Different kind of Christmas

Single parents face unique challenges during the holidays

ALPENA — Being a single parent has its many challenges, but during the Christmas season it is especially challenging financially and emotionally for families.

Julie Zarske Benson has been a single mother since her husband died when her kids were four and seven years old and has tried to keep the family traditions going every year.

“They were little, but they still remember family traditions, so that is something that I have always tried to keep up with,” Benson said. “We have our old traditions, but we have also introduced new ones. We have always winged it because there’s no directions.”

Benson tried for the first few years to do the things her husband would do during the Christmas season and would try to not be upset about things when things were tough.

“I wish I didn’t have to do things by myself, but I did,” she said. “I would figure it out and I also didn’t want my kids to know how hard it was for me.”

Trying to balance the roles of both parents was hard for Benson when her kids were little.

“It was tough financially,” Benson said. “Santa comes to our house on Christmas Eve when we’re at church and I wondered how I was going to be able to do that, but my mom stepped in and would help carry that tradition on.”

When her kids were little, Benson always tried to make Christmas the best for them.

“I always tried to make it magical when in reality it wasn’t magical for me,” she said. “I didn’t care though, I just did it.”

Benson’s kids are now 22 and 26 years old and the three of them have made new traditions.

“We always take a picture in front of the Christmas tree with all our pets,” she said. “We have hilarious pictures of my son picking my daughter up and putting the star on the tree and we see the contrast of when my husband would pick her up. We recreate those pictures.”

This year, Benson and her kids are going to enjoy a nice meal, open presents, and spend time with the rest of the family.

Mary Neville Delling has been a single parent for almost nine years after leaving an abusive relationship and she moved back to Alpena. She has two sons, Joey, 12, and Eli, 9.

“I moved back to be closer to my family,” Delling said. “It’s rough and it still is sometimes.”

Delling and her kids have a Christmas tradition of going to church on Christmas Eve and then enjoying hot chocolate.

“After that, we drive around and look at the lights on houses,” she said. “We then go to my parents, get ready for bed and then Santa comes.”

Delling said her kids are growing up so fast, so she’s taking in everything that’s going on. She also tries to keep the magic with Christmas going every year for them.

The biggest struggle for Delling and her family during the Christmas season is financially.

“It’s the biggest challenge,” Delling said. “Our family has one income, so it’s a struggle to pay the bills and also be able to buy nice things for the kids.”

Julie Goldberg can be reached via email at jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688.