How to celebrate your birthday as a single parent

Birthdays are strange things. They hold such promise on paper – the opportunity for fun surprises, thoughtful gifts and time spent with the people who care about you the most. They are a time for you all to reflect back on completing another trip around the sun, and to celebrate all the good things you did (as well as move on from some of the bad).

The trouble is, life isn’t lived on paper. In my experience birthdays are often just another day. The world doesn’t care about your annual day of self-worship, nor will it offer you any extra positive surprises. The gifts you get from friends and family are almost never the things you really want, and parties are often a let down in one way or another (especially as you get older).

Well, that was certainly true up until more recent times. The closest to being surprised was for my 30th, though I actually discovered that my ex was organising something weeks in advance, and as it turned out only four of my friends actually turned up. And I’ve lost track of the novelty gifts she bought me on behalf of the kids; almost all of these still sit in cupboards in their original packaging.

That changed when I became single. I took on responsibility for organising my own birthday entirely, from gifts to activities. And it’s brilliant. I know what I want and I get it sorted out. No more disappointments, even if a little of the illusion is removed.

Buy what you actually want

Let’s face it, you probably don’t really need anything, at least not anything interesting and fun. A new ironing board might be on the agenda, but it’s not a present, is it? No, but there are definitely other things you might want but can’t otherwise justify.

Your birthday is your justification, both to the world and to yourself. Even though you probably shouldn’t buy it, do it anyway. As long as it doesn’t put you in financial hardship, treat yo’self.

Sort out nice food

I love a full English breakfast. I normally save these for lazy weekend days, but this year I made them for me and the kids for dinner. It’s my favourite, so why the hell not?! Get the ingredients in and cook something that makes your mouth salivate when you merely think about it.

When I’ve not got the kids I usually go out for food. Whether I’m on my own or not, I dress up and go somewhere for dinner. Sometimes it’s a restaurant, last year it was a dog track (chicken in a basket never tasted so good), but the act of going out somewhere marks it out as a little special. And you’re worth a little bit of special.

Don’t forget the wine, too! If you’ve got the kids with you then you might not be able to get plastered, but you can still enjoy a few glasses of Sancerre or cognac in front of the tele.

Help your kids celebrate

Birthdays, in many ways, are more for the people around you than for you. They are the chance for others to celebrate you and show you that they care. For most people that’s pretty easy to arrange, but for your kids (especially if they are younger children) it’s really difficult.

Take them out on a shopping trip and give them a little cash to spend on a present for you. Accept in advance that it will probably be a rubbish gift, but it will enable them to feel like they are giving you something. That being said, they may well surprise you with handmade gifts as well; one year I got a dozen vouchers covering things like an evening of tea being made for me, full control of the tv for a whole day and a promise of an evening of no arguments. I’d had no input into it and they were so proud of making them; to this day it remains one of my favourite ever gifts.

Don’t ignore it

Being a single parent on your own birthday is hard. It reminds you that you are alone, and once the kids are in bed there is no-one there to enjoy the evening with. It’s tempting to ignore the day altogether and pretend it hasn’t happened.

Fight that urge. You are a person every bit as important as everyone else. You are loved and cared for by friends, family and – most importantly of all – your kids. If you weren’t there life would be worse for them, and somehow you’ve managed to complete another year on the planet and given them all your time and love in return.

Value yourself. Be kind to yourself. By all means look back and reflect on the year gone by, but remember that you deserve to enjoy your day. You’ve spent the entire year managing the household, keeping the kids alive and relatively sane, working and surviving. You’ve earned a little self-love, and even if there’s no-one around to provide it for you that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t provide it for yourself.

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