Parenting is a difficult job, but when you’re a single parent trying to survive the holidays it can be downright overwhelming.

If you are facing the holiday season as a single parent, take comfort in knowing you are not alone. Figures from Parents Without Partners indicate there are 13.5 million others like you in the United States, and one in four children in this country live in a single-parent household.

Still, that doesn’t relieve your workload — which during the holidays can feel gargantuan. But there are some steps you can take to lighten that load and make the most of the holidays with your children.

The first step is to examine and then accept reality. If you’re like most families, there’s a limit to your time and your money. And if you’re a newly-single parent accustomed to a two-parent household, both likely are in shorter supply. Instead of comparing what you were able to do before versus now, spend your energy on developing new traditions that economize on time and money but offer a greater return on your investment.

That means shifting your children’s focus from what they want to get this year to what they want to give. Though it may sound cliche, gifts of time and talent are more treasured by both the giver and the receiver, and in the end you will create unforgettable memories and instill lasting values in your children.

Decide together with your children what these gifts will be this season. They may be shoveling snow for an elderly or ill neighbor, making ornaments and decorating holiday trees for local nursing homes, or making treats for people at the homeless shelter. It doesn’t matter what the gift is, so long as it comes from your heart and you do it together. Plus, seeing people living in a variety of other circumstances will help your children appreciate what they have.

These gifts from the heart can also take the place of material gifts to each other. You and your children can make your own coupon books, redeemable for back rubs, household chores, reading together or favorite homemade meals.

If you’re like most people, you’ll find your calendar — and your children’s — is especially crowded during the holiday season. Another way to ease the stress is to coordinate your schedules and plan ahead. Try to schedule time together not only for holiday projects but also for routine and leisure activities. And plan family nights at home into the schedule to give your children and yourself the opportunity to slow down and just be together.

Throughout the season, be creative. Celebrate an aspect of the season that you haven’t before, such as Kwanza or the Winter Solstice. Have your children create their own gift-wrapping paper with glitter glue and markers. Or put on a play commemorating your religious heritage.

However you choose to celebrate, remember your children are watching you — and modeling you. If you want your children to value life’s best gifts and find joy wherever life leads, be sure to do that yourself. In the end, you’ll find you’ve given your children, and yourself, a truly happy holiday.

As published in the November 2006 Edition of the Vernon County Broadcaster.