Feeling the pressure?
Parents often go into overdrive at Christmas, worrying about how many presents to buy and how much they should spend. They plan how to celebrate with food, gifts, decorations and how to mesh siblings, multiple sets of parents, all the kids and pets.
In single parent families, the vibe is similar but more intense with more at stake. Saving to buy presents for kids, particularly for families on Newstart, is a kind of torture. Our kids get so used to the ‘no, we can’t afford it this week’, that their expectations are low, but still they hope that Santa won’t be broke and they won’t miss out. No eight-year-old is suddenly so grown up they don’t want a bike or a scooter or something fun just because the government has moved their mum to Newstart! So excruciating questions for their mother become what, how many and how much, as she watches their hopes rise. She tries to juggle keeping enough cash for some special food and treats on Christmas day, with leaving enough to manage the holidays and cope with the back to school costs. For single mothers who are working or have supportive families, things can be tight but not impossible. For single mothers recently out of violent relationships, dependent on government incomes and in some cases alienated from friends and families, Christmas can loom as a lonely and soul destroying time. How special then are all the ways these mothers find to cope and to coax the laughter, joy and mystery from the abyss.
Last weekend in Nubeena in Tasmania, I talked with a young single mum at the community fair held at the primary school. She and her children arrived early in the morning, travelling from another small town because here they could race around with other children, ride the bucking bull for free, jump in the jumping castle for hours, have their faces painted, see Father Christmas and have a lucky dip for free. There was no food on sale, so the kids didn’t feel odd when their mum called them for a picnic of vegemite sandwiches, carrot sticks, apples and cordial. They had the lollies from the lucky dip for a treat to munch on while they played and their mum got to listen to some great music, chat with a friend, browse the stalls and buy herself and each of the kids a book for twenty cents each. She talked about how wonderful it was to see all her kids happy and relaxed and completely included in an event without the barriers of payment.
This is why for the past few years, CSMC has held a Christmas party event, even though it is a lot of work that benefits too few of our members. For the kids and mums who come there is face painting, Mrs Claus, smoothie bikes that use their pedal power to mix up drinks, afternoon tea, a magician, a small show-bag of gifts, and a few hours of being special and connected with other families – other mums, other kids.
Many local Councils still have Christmas carols and other free events that are good opportunities for a family celebration. Around Australia, single mother families are preparing for Christmas and making decisions to have fun whatever happens. Some of the things we’ve heard about are:
- Plans to invite neighbours to put food together for a party
- Preparations to make pancakes for breakfast, and pack a picnic for lunch in a park with a great playground. Mums and kids tell us the food can be simple, but having it in the park makes it special.
- Making Christmas cards and biscuits to take to elderly neighbours who don’t have family
- Making decorations and op shopping for colourful bits to decorate the house
- Having Dad stay over on the couch to be there for Christmas morning
- Borrowing lots of Christmas story books and DVDs from the library to read and watch on the day.
Whatever your day and your thoughts about the day, we hope you and your children enjoy each others company, laugh a lot, and feel special.
The staff at CSMC wish you all the best for Christmas, the school holidays and for 2017.
Communication & Policy