By Richard “RJ” Jaramillo
Founder of SingleDad.com
For most newly divorced dads, the holiday season without children can be the perfect excuse to gain a lot of weight, stay up late, drink too much, and fall into a tailspin of depression.
Well, here are some tips I have learned along the way to help you survive this holiday season as a single parent without your children.
Check Your Custody Schedule
Most men are notoriously bad planners when it comes to a social schedule. The holiday season and your custody schedule should not follow this path of poor planning.
Know your dates and times that you will be with your children and don’t get caught off guard. Make it a pre-season habit of sending out your reminder email to your ex-spouse to confirm the times and dates of the holiday custody schedule in writing.
For example, if your custody exchange is on Christmas Eve, but your ex-spouse has booked a vacation on the 23rd…you can see how this can cause a “Ruckus like Dick Butkus.”
This “pre-emptive strike” of communicating the times and transfers is invaluable. Taking the initiative can minimize stress and last minute drama between both parties.
Trust me, you don’t want to neglect the details of the holiday calendar.
Get into a Routine
Depending on how much time you have away from your children will also determine your single parent holiday schedule.
Once you determine their time away, develop a routine of activities of your own that will help keep you busy and focused on positive matters, which in turn will make time fly by.
There is only so much time in a day to watch, “Man vs. Food” marathons, so I would suggest keeping a schedule of activities that follow a routine in three general areas:
1. The Mind
2. The Body
3. The Pay It Forward
Read (nights and before bed)
Now if you are not much of a reader, I am not going to start encouraging it now.
However, reading a good book or finding a series of good books from a well-known author is going to bring out your inner bookworm.
My personal favorite around the holidays is any book from Jonathan Tropper. Something about sarcasm and a hot cup of cocoa makes the seasons complete for me.
For most men, reading a few war and action books is always a great idea. I highly recommend Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell.
With today’s technology, you can treat yourself with an early Christmas present and enjoy these authors on a Kindle or iPad.
The point I am trying to make here is to activate your mind with the creativity of reading.
I try not to openly encourage this, but if reading is not your fancy, another suggestion for exercising the mind and killing some time is to find the gamer within yourself.
For most dads, once they get the hang of the control system, it’s over. Gaming is not just for kids anymore. I have met more dads that are into video games than ever before and I am afraid to say that I have been tempted a few too many times myself.
I would strongly recommend “Call of Duty: Black Ops” on any of the current PS3 or Xbox 360 systems. The graphics and multi-user platforms are taking the gaming world into another level. This is definitely an activity that can kill a lot of time, (no pun intended).
Journaling is a lost art. Men don’t have diaries, they have journals. Jotting down a few thoughts and experiences produces a history for each father to pass down some day to their children or even just get a few thoughts out for yourself.
I personally made it a goal to journal the entire 2011 year and I look forward to the challenge next year. For now, I rely on my video diaries with my Flip Camera, and I too will pass down a library of video diaries to my children when I am stuck wearing diapers in an old folks home some day.
There are three necessary elements of keeping your body healthy during the holidays: Eating & Drinking, Quality Sleep, and Exercising.
Too much of a good thing can leave you with horrible consequences. Holiday parties are the perfect excuse to gain a few pounds and drink too much. Water is your best friend in both of these categories.
It helps keep yourself hydrated and feeling full no matter how much you want to take another pass at the all-you-can-eat buffet. Your sleep patterns and quality of sleep will show an improvement if you keep your diet in check during the holidays.
Sleeping is one of the most valuable resources for a single parent over the holidays. From personal experience, I recall days of dreading going to bed when my kids were away.
Let’s face it, there are those moments of evaluating anything and everything and sometimes we just find those moments when we are lying in bed…. Oh, the second guessing of life! Whatever you do, don’t rely on sleeping aids. They only lead to an addiction and the loss of quality sleep.
My best sleeping aid advice is to have some index note cards on your bed stand and a pencil. When you find yourself spinning out of control with late night thoughts, write them down, and go back to bed. Your body will relax and you’ll be headed toward sleep once you clear your thoughts.
As for exercising, I can’t say enough of how important it is to have some type of routine to get your body moving. Just walking 3-5 times per week provides a great opportunity to tire your body for a better night’s sleep or gain an appetite for a meal.
I coach many single parents on SingleDad and one of the most common mistakes that divorced parents make is not exercising regularly. Regardless of your occupation or scheduling, your body needs to be balanced and healthy.
Especially if you don’t have your children for the holidays, pick up a new activity and dare yourself to step out of your comfort zone and get exercise into your holiday routine this year.
Pay It Forward:
There is something special about the holidays that bring out the best in us as human beings. Despite the changes in the newly divorced world, the holidays provide the greatest opportunity to make a difference.
There are so many people in our communities that need our help. Something as simple as giving our time and attention to others is priceless to others who have less. Churches, community centers, senior centers, veteran support services, homeless shelters, etc.
The thoughts and love for children who are away can be transformed into the lives of others for the time being. It is a special time of year and it makes you realize that you are really not alone in this world. Plus you may make new friends and gain a valuable lesson in life.
For those single parents without children during the holidays, I encourage all of you to make a difference in the lives of others. There is an exchange that happens when someone volunteers their time and makes a difference to someone in need.
Take that opportunity and embrace the connection on helping others and paying it forward. You never know how your actions will touch, move, and inspire others to do the same.
On behalf of SingleDad and DadsDivorce.com, Happy Holidays!
Richard “RJ” Jaramillo, 45, is the founder of SingleDad.com, a website and social media resource dedicated to single parenting and specifically for the newly divorced, re-married, widowed and single father with children. RJ is a self-employed, entrepreneur living in San Diego and a father of three children. The mission of SingleDad is to help the community of Single Parents “Make Life Happen…Again!”