Single Parents: What are the 3 S’s that can trigger unexpected emotions and memories at Christmas?



Just thinking about walking into my mom’s kitchen brings back fond memories. The aroma of homemade candies and pies flood my mind. The sight of her Christmas tree with the tiny little red bell that had been in my family since before I was born comes to my mind.  Any time I smell cinnamon, it takes me back to Christmases past when my children were small. When I became a single parent my children and I always drank spiced tea during the holidays.

When my daughter was deployed to Afghanistan over Christmas, guess what I sent in her Christmas package? I sent her a large container of spiced tea which she, in turn, shared with everyone around her. I’m thinking a lot of military that year were drawn just a little closer to family back in the states through the smell of our family’s Christmas tradition.

Memories reign during Christmas. But did you know there are 3 S’s of Christmas that can trigger unexpected emotions for your kids?

These 3 S’s are

  • The sights of Christmas
  • The sounds of Christmas
  • The smells of Christmas

While many of us like one or all of the 3 S’s of Christmas, many children of your children will struggle with the sights, sounds, and smells of the holiday season. For me, the 3 S’s of Christmas help me reflect on happier times in my life when days were spent with family and loved ones, but this is not so for newly divorced families.


You children may miss the sights of Christmas they were used to before the separation. They may miss

Christmas lights displayed outside your home

Christmas lights strung throughout the inside of your home

Nativity scenes set up around their home

A Christmas tree lit up and decorated with tinsel and special ornaments


They miss the aromas and smells of past Christmas celebrations. They may really want to experience the smells at Grandma’s house but this year there will not be any trip to Grandma’s house because it might be the other parent’s holiday this year. 

Even if you are on friendly terms with the grandparents, it is different when your child goes to grandma’s with the other parent and you have to stay home alone.

They may miss the smell of fresh-baked goodies at their own home because you may still be processing the divorce or are too stressed to attempt any baking or cooking.


The happy sounds of jingle bells at the mall and Christmas music being played everywhere only serves to make some children lonely and sad.

Your children miss the past. The memories they have worked hard to push to the back of their minds, shine through the divorced-imposed fog. Your kids don’t know what to expect this year. Many secretly hope the parents will reconcile over the holidays.

What are somethings you can do to encourage your kids this year?

  • Allow the children to decorate a small tree for their bedroom.
  • Let the children put nativity scenes in their room and add items like tinsel or decorations around it.
  • Have a family meeting and ask your children where they want to hang the lights this year. Or decide if they even want to hang the lights this year.
  • Play Christmas carols and sing along.
  • Try a new candy or cookie recipe. Use a simple recipe that won’t overwhelm you.
  • Share some fresh out of the oven treats with neighbors.
  • Read the Christmas story out of the Bible and do it every night for several nights before Christmas.

What you can do when talking about the Christmas story

When telling the story of Jesus in a manager, talk about the sights, sounds, and smells that were around the baby.

  • The different animals that were in the stalls.
  • The smells of all those animals.
  • The feel of the straw/hay in the manger where Jesus lay.
  • The different sounds the animals made.
  • The bright star the shepherds followed to find the Christ child.
  • The color on the shepherd’s clothes.
  • The gifts that were brought to honor the birth of Christ.

During discussion allow your kids to talk about the smells, sounds, and sights they have during Christmas even at the other parent’s home.

Help your children to see and know that Christmas is about the birth of Christ. Instead of allowing the 3 S’s to trigger unwanted emotions and memories, help the kids create new memories this year. 


This article is updated and adapted from an article for church leaders and children’s pastors originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on December 12, 2013.

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2 thoughts on “Single Parents: What are the 3 S’s that can trigger unexpected emotions and memories at Christmas?

  1. I remember a little girl of about 10 years old in our DC4K class just before our Christmas break. This would be her first Christmas solely with her Dad, and he was trying hard to find that balance between celebration and spoiling her outright. He knew from DivorceCare that he couldn’t make the holiday celebration the same as times past, but that he needed to forge new Christmas traditions. He thought he had it figured out, when the DC4K leader stepped into class to report that his daughter had received her decorated Christmas cookies and juice during their Christmas party, but just sat in the corner weeping. It turned out that the little girl had a tradition of baking and decorating Christmas cookies with her Mother, and the sight of the cookies on her plate triggered her despair. With my encouragement, I had Dad call Mom, so that Mother and Daughter could talk about her cookies and make plans for their baking the following year. Crisis averted.

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