotted down a few ideas of things I’ll do. Please have a look at my Youtube video on Bringing Joy, for a fun coaching exercise in generating plans for your household. I already love writing and supporting people so those will continue but perhaps I’ll now try recipes, cocktails or foods I’ve not had before? Perhaps I’ll collage, journal or do new daft puppet shows with my son? Painting, dressing-up, cycling and running barefoot on the beach will all happen as will, no doubt, lots of music and dance. I’ll be sure to explore and surround myself with playful people online. I was thinking virtual charades, if anyone’s up for it!?!
Whatever it looks like to you though, we can likely all agree that we know when someone’s having fun. That sense of joy and pleasure is universally understood, regardless of culture, gender, age or any other thing which might differentiate us. Fun is unifying and that’s something we can all do with in current circumstances. I’m looking forward to what these 100 days of fun will bring. Please see daily updates on my Instagram page at oliviaroellb
In these novel and varying times, many families are engaging with mindfulness and resilience practices to support wellbeing.
Mindfulness is awareness through paying attention – purposefully and in the present moment – with acceptance and non-judgement. It is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression in people who have had 3 or more bouts in the past. Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside yourself, moment by moment.
Mindfulness can be practised in times set aside for mindful meditation or be incorporated into mindful daily living so you consciously and peacefully pay attention when doing things like brushing teeth or going for a walk. ‘Growing up Mindful’ by Christopher Willard is a useful resource for helping children to live mindfully.
Resilience is recovering quickly after something unpleasant happens and, as Mind says, your “capacity to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances, whilst maintaining a stable mental wellbeing”. Mind’s work focuses on three key areas for resilience – ways to cope, wellbeing and social connection. The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families also has a great list of self-care ideas to boost these resilience areas.
Being both mindful and resilient will help you and your family during any tricky times to come. Many ingenious activities are already happening in homes across the country but, in case you want to know more, I’ve compiled a list of 10 useful online resources and places for information. Feel free to let me know which you like best…
2. Mindful have a range of free mindfulness resources to help find calm, navigate anxiety and tap into a sense of wellbeing. Their offer includes quick practices such as S.T.O.P for stress from Elisha Goldstein, live guided meditations on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays via Mindful@Home and free access to their premium mindfulness course on how to find calm and nourish resilience.
Spring Refresh, their 3-day mini-retreat on April 17-19, will help you through guided practices for self-care and rejuvenation. These practices are designed to consciously invite greater simplicity, love and compassion into your life, whilst clearing away habits that no longer serve you.
3. The NHS’s Every Mind Matters page on ‘Mental wellbeing while staying at home’ reminds us we will all react differently to current circumstances but to make sure further support is sought if needed.
Their page advises to:- *Find out about your employment and benefit rights *Plan practical things *Stay connected with others *Talk about your worries *Look after your body *Stay on top of difficult feelings *Do not stay glued to the news *Carry on doing things you enjoy *Take time to relax *Think about your new daily routine *Look after your sleep *Keep your mind active.
4. If you or your family find yourselves caught up in any fear and coronavirus anxiety, I invite you to explore this Mindful Guide from Mindfulness Exercises. It’s designed to help you step beyond the habitual thought loops that keep you down. In doing so, they hope you’ll gain a deeper sense of peace, calm and contentment.
6. The free Coronavirus Sanity Guide by Ten Percent Happier contains meditations, podcasts, blog posts and talks to help you build resilience and find calm. They’ll be adding more resources as they’re created so keep checking back. They even have a downloadable poster to stick in your bathroom and mindfully recite as you all wash your hands!
The aim of Wisdom 2.0 is to address “the great challenge of our age: to not only live connected to one another through technology, but to do so in ways that are beneficial to our own well-being, effective in our work, and useful to the world.” Through conferences, meet-ups and workshops, they strive to bring this conversation to the world in an accessible, innovative and inclusive way.
The Resilience Projects’ goals are to: *Empower people, projects & practices to meet the Global Challenge *Welcome diverse views across the global spectrum *Encourage respectful dialogues across regions & cultures *Inspire creative responses to the Global Challenge
9. Zero to 3 has a great range of resources for parents of babies to toddlers. Their page of tips for families during this time includes age-appropriate responses to common questions, advice for parent self-care and staying connected, an at-home activity guide for young children and various resources from Sesame Street. What’s not to love!
10. Gina Dowding, a Green councillor on Lancashire County Council and a former MEP for the North West of England, offers an interesting view in ‘Community resilience key to responding to coronavirus outbreak.’ Community resilience,” she writes, “is made up of self-care, individual acts of generosity and neighbourliness, as well as co-ordinated and maintained responses by groups in the voluntary sector providing for the physical (and mental) health and well-being of those most vulnerable.” She calls for recognition of the role communities have to play in responding to the coronavirus outbreak and supporting the most vulnerable.
In the past few months, family life has been flipped upside down by Coronavirus. It’s taken us by surprise. Things we rely on – extended family members, shopping, jobs, schools, childcare, friends, activities, exams… have changed greatly or gone altogether. Your family, like mine, is probably housebound right now, which is also probably entirely new.
If you’re wondering how families are managing their wellbeing in these extraordinary times, I thought I’d share some emerging positives. Hopefully to help us all thrive a little more indoors. I’ll also highlight what you can do to support yourself and your family so everyone feels less isolated during isolation. If ever there was a moment to be a distanced but united force, it is today! I’ll be talking about:-
Family challenges right now
Family quantity time
Family mindfulness and resilience
Ways to support yourself and your family during Coronavirus
Just as a starting point, I’m going to briefly summarise challenges so I can relate them to the many positives to be found. Recognising them here will also let you know that you’re not alone if you are finding things difficult right now.
The main thing currently is a profound sense of loss and change. Some families have or will lose people they love or their jobs and livelihoods. Both are shocking losses. For those in the home who are still going out to work in jobs where they are interacting with others, there’ll be a shift towards worries of safety. Working in a shop or hospital is now a very different thing.
For others, losses of freedoms, routines and of grandparents popping round will be felt deeply. Our normal ways of working and financial security have been significantly altered and we’re dealing with the closure of shops, schools, places of worship and recreation. I’m taking one day at a time at the moment, recognising that there must be a period of adjustment so these changing times can settle.
How are your children getting on with being apart from those invested in them outside of the home like friends, teachers, sports coaches and support workers? This won’t be easy. Perhaps you’re a separated parent facing changing childcare arrangements? If you’re a family with loved ones with disabilities, special educational needs or other mental health or health conditions you may be intensely feeling the effects of now. Single parents will be impacted in different ways to those in couples, and parents not getting on will struggle more than those in harmony. We’ve all got to watch out too that we don’t start using unhealthy coping mechanisms as a way to manage these times.
Anyone and everyone’s family wellbeing could be affected as the novelty of this situation wears off. Irritability, anxiety and stress can increase and, distressingly for some, home may not always be a safe place so other types of abuse indoors may be greater.
There are no easy answers to these difficulties but you can get online support from loved ones and organisations. Do draw on your inner reserves of resilience and strength to get through.
How are families managing this time of loss and change? Creativity is playing a big part in helping families to adapt. Housebound parents are managing their ‘work from home/childcare’ juggles by doing online meetings as children build fortresses in the kitchen or they’re working on their laptop as kids bounce about to virtual PE sessions. Families are being more exploratory than ever, thinking outside the box for imaginative play, activities, learning and entertainment. Old ways to educate and amuse are out. In are things to do in the house and online, and there are a lot of inventive things going on! Families are making this work.
You’re also being creative about how you interact. Chatting face to face as before isn’t happening. How we meet, greet and talk has altered but social interaction has far from stopped. You are doing it in other, interesting ways. There are Facetimes and virtual hangouts. New What’s App and Facebook groups and phone call chats are frequent.
Even interactions at home aren’t the same as you’re seeing a lot more of each other throughout the day. A study published in Demography in January showed the quality of the parental marriage/relationship has a significant impact on the children, both in terms of educational attainment and relationships in later life. So, if there’s a partner there with you, how are you both making sure you get on indoors as well as with the online world?
Creativity is likely happening in your kitchen too with less frequent shop visits, less (or no) takeaways and no trips out to eat. I’m certainly being both inventive with my budget and my ingredients and I’m definitely eating more home-cooked meals. Perhaps you’re finding eating healthier is easier at the moment as fresh produce is in stock in the shops? As this virus harms depleted immune systems, are you powering up on fruits and vegetables? I’m trying to although I am also watching out that all this focus on groceries doesn’t make me eat more. Researchers analysing studies on the ‘social facilitation’ of eating confirmed that we tend to eat more when eating with others so I’ll be keeping a tab on my waste-line as we sit down together for every meal!
Family quantity time
Families are getting lots more quantity time together currently. From the late 1990’s, Iceland encouraged more quantity time in the home having found itself with one of the worst rates of teenage alcohol and drug use in Europe. Parents there were encouraged to up the time they spent with their teens and to talk to them more about their lives. Art, music, drama, sporting activities and other supportive measures were introduced as well. All of it had a remarkable effect and Iceland ended up with reducing its’ rates to the lowest in Europe. A total turnaround. Right now, in homes across the world there’s a lot more quantity time and creativity going on. Wouldn’t it be great if teen/parent relationships were the better for it?
Social-responsibility is something we’re taking big account of. Families are considering others a lot and we’re moderating ourselves for the greater good. I feel like I’m a role model in this for my son as he sees how I do things in life.
In Japan and other East Asian countries, face-masks have been worn for years with the aim of protecting the wearer but also, widely, from stopping a personal illness being passed on to others. You wear masks for the greater good as well as yourself. People everywhere now have that thinking by staying home and social distancing from others. We’re seeing how connected we are with everything and everybody. We are small cogs within the machines of local, national and worldwide society.
There is a greater sense of community helping families resolve physical isolation problems. People are looking out for each other – catching up virtually and offering to share supplies or collect necessities. I’ve had messages recently signed off with ‘stay safe’ and ‘keep well’ and my neighbours ring whenever they go shopping to see if we need anything. Both of these mean a lot. Everyone’s been praising all the astounding work of those in key services keeping our country going and many businesses and individuals have been donating generously to the NHS. I’m feeling respect, kindness and understanding being shown which is enriching for the family soul.
Family mindfulness and resilience
We are living in the present and being more resilient than ever. You’ll be mindfully noticing fluctuations in your own health and in the health of your loved ones. We are more observant to what’s going on with our bodies and there is a greater connection to our physicality.
If you are at home with your family and there aren’t big health or finance worries and if added chores are shared, you might find yourselves freer to be mindfully present. Present to notice the changing weather outside or to sit and play together. You can spend good chunks of time chatting with your partner, children or an old friend online because there are less things to rush about and do.
A study in Developmental Science from 2017 showed that when teenagers have a positive relationship with their parents, as adults, their brains and bodies respond to stress in a way that helps them better engage with the world. I’m revelling in the joys right now that come from being in the moment, with less of the usual life demands. What mindfulness practices are your family up to?
It’s worth thinking too about how you and your loved ones deal with novelty? If you all enjoy it, you’ll probably love the circumstances we find ourselves in. I’d embrace it if this is the case. If your family though flourish more with stability, then together work out how to stay in the hour-by-hour, day-by-day moment. You can then enjoy spotting small wonders and checking off things to be grateful for. I’m also finding the time to get lots of household chores done that I never would have imagined possible!
Family resilience is bolstered at the moment. We’re being pushed beyond our comfort zones and are drawing on inner reserves of coping. I’m becoming a better problem-solver – having to think creatively and find new solutions to issues not normally experienced. How can we help our children to understand the importance of resilience too? What are you doing to manage stress well and encourage them to push out of their comfort zones? I bet you’re tackling some tough but fun challenges together. Don’t forget to show them how to self-regulate by analysing, setting goals, monitoring, evaluating and then working with them to learn from any mistakes. We have loads of potential now to make really good stuff happen!
Ways to support yourself and your family during Coronavirus…
Be role models by following guidelines and by being kind, helpful, empathetic and considerate.
Keep in touch with others virtually and offer support and solutions to those finding things tough.
Build resilience within your family. Know different members will handle things in different ways.
Families will be working, learning, loving and supporting each other in new ways today. Why not let us know how you get on!?
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